FRIDAY 7th JULY
We had to report to the dock at 7.45 a.m. for the trip to Tequile. On the way there we actually found a money changer who would change a traveller's cheque. For fifty dollars I was to receive 140,000 Inti. The money changer counted them out in 5000's, and I started to put them away when I was approached by an American who asked if I had checked for the face. He was referring to the water mark. I checked my currency and discovered that it was nearly all counterfeit.
I turned to look for the money changer, but of course, he was long gone. At this point I was approached by a second money changer who offered to take my bad notes in return for old used, but good 500's. Being old they were more bulky anyway, and ten minutes later after the counting and exchanging was complete, I had a wad of notes at least four inches thick. I dropped them into my bag, and as they sprang apart, I had a bag full of money.
We made our way to the dock, and on the way I suggested that it was possible that we had been using counterfeit notes all along. Once settled on the boat the others checked their cash and sure enough, everyone had several counterfeit notes. On close inspection it was not only the absence of the watermark that was different. There were several differences including colour and shading, which would make them easy to spot to anyone looking out for it. We figured that to people living hand to mouth, it would probably make no difference. They would only encounter difficulties if they tried to take the cash to a bank, and it was highly unlikely that any of these Indians had bank accounts. During the course of the day, the others spent their bad notes with no difficulty and no-one even checked.
The boat ride to Tequile Island took over three hours, but the scenery around the vivid blue lake was beautiful. The boat was owned and crewed by Tequile Indians, wearing traditional costume with wide cummerbunds and multi-coloured knitted hats.
As the boat docked our hearts sank at the sight of the hundreds of steps and the very steep path leading up the mountainside. We were not mentally prepared for more climbing, but at least my legs were not aching any more.
As we approached the first steps, four large beasts, which we took to be working oxen, made their way from an adjacent small field and started to climb the steps. We were about to follow them, when an Indian lady, who was obviously very disturbed, informed us that they were "Torros Bravos". We did not have to look twice at those sharp horns to heed her warning and keep our distance.
At 12,530 feet above sea level, this was the highest we had been, and it soon began to tell. We had to stop to admire the scenery far more often than on previous climbs.
Once at the top, the gentle slope to the village below was beautiful. Every inch of this lovely island was made use of- We saw an old lady harvesting corn by hand, using a very primitive, but obviously effective tool, Her "cornfield" ran alongside a path and measured about six feet by two feet.
The buildings in the village were ancient, and we had a lunch of delicious Lake Titicaca trout in a tiny cottage "restaurant".
After a leisurely wander around the village and surrounding area it was time to head back to the boat. We had to be there at two o'clock.
The return journey over the hill was easier, but about half way I realised that we had really cut it a bit fine. We would be lucky to be back on time. Susan was slower than the rest of us and we were tending to stick to her pace, I decided to walk on ahead, so that at least one of us would be there on time.
I stepped onto the dock at exactly two o'clock. One boat was already out on the lake, a second was pulling out full of Indians and large sacks of produce, and two were sitting empty. I approached the nearest, but the crew directed me to the second. I had to walk back along the dock and climb around rocks to reach it. There was one passenger on board, so I climbed in and made myself comfortable. I lit a cigarette, at which one of the Indian crew seemed very interested, so I offered him one, which he took, as did a second one, and then a third!
They then started to jabber in a mixture of Spanish and Indian but I could understand little. I did hear the word "persones", so I informed them that there would be "quatro otro persones". This did not satisfy them and they jabbered even more, upon which the American passenger informed me that they were trying to tell me that this was not the tourist boat but a private charter.
I made my apologies and left, feeling a little peeved that they had not told me that it was a private charter before they took my cigarettes.
As I left, the rest of the passengers for the private charter arrived and boarded, and the boat pulled away. There was one boat left, I started to make my way back to the other boat when the others arrived.
The crew of the remaining boat obviously did not want us to board, so Lynn, who speaks Spanish well, tried to reason with them. While they carried on a heated conversation, one of the crew was trying to signal the distant boats, using a mirror. No ship to shore radio here! They explained that this too was a private charter, and the people would not want extra passengers.
The four passengers arrived and we explained our plight. We were stranded on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. One of the two women in the group of Americans stated in a very off-hand manner that they had paid seventy five dollars to charter this boat, and without giving us an opportunity to offer to pay our way, turned her back and the four boarded. We again tried to explain the seriousness of our situation, and eventually one of the men agreed that we could board if we agreed to share the cost.
We sat at opposite ends of the boat, but a few minutes out we realised that one of the distant boats was stopped. It was the one which had left first, and it had seen the signal. We pulled alongside, and the five of us were only too happy to climb aboard the crowded tourist boat.
The three and a half hour journey back was not very comfortable, but the sunset was lovely. All the way back the crew seemed worried about the engine. The fumes were unpleasant, and towards the end there was a distinct smell of overheating. Within sight of Puno the engine cut out and we drifted for some time, while the crew did what they could. They did eventually restart the engine, and we reached Puno more than a little late, and rather cold, but safely.
After dinner and a vino caliente (warm wine) we were more than ready for yet another early night.