My last stop in Peru turned out to be Puno, right on lake Titicaca close to the border with Bolivia.
There’s not much to do in Puno itself (I gave myself an afternoon to look around the town and struggled to fill it).
Puno’s main attraction is its proximity to the lake, where you can take boat trips out to the floating villages.
These are artificially made platforms of mud and reeds anchored in the lake where the Uros people live.
You can stay overnight in the villages (prices around $50), although maybe that’s something more for a couple to do. I found the few hours I spent there quite enough; I think I’d be bored there for an evening.
The island has a mobile phone signal, but no wifi. The chief’s house had a tiny TV and DVD player, powered by solar energy.
It’s hard to know how I feel about visiting these villages. Obviously they’ve chosen to open up to tourism and they want our money. On the other hand I was a little uncomfortable with walking around taking pictures freely (although the village chief said that was ok). The women sang for us, we could take selfies dressed in traditional Uros costumes and then they led us to where they had laid out their handicrafts for sale.
The half day tour I took cost around £5/US$7, which is quite cheap. I’m not sure how much of that money makes its way to the people on the island but I would guess little, if any at all. This means that the villagers make their money by selling their handicrafts or by taking the tourists out on their little boats.
I really didn’t want to buy anything; I have enough stuff to carry and none of the stuff they were selling was of any ‘use’; I hate pointless ornaments. However I also wanted to make sure that I gave some money to the village, so in the end I bought a wall hanging. I’ll put it somewhere when I get my own place for a while in Sucre, and then when I move on from there I’ll probably leave it behind for the next tenant. Really, I would rather they charge a more realistic price to start with and let you know that a decent percentage was going to the local people.
There were some young British backpackers on the trip, all cut-glass accents and the voices of privilege, and they resolutely bought nothing (they also shook their heads when the hat came around to give a tip for the boat driver).
This is what makes me distance myself from ‘backpackers’. So many people out there in the travel community are bragging about how cheaply they can travel when their trip relies on the slave-labour wage of those around them. Those girls will probably never have to do a job that relies on tips and so they have no concept of other people whose livelihood depends on it. So they put up their selfies on Facebook, posing with the villagers in their traditional costume and go home to tell everyone how they ‘did’ South America on £20 a day.
OK, rant over.