(August 30 – written by Dave)
So here we are at the famous Lake Titicaca. Our main activity of the day was taking a boat ride out to the floating islands of the lake. Lake Titicaca is a large lake in the Andes that spans the border of Bolivia and Peru. It is claimed that it is the highest navigable body of water in the world (navigation here probably means commercial craft). It is high with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres (12,507ft). It also quite deep at around 1,000 feet at its deepest point and it is the largest lake in South America (some dispute about that, as there is a body of water in Venezuela that is larger but according to my research on the Web it is technically a bay).
The floating islands are small manmade islands constructed by the Uros people using reeds from the lakeshore. According to the legend, the Uros started building islands in the pre-Spanish era as a way of evading their land-based enemies (more than 500 years ago). At first they mostly built boats – it is not known when they switched from boats to anchored islands.
They used to move the islands closer or further from shore, depending on the perceived threat of these enemies. In modern times they positioned the islands in the middle of the lake but that changed in the 1980s after a big storm sunk a bunch of them. Today, the approximately 100 existing islands are positioned closer to the shore (and some would say tourist dollars). The Uros live off the lake, taking fish and shore plants. They barter with people living on land for things they need that they can’t get from the lake. Visiting the islands has become one of the region’s biggest tourist draws and has probably changed the Uros forever. It is estimated that around 2,500 still live on the islands though numbers change with the coming and going of tourist season.
We decided to take only a ½ day tour as the longer tours meant we wouldn’t see any other sites in Puno. Plus there is that thing that Nancy has with boats, it’s best not to over do a good thing. Our tour took us to one of the 100 islands where 27 people live. They are mostly all related and their chief is a woman by the name of Gloria.
When we reached the island, Gloria gave us a demonstration of how they build the islands. It takes about a year to build an island and they have to rebuild them from scratch every 25 years. While the island lasts a while, it still takes lots of maintenance – for example, new reeds need to be spread over the surface every 5 days. Islanders drink lake water but they boil it first these days. Bathrooms are located behind the islands on smaller shared islands – yup, you have to take a boat to reach the bathroom. Almost every hut on every island has a small solar system to provide lights at night. They cook with fire (reeds burn well), have TVs but no refrigeration. It is a very simple, but hard life. We visited on a sunny day and it was quite pleasant – I’m sure that in the rainy season, it’s a fairly dreary existence.
The Uros and their islands would not exist without tourists visiting them. Some might say that tourism has corrupted their culture but I’m not so sure. Their culture wouldn’t be able to continue in the form it does today without the small contributions that tourists make – so I like to think tourism has helped things evolve. Part of the cost of a tour goes to the co-op in charge and the islanders really try hard to sell you things they’ve made (and some that they probably haven’t) while you are visiting. We have no room so our purchases were very modest but we did take the optional ride on the island’s private reed boat so that we could at least offer some form of assistance. They told us that a tourist boat only visits each island once per month – so small sales means fewer resources for the island and its people.
We spent a couple hours on “our” island and out on the water. It was interesting and informative, and we’re glad that we made the effort. The islanders seemed genuinely glad to have us visit and learn about their culture.
Upon returning to Puno, we found a place for lunch – one from Nancy’s list. It was ok but not photo worthy. After lunch, we had to navigate yet another Peruvian parade to find a coffee shop and buy some bread for tomorrow’s ride south. This parade appeared to be some sort of graduation (promocion) ceremony for a local girls’ school. I know that I’ve written about parades in Peru previously but we continue to be amazed at how many there are. It seems that we find one almost every day.
For dinner we tried our luck at the number one Tripadviser rated restaurant in Puno – Mojsa. I’m happy to report that it was very good as well. I had Canilla de cordero cocida a fuego lento – leg of lamb slow cooked – it was cooked to perfection. We like the simple food that we find in the small towns but it is really nice to eat “city” food from time to time as well. Due to popular demand by 2 (or maybe 2) readers, I’ll post a few of the more memorable food shots from here in Puno.
Tomorrow is our last full day riding in Peru – wow, it’s taken forever to cross, but it’s also been great – nice folks, great scenery and some pretty good food as well. We cross on Saturday into Bolivia – more adventures await I’m sure…