S was feeling pretty awful this morning (altitude), so she stayed home while I went on a boat cruise on Lake Titicaca (which I can't say without giggling like an eighth-grader). The lake is the highest large freshwater lake (or something like that) in the world, at around 3900m. The driver picked me up at 7am, and soon we were at the harbor and on our way.
40 minutes later, the first stop was one of the Uros islands. These are floating islands, about 80 in quantity, on which a tribe of people live. They speak multiple languages, have multiple religions (Catholic, Mormon, 7th Day Adventist, all with a little healthy pagan traditions thrown in), and make regular trips to the mainland, so they more worldly and diverse than I expected. One of the islands is given over to showing off for tourists. There were colorfully-garbed people, demonstrations of how they built their islands (cross-hatched reeds layerd on a thick cork base), discussions of their diet (reeds, fish, birds, and today's special: an egg!), and talk of religion (some are catholic, some Mormon, some Adventists, all with a healthy dose of pagan traditions. After the demonstration, we got to ride on a reed boat, piloted by the president of the island. Once we were on the backside of the small island (no more than 150 feet across, and it was a medium-sized island), I got to see that much of what we were shown was specifically for our benefit. They do have some small modern conveniences: motorboats, solar power, tv. I mean, these people live very simply in severe isolation, but they are not living as simply as their presentation suggested.
After leaving the Uros island, we took about an hour or so to get to Taquile island. This one is actually a real island, with lots of inhabitants (but it appears no electricity). From the port, we hiked up a steep path to a small compound where we had a demonstration (again) of ancient (and current) traditions. We learned about how the position and color of a man's hat tells his marital status. We learned that the island's inhabitants pride themselves on being excellent weavers. We learned that La Bamba is a song that anyone can butcher. We also learned that a language barrier makes 'forgetting to give change' an easy thing to do.
After lunch, we hiked up to the main plaza, near the summit of the mountain. It hurt. Hiking uphill, at altitude, carrying a pack... Man, I was out of breath, worse than when I was fat. My only consolation was that everyone else on our group was also breathing heavy, from the kiwi backpackers to the 300+ lb Brit to the super-hip Argentinians. Anyway. The main plaza was a dusty sunny arid place, with a church, a city hall, a couple of quasi-museums, and a bunch of people trying to sell you stuff. From there, we hiked the slow grade back to a different harbor, where our boat had come to meet us. I was one of the first people down, so while we waited, I got some photographic proof of my visit.
90 minutes back to Puno, where I found S still feeling bad. Dizzy, headaches. I let her rest while I went to find a music shop I had read about. Since it's Sunday, they were closed. I came back and S was no better, so again I left for some coffee-and-chocolate. On the way through the lobby, I asked the clerk if he had oxygen he could bring up to her. He did, and when I got back, she was sucking down oxygen and feeling much better. Still, this altitude is a killer. I'm in good shape, and I'm out of breath after climbing two flights of steps. We went out for a quick early dinner, and now we're back in our room for an early night. Tomorrow is another early day.