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Peru : Lake Titicaca and Puno

Thursday 23rd August - Lake Titicaca

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We woke at a sensible time and wandered (by foot from the 2nd floor) to the open breakfast area. Our efficient guide picked us up exactly on time and we drove to the edge of Puno docks on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3822m above sea level, then walked to the boats. There were MASSES of them, all moored side by side and we had to clamber over several to reach the outermost one. Once there we chose indoor seats (rather than the top, open-air floor (after all it doesn’t take much to burn at this elevation). A supply of free tea was offered (anise for me, mint for Steve), before we took off onto the Lake. We gently motored through the little part (not unlike the Petit Lac part of Lac Leman) through reed banks until we arrived at the floating Uros Islands. We could see their wonderful yellow reed boats for some distance. Our boat guide explained that he went to different islands each day to give opportunities for all (as we left “our” island later we saw a larger island with a huge fish logo on a wooden sign). Each boat has a different prow (look at the chicken head and carp heads below). He told us there were functional boats and ceremonial boats e.g. for marriages, with a second floor with its canopy. The Uros use the totora (bullrushes) growing along the lake edge, dried out, to make their reed boats (balsas mats). We disembarked (an odd feeling as we were walking purely on reeds) through the reed entrance arch to the central fire/ cooking area. The islands huts are in a circle around the perimeter of the island, all facing inward. The local islanders explained how they built the islands each year with fresh reeds to form a floating whole, how the children take themselves to school by boat to Puno once they reached 7 or so, how they fished and ate. He had a helpful model showing the islands superstructure. Apparently if someone annoyed the village, during the night the others would take a huge saw (he showed us) and saw their part of the island off, leaving it to float away. The islands are not, in any case, fixed and their location can vary daily. At the small stalls on the islands we bought a Viracocha statue.
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Lake Titicaca has 42 (currently) floating reed island. These man-made islands have been lived on by a tribe (non-Inca) who depend totally on the lake for survival. They seem to have lived this way for thousands of years, maybe as a way to escape control by any particular group- if someone tried you would simply slip away quietly overnight. Some larger islands still retain their defensive reed watchtowers.

The Uru (Uros) are pre-Inca people living on Lake Titicaca. They float between Bolivia and Peru, not really belonging to either. There are three main groups- Uru-Chipayas, Uru-Muratos (Peru side) and Uru-Iruitos (Bolivia side). There was a Uro or Pukina language, but it is not spoken nowadays due to their intermarriage with Aymara speakers whose language they have adopted (c1500AD). They say they have black blood because they do not feel the cold or altitude. They believe they “own” the lake and retain many old customs (though not religion). A second name (for themselves) is Lupihaques or Sons of Sun.
How to build an island. An island can house 2 to 10 families depending on its size. A new island is made by driving a stick into the lake and attaching ropes to it, then attaching it to the dense roots that the totora develop. These interweave to form a natural layer called Khili (1-2m thick) that support the islands. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top every 3 or so months. The islands last about thirty years. Each step on an island sinks about 2-4". As the reeds dry,
they break up which allows moisture to get in. This rots the reed, and a new layer has to be added. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands.
The Uros islands, 3810 m above sea level are 5 km from Puno port. Of around 2,000 Uros only a few hundred still live on and maintain the islands; most have moved to the mainland. The Uros bury their dead on the mainland in special cemeteries. They use motor boats when needed and have solar panels to run TVs and radios. The largest island has a radio station. The larger islands hold primary schools before going to Puno for secondary schools.
Food is cooked with fires placed on piles of stones. To relieve themselves, tiny 'outhouse' islands are near the main islands. The ground root absorbs the waste. The Uros' diet and medicine revolves around the same totora reeds used to construct the islands. When a reed is pulled, the white bottom (chullo) is eaten for iodine to prevent goitre. A reed can be wrapped around a cut and it’s believed it will relieve pain. The chullo can help with heat, being cool to the touch on the forehead. They also make a reed flower hot drink.
The islanders fish for native ispi, carachi, catfish and for introduced trout and kingfish, as well as hunting birds such as gulls, ducks and flamingo. On larger islands they have a few cows. Like the Chinese, some used cormorants to fish. The Puno ibis is domesticated for laying eggs.
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After a while the guide pulled us back to the boat and we slowly motored through the remaining Uros islands until we got to open water when we motored across to Isla Taquile. The high sided island looked like a green jewel in the azure lake waters. We landed at the dock on the southwest side and walked up a moderately steep path, past the cultivated fields. Our guide (whose girlfriend came from the island and said he was a “lowland” despite being Puno born and bred) asked us not to give the children sweets (no dentist on the island) or take photos (they had religious/ cultural dislike). At the top of the paved path we went through an ornate arch into the one and only town. The view was lovely and the Plaza a pleasant place to catch our breath. Then we walked across the top of the island before cutting off right down some rocks to an outdoor restaurant with stunning views across Lake Titicaca. The seafood, paella style, was delic & our other guests (many students) good company. Our guide came back with the island’s mayor who talked about many of the island’s unique customs. An interesting one was that the ladies started their lives with plain, but full and thick black skirts and for each significant event in their lives they added a coloured skirt on top. Hence an older lady might be wearing 5 or more thick, coloured skirts. Another custom was to do with hair. Ladies would rarely cut their hair, so it would become very long. When married, after some years, she would cut her hair and turn it into a belt/sash for her husband. Then it would grow again and if they were still together years later she would cut it again and make him a warm hat. The more hats/ belts the more prestige of a loving wife! The mayor himself was elected by all the population and would hold the position for a year, then have to stand down. They felt the system worked really well.
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We rested, took photos of the azure sea and cerulean sky before heading back down the road through an arch and down steeply to the dock on the other side of the island. Then a quick motor back to Puno docks where we were collected by taxi and returned to the hotel. As it was still light we went for a quick stroll through Puno, up to their main church, San Pedro (often called the American Sistine Chapel due to its lovely paintings, but then lots of other church claim this too!). Finally back to the hotel and S pegged out in bed whilst I grabbed a warm club sandwich first.
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Puno and Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca (and Puno) holds a special place in Andean and Incan mythology. Most creation legends have Lake Titicaca as the birthplace of man, and certainly of Manco Capac. A variety of gods, depending on the tribe, live in or under the Lake. Inti, the Inca Sun God, lives there. It is regarded as the naval of the world.
Puno/ Lake Titicaca is 3,822m high which mans its cold at night and hot in the day. The UV is strong and should be respected. In 1668 Viceroy de Lemos made Puno the provincial capital (as Paucarcolla).
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Posted by PetersF 20:12 Archived in Peru Tagged animals boats peru lake titicaca puno uros taquile Comments (0)

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