Lake Titicaca, Homestay Awkwardness and Cycling the Death Road

Back in Cusco I wasn't feeling too great. The next few days are quite boring to write about as I was quite sick and mostly slept. After 2 nights in Cusco we headed to Puno as this is the jump off point for Lake Titicaca. We arrived in the evening and needed to head to the market to buy fruit and vegetables to give to our homestay family as a way of saying thanks. After that was out of the way we went to a nice restaurant. One of the guys wasn't feeling too good and vomited into his wine glass. I was also feeling a bit off so went back to the room after eating.

Next morning we headed down the road to catch our 'Peruvian limousine' as the tour guide put it. It was a peddle bike with a sort of cart at the back with seats. The drivers raced them down to the port, our driver weaving in and out of traffic and ahead of the others. At the port we caught a small motor boat to one of the many floating islands on the lake. The locals make them out of dried reeds and we were shown how exactly the islands are made. They get about 2 years before the island starts to sink and they have to build a new one. You could walk the length/width of the island in about 30-40 steps. The 'chief' of the island invited us into his hut and explained to us about how they live and how by selling some handmade goods they have been able to afford solar panels for electricity. The hut was about the size of a garden shed and a whole family lived in it. There were about 8 families on the island. I bought a necklace of the Peruvian cross which was hand painted.

Some of the group went on a boat ride in a hand made boat built from the dried reeds. The rest of us that didn't got the motor boat over to another floating island and waited for them.

Then we took a long ride over to a land island. I sat on top of the boat enjoying the breeze and the view over the shimmering blueness of the lake, the reeds making a natural path and passing other floating Islands. Then I sat below deck and played a few games of Shithead.

At the island we walked to the top, about 20-30 minutes but my legs still hadn't recovered from the Inca Trail and it was a torturous walk. We stopped for lunch at the top; fresh fish and some coca tea. Here the guide told us about how the people of the island live and how they find a partner. It's all about the knitting! The guy has to be great at knitting as this is what the girl will judge him on. He will knit a hat and she will put water in it to see how long it holds, showing how tight the knit is. It doesn't matter if you're ugly here, just so long as you can knit. A guy will wear the hat and depending on which shoulder the bobble lies shows whether he is single or taken. Once he is taken, the girl will knit him a colourful bag which he has to wear to show that he is no longer available.

We took a scenic route back down to the boat, a cobbled pathway that ran around the outside of the island. Now it was time for our homestay. Some of the group played football with the local kids while some of us cheered them on. Then it was just the small matter of doing some traditional dancing. We got dressed up in the local dress, a yellow puffy underskirt, pink velvet skirt, white blouse, black velvet jacket with shoulder pads, an embroidered waistband, black bowler hat and to top it all off...a string of pompoms around our wrist. Then the locals played some live music and we did the traditional dance, partnering up and dancing around in a circle swinging our pompoms. I surprised myself by enjoying it!

We followed our 'Papa' to the house and were shown our room which is often the nicest in the house. It was pretty decent and we had an en suite bathroom. Cold shower of course. We sat in the room not sure what to do with ourselves until we were called for dinner. Our family was just the dad and his daughter who was 16 as the mum and two brothers were in Lima for a while. My Spanish was not really up to conversational standards and they had no English. I felt so uncomfortable. I slurped my veg soup starter, listening to the clock ticking and feeling stiff from the silence. Then we went to bed. At 7.30pm. Shockingly we slept through until 7.30am when we got ready for breakfast. More silence, listening to the rain and the sound of cutlery, trying not to awkwardly catch one another's eye. After breakfast we helped wash up and then peeled some potatoes. They were the smallest potatoes ever and I had to peel them with a knife. I think more potato went in the bin with the skin than in the pot. Papa left to round up the sheep so we played cards with the daughter for an hour or so. Still about 4 hours left until we had to head to the boat. We retreated to the room and stayed there until it was time for lunch. This was a bit more exciting as it seemed it's also fly swatting time. With a real fly swatter, hygiene first. As you're eating, naturally. It turned into a bit of game. Sadly as the excitement had just started, it was then time to go. We walked back down to the pier and hugged Papa goodbye. One of the other guys on the tour accidentally hugged the wrong Mama. She was rather confused but it had the group laughing.

