Saturday 11th August – Tuesday 14th August. Puno - Lake Titikaka.
We arrived late in the evening on the bus from Chivay, pretty tired and worn out from our long hike in the morning up the steep side of the canyon followed by all the tourist crowded activities of the day. The following morning we were booked in to set off on a tour of the islands of Lake Titikaka. We were picked up after breakfast the following morning by our tour guide Ricardo and taken down to the port where the tourist boats were docked. While we were waiting to launch, we were entertained by some local teenagers playing some of the local pan pipe music accompanied by the guitar that we would come to know pretty well in this part of Peru. They were really entertaining and just asked for a small tip after their performance. Once we had everyone on board, we set off from Puno, heading for the famous floating islands of Uros. These islands are only 7km off the coast of Puno and the local people construct them entirely from the reeds that are sourced from the surrounding areas. The Uros people moved to the Lake Titikaka region thousands of years ago – moving away from the jungles to escape violent tribes and then onto the water to escape the Aztecs who were living on the shores of Lake Titikaka. The way of life is very simple, even though they have experienced a large influx of tourists looking to see their way of life in recent decades. We could see tourists boats docked at practically every one of the 70 or so floating islands which was crazy! The experience of walking on the island was interesting though. The reed surface is really springy to walk on. We had a tour of the inside of the simple houses which were only one room and the bed was on a huge slant looking very uncomfortable. Thanks to the tourism, many but not all of the locals can now afford solar panels for their houses which gives them a safer source of light at night and ability to charge their phones and stay connected with the world. The president of the island gave us a demonstration (in his pre inca language) about how the islands are constructed by the local Uros people every 30 to 40 years. The islands must be reconstructed periodically because over time the floating root bases of the reeds lose their ability to float and start to sink into the water. When this begins to happen, the locals need about 8 months to a year to construct their new floating islands and move their houses across. The base of each floating island is the thick root base of the reed systems. The people cut large 6m by 1m blocks of this stuff and tie it all together with synthetic ropes to form the base of the island. Eventually, the roots grow back together and make the base of the island connected and strong. The root base is about 1m high, and on this they place the reeds to make the floors. They put layers and layers of the reeds on in a criss-cross pattern until they have another couple of metres of thickness- 3 meters in total. The reeds are replenished from the top every few months as the ones on the bottom decompose and rot away. It’s a very efficient process – and one that keeps the whole community busy. In addition, the locals are working very hard to make handicrafts to sell to the tourists. We asked why the Uros like to live on these basic islands still when it would be much easier life on the mainland or one of the islands of Lake Titikaka. The reason they continue to live in this way is a cultural but also an economic one. The Peruvian government doesn´t make the Uros people pay taxes, and also allows them to fish and hunt in the protected Lake Titikaka area. This, combined with the money they can make from tourism allows the Uros people to continue with their ancient ways of life – and the tourists to visit and experience a very different way of life!
Our next stop was Amantani Island which was a 3 hour boat ride away in the area that is called the ´big lake´. We stayed the night on Amanti Island and were greeted by our host mother – Epiphania at the boat dock. She guided us up the steep hillside to her lovely house with a nice bedroom for us with views out over the lake – really beautiful. The local houses were made out of mud brick and were very simple, although again we could see lots of solar panels on the houses. Ephiphania made us a simple local lunch of quinoa soap, fried cheese and potatoes which was delicious. It was a bit of a shame that she didn´t really want to engage in conversation with us even though we spoke a bit of Spanish. So we didn´t really get to find out much about her way of life. After lunch we were taken to the main square where there happened to be a local festival taking place that week – so we were really lucky and got to see the locals all dressed up in their traditional clothes, performing the traditional dances of their region and also drinking lots and lots of beer! The women wore colourful skirts with white blouses and a black head covering whilst the males long pants shirts and colourful knitted beanies – and ponchos against the cold of night. At 4pm we walked up to the Pachapapa temple and lookout point to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful view out over the lake and the island. We had dinner in our homestay and then were dressed up in the local attire and taken to a fiesta where a really good band was playing more of the local music and the locals got us up to dance around for a bit. We could also drink lots of beer! It was pretty fun even though it was very touristy! The local clothing looked awful on us – but it was a bit of laugh to take some photos and dance around in a swingy skirt!
After breakfast the following morning it was time to say goodbye to our host mum and head back to the boat for our next stop on Taquille Island – a world heritage site known for its intricate weaving and knitting practices. After breakfast the following morning it was time to say goodbye to our host mum and head back to the boat for our next stop on Taquille Island – a world heritage site known for its intricate weaving and knitting practices. On Taquille island, both the women and the men must know how to knit and weave. If they cant weave, it is not possible for them to get married! The men start knitting at age 5 and work to perfect their craft so that when they reach the age where they are looking for a wife, they will have made a white and red beanie (which looks like a sleeping hat) which they wear in different ways to signal that they are looking, not looking for a partner, or already have a girlfriend. When the men are married, they wear a red version of this cap to signify that they are taken. If they are widowed, they switch back to the white cap after a while! The men and women can live together for a number of years before they decide to get married which seems like a pretty good idea. Divorce isn´t allowed at all on the island though. As a wedding gift for the man, the woman weaves a kind of waist belt and the man knits a part of the belt too, weaving some of the woman´s hair into it. The two parts are then stitched together during the wedding festival of 6 days and the man wears it as a back brace when he is lifting the heavy supplies from the port to the house ( there are no cars on the islands). We had a lovely lunch and walk on Taquille island and then it was time to head back to the boat for the 3 hour trip back to Puno. It had been a great trip even though the area was really touristy – and I though it was totally worth the money to experience three totally different ways of life and the beautiful views of Lake Titikaka.