I made it! (cue the Rocky theme song...)
Sep 22, 2015
....Ok, more like the Big Bad Wolf huffing and puffing song. We'll come back to that later but I take back what I said yesterday, Lois & Jack, about the altitude posing no problems!
Back to the beginning of the day: super early start with Abel picking us up at the hotel at 6:40am. Mario Andretti Jr. drove us to downtown Puno where we picked up a young Canadian couple and their guide then a short trip to the docks where we boarded our boat for the day.
The boat was a convergence of a good number of people and their guides. Sitting in front of us were an Australian couple we'd met on our first day tour of Lima! (Carolyn & Dave from Bisbane). The boat was taking us out the the Uros Islands; mad-made floating islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca.
The islands are actually floating totora reed platforms that the inhabitants pile layer upon layer of reeds, continually, to make the ground. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years. There are 42 islands.
The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive, and if a threat arose they could be moved. The largest island retains a watchtower almost entirely constructed of reeds and the smaller islands have communication towers for communicating with each other..originally, now just for tourist show.
The Uros traded with the Aymara tribe on the mainland, intermarrying with them and eventually abandoning the Uro language for that of the Aymara. About 500 years ago they lost their original language. When conquered by the Inca empire, they had to pay taxes to them, and often were made slaves.
Much of the Uros' diet and medicine also revolve around the same totora reeds used to construct the islands. When a reed is pulled, the white bottom is often eaten for iodine. This prevents goiters. Also if it is hot outside, they roll the white part of the reed in their hands and split it open, placing the reed on their forehead. They also make a reed flower tea.
As we hopped off the boat, we were greeted by several Uros women in their bright traditional costumes. We were "assigned" to Yolanda who took us to her home area and gave us a thick reed bundle to sit on for her presentation. Using a mini section of khili, she showed us how the islands were built, the round traditional houses and the newer square ones. She showed us (in miniature) how the food was cooked on stones and clay stove--because, obviously, fire could be a major problem for a reed house! This wonderful display of traditionalism was just slightly ruined when her cell phone rang!!! It's been said that the whole Uros Island trip is a tourist set up and it's probably true. But I guess if you look at it like an open air museum and a demonstration of a past civilization, it's ok.
We went to Yolanda's house so she could show us how they lived--a reed bed for 2 with at least 5 layers of blankets (it was still hard), reed bundles to sit on and some hooks on the wall for clothes. She pulled some clothes down, made us put them on and took a couple of blurry photos for us with my phone (apparently her cell phone doesn't have a camera because she didn't know how to use the camera!). We asked about her children; she said she had 2, ages 12 & 10 and they lived in the house next door. Hm.
Then the hard sell started: Yolanda embroiders wall hangings (as do all the women on the islands) and really, really wants you to buy one. There were a couple of lovely ones but they were very big and I just don't have any place for one. We thanked her and moved on but she really, really wanted us to buy something...which we didn't.
Then it was time to ride on the traditional reed boats over to the big island for another opportunity to buy something...and that boat ride was 10 soles each (~$3.30) thank you very much. As we left the island, the women gathered on the banks to sing a couple of traditional songs, then a fairly bad rendition of "Row, row, row your boat" and ended with "Hasta La Vista, baby"..Oy vey.
On the big island, we could buy teas, pop, snacks and postcards. We got a Coke Zero (do they still sell those in the States?) and a fry bread.
The Uros do not reject modern technology: some boats have motors, some houses have solar panels to run appliances such as televisions, and the main island is home to an Uros-run FM radio station, which plays music for several hours a day. Early schooling is done on several islands, including a traditional school and a school run by a Christian church. Older children and university students attend school on the mainland, often in nearby Puno.
It was an interesting experience albiet a bit touristy.
Then back on to our regular motor boat and off to trekking hell. We were headed to Taquile Island, an almost 3 hour ride on Lake Titicaca.
About 2,200 people live on the island, which is 3 miles by 1.2 miles in size. The highest point of the island is 13, 287 ft. above sea level and the main village is at 12, 959 ft....remember this...it has to do with the Rocky theme.
Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are regarded as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, starting at age eight. The women exclusively make yarn and weave.
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").
Our boat came to shore and off-loaded us on a pleasant shoreline. Not so pleasant was the 1 mile switchback path going up almost 800 ft. We paired off with our guides and started up. Abel was very patient and kind, walking slowly so I could gasp as much oxygen as possible while trying to stay alive. About half way up, it changed from a path to a rocky pasture. It took us a long time to get to the top (yes, ok, I was the last one to arrive). And I arrived huffing and puffing, not in Rocky-like triumph. Check out the pictures before you judge me too harshly!!
At the top, there was a restaurant for our lunch. We were served a quinoa potato soup (tasty) and had a choice between grilled trout and an omelet; we both picked the omelet. It came with rice and a few other veggies.
Then 2 young men and 1 young woman put on a very short music/dance performance for us. And...it was time to go back down the other side of the island on a 1 mile, swtichback rock path. Was it any easier going down? Not really but I wasn't the last one down :) They seriously need to do something about getting those poor people who live there some more oxygen. Maybe they could have the presidential debates up there--lots of wasted air there!!
Anyway, having survived the highest elevation climb of my life, I strangely felt no need to ever attempt it again. Back on the boat and another 3 hours back to Puno.
Instead of going all the way back to the port at Puno, we got off at a pier much closer to our hotel. We'd picked up Carolyn and Dave there on the way out and wondered why it hadn't been an option for us; it's a 3 minute walk from our hotel. Anyway, we got off there, stopped at a tiny shop along the way to get a couple more of the rolls we'd purchased yesterday and then back to the hotel. Arrived there a little after 5pm. Just after we got back and settled in, there was another massive thunder/lightening storm. Whew; it would not have been nice to be out on Lake Titicaca in that!
Dinner in the room--the rolls :).
The next 2 days are basically travel days: Wednesday is Puno to Lima to Santiago, Chile with overnight there. Thursday is all day travel to Easter Island. I'm tired already!