We arrived in Puno at around 8pm.
It was dark and it was raining hard.
We had booked a hostel by phone and we thought our taxi had taken us to the right place. It wasn’t until the next morning, when Grant got dropped off at a totally different hostel across town after giving the driver the name of the place we were booked in for, that we realised that we’d been scammed.
Here’s how it went: it’s wet, it’s dark and we just wanted to get to our hostel.
“Please take us to Hostel Randomio”.
We arrive at a place where we can’t see the sign because it’s dark and it’s raining. The driver comes into the reception (which again is dark) where there‟s a man behind the counter. The driver says something to him in Spanish. We say that we have a reservation and that we’d advised them that we’d be arriving at around 8pm.
The man looks puzzled but after a pause, he looks at his reservation ledger, runs his finger down it and says “Er…oh yes! Here we are! Welcome! Welcome! 20 dollars a night, yes?”
“Er, no, the person on the phone said 15 dollars.”
“Si, si, 15 dollars! Let me show you to your room!”
The driver takes his commission.
With bug-ridden sheets and toilets that didn’t work, it wasn’t the greatest hostel in the world.
Lesson to learn? Keep your wits about you!
Puno is on the shore of Lake Titicaca and nestled in between the water and the nearby surrounding mountains. Not far off the shoreline lie the Isles of Uros, one of the major tourist draws of the region. Our guide was Bruno from Puno; he was no Jose. Uros people are pre-Incan and today there are reportedly around 2,000 descendants left, of which only a few hundred still live on around 42 man-made islands. The islands are man-made from reeds (tortara plants) and blocks of (I think) peat fixed by anchors; they’re surprisingly and gratifyingly solid enough to stand on. The ground gives a little under foot but there‟s still that nagging feeling that you’re on a floating island of reeds!
The Uros people live in one-room reed huts which are as basic and spartan you can get although one guy did have had a television in his. Their income seems to mostly come from tourism; they probably get a cut from the boat tour operators and from selling their artisanal products.
There’ll be some who’ll argue that this is a simpler form of life that we should somehow aspire to but I can’t accept that; it’s surely no life living on Uros (some fishing, handicraft and catering to tourists) and unsurprisingly many of the young leave for Puno or Juliaca.
Interestingly though, if a man from Uros marries a girl from Puno or elsewhere, she is expected to return with her new husband to live on Uros; lucky her!