Well it's been awhile since I was treated to the gorgeous view of Lake Titicaca, which is just so big and blue I really wanted to eat it up. The lake is, of course, the highest (navigable) one in the world. We first visited on the Bolivian side from Copacabana, which is an improbably chilly beach resort town filled with gringos and weekending bolivian families alike. We spent a night out on the Isla del Sol, the biggest island in the lake, densely populated with farming families and hostals. But it definitely feels different from the mainland, there's little electricity on the island and outside of the major town the traffic changes from backpackers to locals herding llamas, sheep, cows, pigs, donkeys. We had an absolutely breathtaking view from our hostal (LOTS of pictures coming someday!), which made the steep hike up from the port worth it. We mostly took it easy, though we did take a boat to the northern end of the island and hiked back, which was pretty incredible because you walk along the spine of the island and have the view from both sides.
After a night back in Copacabana we bid a fond farewell to Bolivia and headed back to the Peruvian side of the lake. While Puno wasn't as bad as I'd heard, it is as my dad says - "a waste of good farmland." It certainly doesn't take advantage of the lake as Copacabana does, you hardly see it except if you head down to the pitiful port. Which we did, since we spent another night on the island of Taquile. Unlike the isla del sol, this island is small and traditional. The locals still wear a very unique and conspicuous traditional dress, with the men in red hats that they weave themselves, and the women in a very different type of skirt than the mainlanders. Taquile is firmly on the "gringo trail" (one of my least favorite terms by the way, right up there with "francophone".), with a dozen tour companies running daily trips there. But we chose to take the local boat and spend the night with a local family, so that all our money went to the residents and not the tour companies. This was a great decision, and easily done, if you ever head this way. For the most part the local men are extremely friendly and welcoming, while the women are painfully shy and accomodating, and they all go about their business (which as far as i could see consisted of drop-spinning wool and weaving and chewing coca while walking around the island) and ignore the tourists, unless you ask them for lodging. This was another place where I felt that the locals were positive about using tourism to strengthen and showcase their way of life, rather than corrupt it. As opposed to the isla del sol, there were no kids begging for sweets or money for photos.
The only downside of my time there was that my iron stomach finally gave way! 12 months in south america and no parasites, no stomach infections, etc. Well God knows what I finally got, because I hadn't eaten anything weird from a market or raw, even though i do those things on a regular basis. I had eaten soup and cooked veggies in a nice tourist restaurant in puno. Whatever, something didn't agree with me and after the boat ride and another steep hike up to the town, I was NOT feeling well. So I ended up sleeping all the rest of the day, and trying to avoid the worst outhouse I've ever seen. Which meant i missed out on the town meeting and dinner with the family, of which my dad has many stories and pictures. The next day I felt better and was able to walk around the island to see some of the pre-inca ruins, and take the boat back to puno. Then I felt crappy again in Puno, and I was ok for the next few days but had ZERO apapetite (i could eat, like, a piece of bread and be full all day) so not a lot of energy either, which takes a lot of the fun out of traveling!
The upside of my illness was fun with local remedies. Ernesto, our host on Taquile, had immediately marched me to the nearest restaurant and announced I would drink "mate mixto" (coca and the ubiquitous local herb muña, which is quite tasty) while my dad dined on kingfish. The next night in Puno, while my dad ate a big curry dinner, I had rice and soda water, which apparently worried the proprietress. (now keep in mind this was no local eatery, but another upscale tourist restaurant.) On my way to the bathroom, she asked if i was allright, and then on the way out she cornered me with her own remedy - coca leaves soaked in pisco! She applied one to each cheek and one to the forehead, which would apparently serve to suck out my tension. I politely thanked her and tried to remove them before reentering the main dining room, full of gringos, but no, i was to leave them on. Sooo, I ended up as a funny travel story to all my fellow diners, and with a face full of pisco (as previously mentioned.) And thankfully, thus ended our stay in Puno.
And she lived to visit machu picchu, and even eat a whole sandwich!