Back in Puno we went for some traditional Peruvian food and dancing, this time no involvement was needed! After we went to a rock and reggae bar that played not much rock or reggae. It was nearing the end of the trip so we celebrated with a lot of cuba libres.

Next day was a long ride to La Paz in Bolivia. We drove partly around Lake Titicaca which is just beautiful. Because the altitude is so high the clouds look like they are floating just above the water, giving a surreal beauty. It was a stupidly long wait at the border getting into Bolivia. We arrived quite late into La Paz and headed straight for the steak restaurant. Ah, it was delicious. I ordered the 300g Jack Daniels sirloin steak. Cooked to perfection, they then flambe it at your table. It was huge and cost less than £10. A few people were leaving early the next morning so a few sad goodbyes this evening.

When I woke my room mate had ready left. It was a weird feeling but I tried to perk up and get ready. I met the others at breakfast and then got in the van to drive to the top of the Death Road. They kitted us out in motorbike style clothing and helmets, then we got on our mountain bikes and started the first part of the descent. It was smooth roads so was quite easy. This went on for about 20 minutes. Then we arrived at the start of the Death Road. It was really gravelly and bumpy the whole ride down! The scenery was breathtaking and the feeling was just of being alive. We rode about 60km downhill for around 5 hours. We stopped a few times for photos, typical jumping ones, some posing with the bike under a waterfall and an awesome group one with us all sat dangling our legs off the edge of a cliff. A fantastic day and one of my favourite things ever. So glad I did it as it was something I really did not want to do. At the bottom we went to a buffet and a swimming pool in the Amazon. Then the long drive back. We decided to go to the amazing steak place again. I had to change hotel as there was no space. I grabbed my bag and set off in the wrong direction. It was about a 5 minute walk and it took me over an hour to find the place. When I got there grumpy and exhausted the glass door was locked and all the lights inside off. I was about to have a fit thinking I'd been scammed as I'd booked online but then an old man came shuffling over and let me in. He shuffled behind the reception desk and turned a dim light on. The entrance was full of piles of boxes, like a storage room.

He gave me my key, towel and toilet roll and another guy helped me up to my room on the 5th floor. In the grim single room I'd treated myself to, I just wanted to chuck my bags down and breathe a sigh of relief. But no. I had to understand the complications of how a TV remote works, so I was shown where the on button was, the change channel up button, change channel down button, volume up button and of course volume down. Yes, yes, yes, yes, thank you, okay, yes, thanks, bye. I finally shoved him out the door. He came back in because it was important I knew how to use the door key. Yes thanks, got it, put the key in, turn, yes. I flopped on the bed listening to Spanish TV and admiring the framed print-out of a truck hanging on the wall. I managed to get myself ready and walked the 2 minutes back to the other hotel to meet the others and went to eat some more delicious steak. Walking back to the hotel afterwards on my own was the most scared I've ever been. It wasn't far but there were some right weirdos about. I was convinced I would never make it back in tact. Once the hotel was in sight I broke into one of those runs you do when you've watched a scary film then have to use the toilet and run back downstairs and into the living room and shut the door quick. Made it without any monsters getting me. When I got to the door...locked and lights off. I started hammering on the glass and the guy from earlier opened the door and pointed at the doorbell. Whoops. I went to bed and slept like a log.

Next morning I was up at 5am to catch my flight. The creepy hotel was in pitch blackness and deserted. I turned on the 'hot' shower. It wasn't hot. Not only was it not hot but it was ice cold! I tried another shower. Same thing. I couldn't get away with not washing as I'd done the biking and now had a 2 day flight ahead of me. I braved it and it was more horrific than I thought it would be. Shivering I got my stuff ready, then it dawned on me that the bloody front door would be locked. Worst hotel ever! I headed downstairs and by sheer luck there were some people arriving early and the guy was just going downstairs in his pjs to let them in. I escaped out of the hotel like a cat whenever you open the front door. Freedom! I caught my taxi to the airport. Got searched 4 times at the airport, had a 12 hour layover because they brought my first flight forward from 8pm to 8am, had another stopover in Miami then finally arrived in New York!


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