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Archive for Isla Taquile

Floating on an island of reeds at Lake Titicaca

After conquering the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu we felt that we had seen the best that Peru had to offer. Rossi had headed back home to the UK, and we planned our route over the border to Bolivia. To break up the journey, we’d scheduled one last stop in Peru to see Lake Titicaca, which we’d heard from fellow travellers was worth a look.

Laguna Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres.

Laguna Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 metres.

As soon as we arrived in Puno (the town neighbouring the lake), we booked a tour to see the famous floating islands and some other features of the lake – including a night’s stay with a local family. Up bright and early (again) the next morning, we were whisked away by our group and taken to the pier, where colourful boats bobbed in the cobalt lake. 

Our on-board entertainment; In llama land there's a one man band who'll toot his flute for you!

Our on-board entertainment; In llama land there’s a one man band who’ll toot his flute for you!

Our first stop on the boat was the floating islands, which are made almost entirely of tortora reeds (the same reeds used for the distinctive boats in Huanchaco). We were told how the native people (Uros) created these islands to escape the more aggressive Inca and Collas peoples hundreds of years ago – and ended up creating their own unique way of life on the water.

The floating islands (or Uros Islands) of Lake Titicaca

The floating islands (or Uros Islands) of Lake Titicaca

These islands are just 30 minutes from the mainland. I had expected them to be further out on the lake, but apparently the islanders move their floating homes according to where they need to be – and since they visit the markets in Puno each week to sell their wares, it makes good sense for them to be fairly close by.

Another surprise was the sheer amount of islands – there are more than 50 at any one time and there were so many it looked almost as if it was one huge landmass rather than distinct isles.

We were greeted by ladies in brightly coloured clothes, who waved at us as the boat passed, and soon we had docked at one of the islands to meet some of them.

The island ladies giving us a warm welcome

The island ladies giving us a warm welcome

Both of us were surprised about how the islands felt to walk on – they were spongy, almost like walking on a giant marshmallow!

On one of the islands - it almost seemed like a giant hay-bale

An entrance to one of the islands – it almost seemed like a giant hay-bale

We had a quick explanation of how each island was created in a 10 month process by our island’s ‘president’, and then we were allowed to look around for ourselves.

HOW TO MAKE A FLOATING ISLAND

Step 1:

Find a base to work with - this is made from totora reed roots and soil (it occurs naturally and floats to the surface in large clumps). Cut it to size with a massive saw.

Find a base to work with – this is made from totora reed roots and soil (it occurs naturally and floats to the surface in large clumps). Cut it to size with a massive saw.

Step 2:

Tie sections of the base together to make a larger piece. In a few months, the roots intertwine and you're left with one large and sturdy base to work with (these tend to be several metres across!)

Tie sections of the base together to make a larger piece. In a few months, the roots intertwine and you’re left with one large and sturdy base to work with (these tend to be several metres across!)

Step 3:

Now it's time to anchor your island. You do this by tying it to a land mass or another floating island that's already anchored. Then rocks in the middle of the  rope help weigh the line down and keep it steady. (The islanders can move the islands should they want to, but it doesn't happen often)

Now it’s time to anchor your island. You do this by tying it to a land mass or another floating island that’s already anchored. Then rocks in the middle of the rope help weigh the line down and keep it steady. (The islanders can move the islands should they want to, but it doesn’t happen often)

Step 4:

Add LOADS of reeds. First make a layer with big long ones, then add shorter ones on the top. (This process never really ends because the islanders have to maintain their island by adding new reeds as the old ones disintegrate in the water over time)

Add LOADS of reeds. First make a layer with big long ones, then add shorter ones on the top. (This process never really ends because the islanders have to maintain their island by adding new reeds as the old ones disintegrate in the water over time)

Step 5:

Now you can build your casa and other fun stuff. This is the finished product (not to scale)!

Now you can build your casa and other fun stuff. This is the finished product (not to scale)!

It was clear that tourism has become a way of life for the islanders – who are keen to show you some of the items that they have made in the hope that you will buy something. Some people may think it sad that their traditional customs have changed somewhat, but I found it interesting to see how the community has adapted to the interest shown by foreigners. Also, in finding this new industry they have been able to improve their own quality of living by being able to afford items such as solar power panels for hot water and electricity.

One man, Roberto, and his wife Sylvia, showed us their own home, which – although small – had all the comforts of a modern home (including a radio and TV!)

One man, Roberto, and his wife Sylvia, showed us their own home, which – although small – had all the comforts of a modern home (including a radio and TV!)

After the floating islands, we were off for another adventure on the natural island Amantani – a further two hours boat ride away. Here, we stayed with Sìmon and his wife Maria-Princessa. They had a beautiful little home tucked away on the island, and they made us feel very welcome with a basic but tasty meal of Quinoa soup and grilled cheese with rice and vegetables.

Our hosts' home

Our hosts’ home

Basic but tasty... although I wasn't sure about the cheese

Basic but tasty… although I wasn’t sure about the cheese

After we watched the sunset below the horizon, Maria-Princessa ushered us upstairs and showed us some traditional islander clothing that she clearly wanted us to put on.

The sunset

The sunset on Isla Amantani

For Dale, it was simply a matter of throwing on a poncho and a knitted hat, but for me it was a somewhat lengthier process – first I had to put on a white embroidered blouse and a brightly-coloured skirt, and then Maria-Princessa wound an embroidered belt around my middle and tied it tight – almost like a corset! Then Maria-Princessa insisted I tied my hair up before giving me the finishing touch – a black shawl, which she said I should wear over my head.

Stylish as ever

Stylish as ever

When we were fully-dressed, we were led to a building similar to a village hall, where it was clear that everyone else staying on the island had been through the same process. Then a band started up and we were shown some basic local dance moves before being given the floor.

Throwing some shapes on the dancefloor

Throwing some shapes on the dance floor

Although this was another clear example of an exercise put on for tourist benefit, everyone (including the locals) looked like they were having a lot of fun and it was endearing to see that all of the host families truly wanted us to have a good time.

After some quite exhausting dances (most of which involved galloping around in a huge circle – which is quite tiring at high altitude!), Maria-Princessa led us home through the dark and we took a moment to look up at the night sky. The stars were spectacularly bright with no light pollution nearby and we could even see the Milky Way.

In the morning, we were sorry to leave our hosts and (because she was absolutely freezing) I gave Maria-Princessa my gloves that I’d bought for the Machu Picchu trek. She seemed delighted with the gift and we had another little dance (with music courtesy of Sìmon) in their garden.

Saying goodbye through the medium of dance

Saying goodbye through the medium of dance

Before heading back to the mainland and on to La Paz, Bolivia, our tour stopped off at the nearby island Taquile. Although the terrain looks similar, the lifestyles on this island seem radically different. Here, men do the knitting and women tend to weave.

You can see here the traditional clothing worn by men on the island - including their hats. If they are wearing red and white hats, it means they're single. The red and blue means they are married.

You can see here the traditional clothing worn by men on the island – including their hats. If they are wearing red and white hats, it means they’re single. The red and blue means they are married.

Beautiful island scenery

Beautiful island scenery

We were very happy to have ended our stay in Peru with a visit to the islands of Lake Titicaca. We were both pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed meeting and learning about the people who live on the lake. Although it was touristy, we found the locals to be genuinely lovely and the experience sticks out in my mind as a definite highlight of Peru.