It seems the tourist extracting machine is more evolved in Peru than it is in Bolivia. Before we were even off our bus we were caught up in it when the bus conductor came round and recommended to us a good place to stay. We made the mistake of showing interest so as soon as we arrived we were handed over a lady who whisked us off to a bed and breakfast. Before we knew it we where checked in to a room and booked on a tour of the nearby islands for the next morning. It was all too easy and we were very suspicious, but the room was very nice and fit into budget, as did the scheduled tour.

With that all sorted out, we had the evening to explore the town a bit. Puno is a fair bit bigger than Copacobana, and although there seemed to be plenty of tourists, the ratio of real people to tourists is much higher. Luckily for our budget, most of the craft in the stalls was much the same as the stuff we’d seen (and bought) in Bolivia. Prices of things were a bit more expensive than in Bolivia, but still very cheap. Looking in a supermarket, the first we’d seen since we left Chile, we were very excited to find blocks of pure cocoa, at very reasonable prices.

The central market was also very exciting for Soph with a huge range of fruits, veg and grains. That night, after failing to find a peruvian dish that suited Sophie’s vegetarian tastes, we resorted to the ever present Chinese restaurant. Although it was a bit of a culture shock to see Chinese people speaking Spanish, I had a  good chicken with noodles and fried rice for the amazing price of 7 Soles (just over US$2).

The next morning we were back in the tourist machine, minibussed with a bunch of others out to the docks where we were herded onto a boat and chugged slowly out through the reeds. Our first stop was the Uros floating islands. Despite knowing that nowadays they exist largely as a mechanism for extracting money out of tourists, it was nonetheless fascinating to see how they live (or lived).

The islands are entirely man-made from large slabs of root material covered with crossed layers of the thick reeds that grow prolifically in the shallows of the lake. The blocks are held together with ropes and wooden pegs, and likewise anchored to the bottom of the lake, over 10m below. On these island they have huts, also built of reeds, and they shuttle themselves between islands on small boats, also built of reeds.

The next stop was the island of Amantani. About 3 hours of slow chugging in the boat, it is an island smaller than Isla del Sol, but inhabited by about 4000 people who still live in a very traditional way, making crafts and farming the terraced fields of the island. It is also a big tourist attraction, with many tourists going out to the island every day, just like us. Despite being a group tour the experience was still a good one.

In the evening we walked up to some Inca ruins on the top of the island, through the beautiful terraced fields full of wheat, fava beans and other crops. We were lodged in the house of a local woman, who also provided meals for us. Though very plain, vegetable meals, they were just the sort of meals that are so hard to find while travelling and were eaten with much gusto.

After our dinner she dressed us all up in local costume, and the locals put on a bit of a shindig for us. There was a group of boys playing really awesome folk music and much fun was had by all swirling on the dance floor. Again, it was quite strange knowing that they probably do this for another group of tourists every other day, but it was fun nonetheless.

The next day we headed off to another island, Taquile. Here we walked across the island, again, marvelling at the beautiful terraced fields with the deep blue lake in the background. Here too, the locals wear their very colourful traditional dress. We had a chance to browse their hand woven textiles, although due to a finance miscalculation we didn’t have enough cash to buy any. Finally after yet another delicious trout meal, we were back on the boat for our slow 3 hour trip back to Puno.