I don’t even know how to describe my day. Craptastic might be the best way I guess. I was supposed to take a small group tour to two islands in Lake Titicaca. The tour company came highly recommended on TripAdvisor and the “small group tour” was advertised as no more than 6 to 8 people. The tour included a trip by high speed boat to Taquile Island, a less touristy island, a hike around the southern part of the island on a pre-Incan trail, a visit to a group of Aymara weavers and knitters, a walk to a sandy beach on the lake, a boat transfer to the community of Santa Maria – Llachon on the tip of the Capachica Peninsula for a traditional “Pachamanca” lunch involving cooking meat, fish and potatoes using stones buried underground and finally a trip to Uros Island, an island made completely of reeds where 5 families continue to live.
Now as most anyone who knows me is aware, I am not one to travel in packs (I loathe inflexible, canned group tours), but this sounded really fun. And, there was only supposed to be 6 to 8 people so imagine my surprise when the guide showed up and herded me onto a mini-bus with 20 other people. What the heck? I thought there must be some mistake.
Once on board the boat, the guide came up to me and informed me that my guide would be meeting me at the boat on the other side (thank God) so I settled in as the guide for the big group proceeded to give a 35 minute running commentary about the history of Lake Titicaca without appearing to take a breath. I was literally ready to jump off the boat into the freezing Titicaca waters.
We finally reached Taquile Island and no guide was anywhere to be found for me. Good grief. Another guide from the boat who had accompanied an Italian couple asked if he could help. I explained the situation and he tried to call the tour office. No luck. The lovely Italian couple told me to join their little tour. When I tried to decline they insisted. So the Italian couple, Gido the guide and me took off from the pack and hiked all over the island admiring the scenery, learning about the fauna on the island and generally avoiding the obnoxious tour guide and massive tour group.
After about an hour and a half of hiking in the very thin air around the pre-Incan path (which had been modernized with stone and concrete), we reached the home of some Aymara weavers and knitters (the men knit and make the skirts for their wife and daughters and the women weave the mens’ belts, which includes the hair from the woman’s head that is cut on their wedding day). Unfortunately, at this point we rejoined the massive group and the obnoxious tour leader started in on his ramblings. He then periodically directed the Aymara weavers to do this or that ant the told us all to “clap”. He was treating these lovely people like dancing monkeys. It was completely gross.
In the mean time, Gido got hold of the tour office and was told that I was supposed to be part of the large tour group. Uh then why was I told there would be another guide to meet me. Something was seriously wrong. Anyway, Gido told me I could continue with the Italians, which was incredibly kind.
So after the demonstration, the hosts brought out some instruments and put on a little dance display and then insisted that the tourists join in. Uh yeah that’s not going to happen. About half of the group joined in, but the Italian couple and I wandered over to the scarves, headbands, gloves and wall hangings that the Amarya folks had made and were selling to the tourists.
Gido, seeing our disinterest, suggested we begin the hike to the beach. Thank God! The hike up a small hill and then down to the beach was nice with lovely views of the surrounding islands. As we walked, our boat appeared to take the entire group to Santa Maria – Llachon for lunch. Now once we arrived, we were seated around a mound of dirt, under with the food had been buried while covered with rocks and paper and covered with more dirt. This was a ancient, traditional method for cooking in these parts. Before uncovering the food, the woman in charge gave offerings to Mother Earth and once the ceremony was over began to uncover the food. There was trout, chicken, sweet potatoes, potatoes, banana and beans. It was all actually very interesting, despite the guide’s obnoxious ramblings.
We were then served quinoa soup (love that stuff), and a little bit of each of the foods cooked in the Pachamanca (underground style). It was all incredibly delicious. The trout, in particular, was fantastic.
After lunch, we took the boat to Uros Island, a tiny island made completely of reeds where 5 families continues to live. Unfortunately, we were part of the big group and Mr. Obnoxious took it upon himself to spend 20 minutes giving us a running commentary on the history of the people who inhabited the island (again without taking a breath). After 20 minutes, he finally got to the point of describing how the island came into being. The Uros people take huge blocks of dirt and reeds and bind them together and then weight the ends with anchors to keep the island in place. The island was comprised of 9 HUGE blocks. On top of the blocks they pile more reeds in a criss cross method.
The huts on the island were also made of reeds as were the boats used for fishing. They used an elevated oven to cook meals (in order to not burn the island down). We were given the opportunity to ride in a reed boat for 10 soles, but I declined.
By this point, I was done. At every turn Mr. Obnoxious was reminding us of hard hard their lives are and that we should be doing our part to support them. What was particularly troubling was that his whole schtick came off as exploiting the locals for the benefit of tourists. Show them your weaving. Show them how you dance. Show them your music. Show them where you live on the island. The whole group tour thing with the myriad of touristy, exploitive programs I had witnessed had driven me batty, and I simply wanted it all to end.
Unfortunately, the boat trip back diverted twice to drop off folks who were staying on the “tourist” reed islands. Good grief. Will my hell never end?
Finally we reached the dock in Puno. We had to walk about two blocks from the dock along a blocked road to reach the bus to take us back to our hotels. And wouldn’t you know it. The bus was nowhere to be seen. At this point, I was out. I told Mr. Obnoxious not to stop at the Hotel Hacienda, I was going to get a cab. As he as telling me to wait, I simply told him no thanks, hopped into a cab and was gone from the nightmare on Lake Tititcaca.