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Irene's Adventures

Peru - Lake Titicaca

PERU | Sunday, 26 May 2013 | Views [1000]



The next morning we all jumped into the Puno limousines (bicycle tuktuks) and went down to Lake Titicaca (3800 meters above sea level) to catch our boat to Uros, the floating islands. Amazing! There are about 70 islands, made entirely of reeds and roots of reeds. All of the houses are made of reeds. The watch towers made of reeds. The boats are made of reeds. They use the reeds for medicine (iodine). They make tea out of the reed flowers. They eat the reeds. There are fish in the lake, but they are not much bigger than a large sardine. These are fed to the children to help develop their brains and bodies. Once they get older they no longer eat fish. Protein is found in the form of eggs or the odd duck.


 Uros floating islands  Uros floating islands  watch tower


The roots of the reeds form a sort of cork material that is cut into cubes, strung together with poles and ropes, anchored to the bottom of the lake, then layered with reeds to form an island that is spongy when walked upon – like walking on a huge water bed. The reeds continually rot causing for new reeds to be added about every three months. The entire island begins to sink after about 25 years, thereby causing them to make a new island.


 reed roots form the foundation


Cooking is done on small stone hearths. Obviously, they are very cautious with fire and NO smoking is allowed on the islands. The beds are made of reeds covered with blankets, which always feel damp. We asked what the life expectancy was, thinking that this dampness would result in bronchial problems, yet they live to be into their 90's! Amazing!


 cookingon Uros


Legend has it that these people escaped from the Spanish by fleeing into the water and forming these islands that can be moved when necessary. Today, there are only about 200 people still living on the islands, the larger ones housing about 10 families and the smaller about 2 families. The children go to school on the mainland, in Puno, and tend not to come back. Also, with the influx of tourists, they have less and less time to devote to maintaining their island structures. However, the tourists also provide financial support when purchasing their handicrafts. I believe that eventually these islands will only remain as a tourist attraction, with character actors playing the part of native Uros, while actually living in Puno.


traditional dress    




We got back into our boat and headed for our home stay at Karina on a peninsula. We were greeted by our home stay Momma's and taken to our respective homes. 19 year old Matilda had a 3 month old baby, that she carried on her back in the traditional sling. As the baby took most of her time and attention, I was pawned off on a 9 year old girl named Anna. I am still not sure if she was Matilda's sister or neighbor.


Matilda   Matilda & Baby  Matilda's baby


We were told in Puno to not give the local families money, but to bring a small supply of food items, as it is very expensive for them as well as difficult to get some of the items. We were told that rice, beans, flour, oil, coffee, marmalade or canned tuna were all good items to bring. We were to keep the price in about the 30 sol range. I ended up bringing a little of everything, in the smallest sizes I could find. When I gave Matilda the items, she simply took them away in her skirt and did not seem too excited to receive them. Maybe it is their culture, or maybe it was a case of “more damned beans from the tourists”.

 I was given a meal of mashed potatoes and rice. It was delicious but enough to feed three people. I gave the leftovers back to her and said it was very good but too much food. I am pretty sure she put it back in the pot for her family to eat at supper. Fair enough....

 She was eager to play games with me, and her favorite was jump rope. My goodness, I thought she was going to kill me! She was very used to the 4000 meter altitude and could jump all day. I (old enough to be her grandmother) could only jump a few times before I was out of breath. Then a neighbor boy came along and they decided to play football, the girls against the boy. I think we tied in the end. I was getting so tired that I showed them how to play tic-tac-toe, a quiet game :-) They had never seen it before and caught on quickly, liking it very much.


Anna jumping rope  


Then I had to help them with their normal household duties and chores. I had to cut broad beans with a scythe, shell the beans, then feed the bean stocks to the cow while I milked her. It was very much like being back on my family's farm.


 cutting beans


Then everyone met at the school grounds where about 50 children attend school. The locals challenged us to a game of volleyball and football. We won both matches! They said that was the first time the tourists won. I think it was because our tour group was mostly Aussies and they have a good handle on football. Even 76 year old Don scored a goal!


 76 year old playing football with locals


That evening our host families dressed us up in traditional clothes and we set off to have a group meal, again at the school. It was cold and I could certainly appreciate the layers and layers of skirts and jackets! The meal was simple but delicious. I was slightly disappointed that the families did not join us, but we all had a great time relating the chores we had to do with our families. This part was such a treat to those raised in towns and cities.


costume dinner


I was the only guest at my family's place. The dwellings are built with 3 small buildings with a wall forming the fourth side of the compound. The family stayed in one building, I was in another, and I am not sure what was in the third, but the guide said it is usually the kitchen. My room had a toilet, sink and shower, but there was no running water. The toilet was appreciated and had to be flushed with a bucket of water, which the provided. They gave me a small basin of water to wash in for the morning. It was very modest, yet very comfortable.


 home stay   


I was a bit concerned as to how warm I wold be at night, as it was only 9 degrees Celsius in the room. There were 4 really thick blankets on the bed, as thick as horse blankets. When I got into bed I felt as though I were in a waffle iron, I was pinned to the mattress. It hurt to sleep on my side due to the weight of the blankets. I finally propped up the sides of the blankets onto the mattress and formed a sort of cave to sleep in. It was VERY warm.






The next day we said goodbye to our host families and got back on the boat to go to Taquile Island. As soon as we landed we started up a path and through an arched gateway. Apparently, there are 6 sectors on the island of 2200 inhabitants, each sector is marked with their own archway. We climbed to the small town, which had some history but was basically a market for tourists.

sector gate   church tower  local knitter


This island is renowned for its knitting and weaving,with the men doing the knitting and the women doing the weaving. All the single women have pompoms on their shawls, the brightly colored ones are worn by the single women, who do the courting of the men. The single men's hats are half colored and half white, depicting their life is not yet full. When the get married, they have a hat that is completely colored. The mayor of the town has a hat that has ear flaps. This is because in former times the rulers had golden earrings that caused their ears to droop, hence longer flaps to cover the ears. When the ladies get married they cut their hair and make a belt for their husband woven out of their hair (which is saved by their mother since birth) and alpaca wool. It is very stiff and acts as a weight belt for the men to carry heavy loads up and down the hilly island. This same belt is then covered with another brightly colored and woven with symbols and pictures to depict their life as husband and wife. The wife will also make a brightly colored purse for her husband. These are highly prized as showing just what a good wife the man has.


bright pompoms  woven belt   men's hats and purse 


We then ate a a lovely little outdoor restaurant overlooking the lake and covered with cloth to keep the sun off us. I had the highly prized trout, which Canada gave to the people of the lake. Unfortunately, that didn't work out so well because the larger trout ate much of the native fish, as did the kingfish donated by Argentina. However, this trout was delicious. Our waiter had the most impressive uniform, black trousers, white puffy sleeve shirt and a black and white vest.

trout  restaurant  waiter

Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (Quechua for "do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy")  I like it!!

Then it was back to the boat, back to Puno and the Hostal Balsa Inn.  Tomorrow into Bolivia.....



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