Everyone had been telling us the last few weeks that Puno Peru is a hole. Driving into the city along the waterfront you can see that the majority of the ground cover here is reed filled marshlands. The guide on our tour bus had sold us instantly on a tour of the Floating Island communities (the only rather nifty thing in Puno worth stopping for). Our tour guide, Oscar, rushed us to our hotel and knocks on our door after we have thrown our things down in a span of maybe two minutes. He then rushes us back outside to the taxi waiting to take us on our floating islands. In the tunes of Gilligan’s Island, it was a “Three hour tour *echo* three hour tour.” We rushed through town passing by the cities many rickshaw, tricycle motorized taxis. We walked down the pier and were soon sitting down in our little fishing boat.
Our small little tour guide for the afternoon started to chat about the history of the area as the boat disembarked and puttered thirty minutes south along the lake. The word Titicaca means Puma Stone, in case any of you were wondering. After seeing several ruins around here it is clear that this area was filled with the Puma cat (the most revered). There are over thirty seven reed islands of which two we were going to visit. Apparently there were initially two tribes living on the lake that never truly got along. Agriculturalists and fisherman were their trades. The fisherman, sick of fighting on land, decided to float their families out into the middle of the lake!
As the sun started to show signs of setting our little boat entered the community of Isla Los Uros Q’otamarca (the floating islands). The entire community is made of reeds. Everyone on board (well just the tourists) were flabbergasted at the sight of all these people, huts and boats randomly floating in the middle of the lake. Each island has a beautiful boat sculptured entirely out of reeds. Most of them look like Viking ships with a bow shaped like a dragon or puma head. We docked at a small island with five residential huts. We were greeted by a native woman who actually didn’t speak any Spanish.
We hopped onto the islands reed floor (which reminded me of cowboy farm house BBQ’s back home where you find yourself walking along small bits of straw). We all sat along the body of a sculptured reed snake as our guide gave us the lowdown on how people live in these communities. They fish for food and their main source of income comes from selling their handicrafts to tourists. We were then given a demo on how the floating islands are made. The base of the island is made of one meter of dirt filled root systems that are dug up as cubes on the shores of the lake. They tie these cubes together with rope and then place two meters of reeds on top of this to create a foundation for the community. The islands are all outfitted with solar panels and I could see inside one of the huts where a few children were watching TV. The locals also eat the white stems of the reeds which they peel back like a banana, and are actually called “the banana of the lake.” We walked around the island, some parts were rather bouncy and others you could sink into a bit if you stood to long. We all hopped into a two dragon headed viking ship to the next island. Four indigenous men, two in the bow and two in the stern were rowing our little ship across the lake. The 2nd island was built to look like a donut with a reed garden in the center of “town.” The sun had almost entirely gone behind the mountains as we took pictures beside a look out tower the shape of a swan.
We hopped on a ferry back to Puno, staring at the glowing city lights on the hill tops ahead. We walked to the windy central plaza to take money out of an ATM. We were surrounded by riot police and a throng of protesters marching in circles as they shouted for some freedom or another. Protesting no longer phases me. I have also acclimatized myself to the sound of gunfire. We stopped to eat dinner at Sayary Restaurant where we had our first taste of Alpaca steaks. I ordered a glass of Concha Y Toro Red Wine and a Garlic grilled Alpaca steak with rice and fries. Alpaca actually tastes lovely. Our steaks were rather thin and our knives resembled a butter knife so cutting the steak was a task in itself. We walked back to our hotel to get an early night sleep as we had to wake up at an ungodly hour for our bus the following morning.