Island Hopping on Lake Titicaca
Mar 13, 2006
|Island hopping on Lake Titicaca seemed a must and we set sail at 8am to reach our first destination of the floating reed islands that are an hour's boat ride from Puno.
We cautiously stepped off the boat onto one of 40 islands made entirely of totora reeds, a strange feeling at first but then like walking on a bed of straw. The islands are formed by layering the reeds, which after some time rot from underneath and must be replaced regularly by stacking more reeds on top. The islands change in size, and more are created as the need arises.
The totora reeds are native and grow in fairly shallow parts of Lake Titicaca hence the floating islands aren't in the middle of the lake. The reeds not only provide a platform for living on but also provide transportation and food for their residents. As part of a cultural talk we peeled the bottom of these reeds like a banana and tucked into its spongy texture - didn't really taste of much.
The floating islands are the home of the Uros tribe, one that pre-dates the Incan civilization. According to their legends, they existed before the sun, when the earth was still dark and cold. They were impervious to drowning or being struck by lightning but after disobeying universal order by mixing with humans they lost their status as super beings, making them susceptible to contempt. They scattered, losing their identity, language, and customs. They became the Uro-Aymaras, and now speak Aymara. Because of their simple and precarious lifestyle, the Incas thought them worth little and accordingly taxed them very little. Yet the Uros, with their basic reed homes outlasted the mighty Incas with their huge stone temples and mountain-top enclaves.
To further test the buoyancy of these reeds we took a ride on one of their reed boats across to another floating island. Two rather large Uros ladies paddled the reed boat across while the Uros men stayed at home knitting woollen hats.
It was another 2 hour boat ride to the more stable island of Amantani where we met our host family for that night The Martines. The accommodation on the island is provided by a group of community members that billet out rooms in their homes. Senor Martine took us to his mud house where his wife Theresa had cooked lunch for us. The houses have tiny doors that even Helen had to duck to enter and Paul promptly banged his head on despite prior warning. We gave our host family gifts of fruit as they cannot be grown on the island. Jim also brought pencils and crayons for the children, however The Martine children were 15 and 10 years old so maybe a bit grown up for paper and crayons. Still, they smiled politely as Jim drew them a picture of England!
The Martines brought out their knitted produce after lunch and trapped in the mud hut we felt obliged to buy at least one thing, so Paul bought an Alpaca wool hat even though no Alpaca existed on the island.
The produce of Amantani Island is mainly potato and this was reflected in the not so diverse lunch of potato and quinoa (some sort of native grain) soup followed by boiled potato and salty cheese - yummy. The people of Amantani Island have a strong group identity and have maintained much of their cultural isolation; we were shown how they farm the land, no tractors involved here and also how they weave cloth for their clothing.
We walked to the top of a small mountain on the island to watch the sun set over Lake Titicaca before returning to the mud hut for more potato soup which Theresa kindly sneezed into and which we caught an Amantani cold from.
After dinner we were dressed in the traditional clothing of the island. For Paul and Jim this was a poncho and pointy woollen hat but Helen was less fortunate and her dress was a bright orange wollen skirt with a wollen underneath skirt plus a blouse with bright flowers on. The skirts were secured tightly around the waist with a band of wool. To complete the outfit a black shawl was balanced on the head.
Kitted out like locals we headed to the village hall to dance to panpipes and the beat of a drum. The first dance was good fun, Paul holding the callous hands of Theresa, but after that every song and dance steps were exactly the same so it did become tiresome and we headed to bed worn out.
The next morning after our pancake breakfast we had a choppy boat ride across to the island of Taquile where the Uros wear colourful, traditional clothing, speak Quechua and promote their lifestyle by selling their knitted craft to tourists at tourist prices of course. More tourists visit Taquile than Amantani and most eat in the communal restaurant. The Taquilians operate a rotary system whereby a different family cooks at this restaurant each week thereby all the families on the island reap the benefits of tourism.
After lunch we walked across the island and descended 500 steps to reach our boat for the return journey to Puno.