I forgot to mention that Puno sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The highest navigable lake in the world at 3820 meters! It is also South Americas highest lake and the largest in the world above 2000m. Basically, the thing is massive, over 9000sq km. The lake straddles botht the Peru and Bolivia border and is home to many Islands.
The most intersting of these are the Islas Flotantes. The Floating Islands. The tourists love it here and in return the islanders known as the Uros tribe love to try and sell us things. Several hundred people still live on the islands and hop from one to the other using the boats they make from the totora reeds in the lake. These reeds also make their houses, beds, chairs and just about everything they use. Most importantly they make the islands themselves. They do this by continuously adding layers of the reed as the bottom layers eventually rot away. The islands are inhabitable for around 50 years before they have to discard it and build a fresh one.
We spent the morning visiting these islands, taking a ride in one of their reed boats and trying the islands Bananas (again totora reed) Because of their simple and precarious lifestyle, years ago the Incas thought them worth little and accordingly taxed them very little. Yet the Uros, with their basic reed homes outlasted the mighty Incas with their huge stone temples and mountain-top enclaves. The islands are part of the Titicaca National Reserve, created in 1978 to preserve 37 thousand hectares of marsh reeds in the south and north sectors of Lake Titicaca.
We also visited the Island if Taquile. A tiny beautiful island with no cars. At such high altitude the air is so clean and fresh here and the horizon of the lake is easily mistaken for open sea. A calm sea of course. It is in the middle of nowhere. Apart from its beautiful surroundings, this island is noted for its knitting population. The men are particularly proud here to knit their own hats, which looks like old fashioned night caps, and have their own factory set aside from the womens.
We crossed the border in to Bolivia where we spent some time at the other end of the lake in Copacabana. The border crossing was very straight forward, in fact the guy didnt even look up to check I was the person in my passport as he stamped away. We didnt do all that much on this side, just relaxed by the lake and enjoyed the fact that Bolivia is much cheaper than Peru. It makes it a shame to not be exploring alot of this country. From Copacabana we travel to La Paz for a few days before we fly out to Chile.
Everywhere from Puno to Copacabana there are posters up for an Austrian couple that have gone missing. They arrived here and were set to travel to La Paz and in to Chile but never made their flight on to Oz. Their bank accounts had been systematically emptied around Bolivia and their families havent heard from them for a few weeks now. It doesnt look good. Its quite scary, everyone we meet has a story but its nearly always non violent and only a theft, I guess these guys werent so lucky. We are being very careful! Its easy to forget where you are, especially in a mellow town like Copacabana.
This town is a big draw for hippies (or wannabe hippies). It reminds us alot of Goa. Lots of people with dreds, sitting around selling their own jewellery and playing the guitar. I expect they are all trying to 'find themselves'.