30.12.16 Puno, Peru
Today was something we had both been looking forward to, a visit to the famous Reed Islands, (Las Islas de Orus), on Lake Titicaca.
We had both had fitful sleep because of mild altitude sickness. It is advisable to sleep at only 500m higher than your previous night when trying to acclimatise, but that just isn’t possible here as there is nowhere to stay. Hence we are 1300m higher, and probably that meant we rose a little too quickly.
Anyway, we were collected in a little bus at 9 am, and taken with a few other passengers to the boat terminal for Lake Titicaca. This morning had dawned with rain, and overcast, which was a bit disappointing. Before long, we were chugging away with 10 other passengers and our guide telling us all about the history of the islands, up to present day.
There are 87 of the floating islands remaining in use, and they house 2,000 inhabitants. The islands are made entirely from reeds and anchored into the lake for stability. Each island is different in size, but the one we were taken to housed six families. We saw only one man on the island, so were not quite sure if all the ladies were his wives….. There was mention of his wife number one.
We were taught by our guide how to speak in the local language too say hello, I am good, ‘waliki’.
We had a warm welcome, and were talked through local customs, daily habits, eating habits, cooking, which foods they ate (trout, kingfish, duck, seagulls). Plus more details of history:
The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake Titicaca. 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.
Each step on an island sinks about 2-4" depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As the reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added to it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there receive so many tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island.Tourism provides financial opportunities for the natives, while simultaneously challenging their traditional lifestyle.
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.
After this we were given free time, and were taken in groups of three to look inside a house, and then be shown the handmade goods made on the islands. Some of these were truly beautiful, and a small handmade tapestry takes about 2 months to make. I was also allowed to dress in Uro clothes, which amused Paul greatly, but was fun.
We felt honoured to see this life, ok, so it may be mainly a tourist attraction now, but it’s very humbling all the same.
After returning to our hotel, and a supermarket visit, we found a tiny little place for our lunch, where there were no lights, and no choice, it was just a clear vegetable soup, followed by a thin slice of beef, rice and roast potatoes. Accompanied by a very dark purple drink, which we bravely drank, unsure of what it was. Thankfully, no upset tums followed, and all for the princely sum of $4.00 US!