Puno and Lake Titicaca

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April 28th 2018
Published: April 28th 2018
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Today we began the last full day of touring at Lake Titicaca. This is the highest, navigable lake in the world. At over 12,000 feet the rarefied air can be taxing. Last night we were in Puno and I went to bed about 11:00 PM local time. I have not had any breathing problems at all so far but tonight, I woke up and felt that all the air had left the room. I really was huffing and yet no air filled my lungs. I have to say my heart was racing and I became a little concerned. I opened the hotel window to get some air, even though it only had 60% of the oxygen I expected, it helped. My heart stopped racing, I breathed much better, but now I could not fall asleep. It took my mind about 2 hours to calm down enough to fall asleep. Oh well, I survived and after breakfast we headed to the Lake and the Uros Islands.

Now "island" is a stretch. We drove our huge bus down impossibly narrow streets to the port where we boarded our tour boat for the 25 minute ride to the islands. let me describe them for you. All of the 900 islands as man made out of reeds. The builder and island president manages the construction project. First the workers, male and female, travel out to the reed fields and pull up the roots of the reeds. Saws, ropes and brute strength are employed to detach these roots, some 9 feet long, from the bottom of the shallows. It requires 10 - 20 root piles to begin the island.

The roots are transported back to the location where the island will be built. These anchored to the bottom of the lake some 40 feet down. They are tied together and stabilized where reeds are carefully layered over and over in a cross hatch pattern until we have a stable floating island. An island can be built in about 30 days, stable and large enough to support up to 4 families. IN most cases we have 4 generations of families with grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren all living on the self supporting floating island.

Once the island is complete, using reeds, buildings are built to act as store houses as well as living quarters. Typically there may be 8-10 small one room dwellings that each serve a multiplicity of purposes. A fire-pit for cooking is prepared near the water line for quick access to water should a fire break out. A work area, living areas, common area, gardens etc are carefully laid out by the president of the island.

There is no running water, no plumbing, no sanitation, but they do have solar panels to provide electric light, a rare luxury. The children must go to school which is on the mainland a 45 minute or more ride in a reed boat powered by a two man rowing team. Reeds are added weekly to the island as older reeds will rot away leaving the islanders in danger of falling into the water. The buildings may mast 3 months before they have to be repaired or entirely rebuilt. Reeds are used for every purpose even for food. I peeled some of the reed back and bit into a soft flavorless substance not unlike a potato. It was actually pretty but a steady diet, I don't think so.

We landed on the island and was greeted by the president of this little island and introduced us to his wife, daughter, his secretary, his grandparents and a small child of less than two.

While El Presidente told us about life on the island the little boy wanted to play. He got my attention by throwing an empty plastic bottle and laughing hysterically. I knew this game so I got on my knees and counted one, two, three and gently tossed the bottle back to the little boy. Much to my shock the bottle hit him square in the chest sand he reacted as if he was hit by a canon ball! He jumped up fell over backwards flopped about and caused the entire island to move. He laughed and laughed and then picked up the bottle and threw it to me again. This time I was ready and I tossed it a light as possible, I didn't even hit him with the bottle but the reaction was exactly the same. He flew back, head over heels, landed on the reed floor, flopped about and chased the bottle for another go. Before I killed this little acrobat, I gave him a piece of candy I had left over from lunch and he quickly forgot about the bottle game.

We learned that living on the island was not with out peril. Sometimes sever storms can cause significant damage or even break the island away from its moorings and float away. There is no doctor so heath is a major issue. Since they pay no taxes the Uros (meaning wild men) receive no services or benefit from the government. But despite a rather hard life they seemed happy.

The women were weavers using Alpaca and Llama fur they made a wide variety of items for sale. To help this island economy we bought some really nice items from the ladies who seemed genuinely appreciative. After shopping we boarded a reed boat which El Presidente himself road over to the next island where we hit the water closet and boarded our touring boat back to the mainland.

For a treat, our guide Raul had lined up a surrey like bicycle for each pair of us to take back to the bus. It was interesting as we raced around the central square then up a slight incline to the bus. We enjoyed the treat and for 1 sole each, about 31 cents, the drivers were pleased. Amazing how little it takes to make these people happy.

Time for lunch we hit a pizza shop across from the main cathedral and enjoyed a delicious meal. We only had about an hour of leisure before it was back on the bus for our final tour in Puno.

We were now heading back into the Andes to visit the Sillustani tombs. There pre-Inca and Inca tombs were built high up into the mountain at an altitude above 13,000 feet. The Inca buried their dead with reference to Pachamama, the mother earth. When the Inca died, they broke the leg and arm tendons to fold the body into a fetal position. They then wrapped the body in blankets and allowed the body to mummify naturally. Once the body was dry, it was place back into the earth either in a cave in the mountain, an underground burial or, as in the case of Sillusanti, in Chullpas or a cylinder shaped rock built tomb. Thee were reserved to high priests or important people.

Our bus drove to the site along Lake Umayo, where we left the bus and walked the treacherous trail up 1000 feet to the site of the tombs. The buried tombs were all empty, either having been looted for silver and goal, or the mummies removed with the artifacts and sent to the local museum for all to view. We walked up and up to see the ruins, then walek back down a feat made more perilous by the steep steps and the low oxygen supply. We took our time, took many a rest break as well as photo and made the journey without a hitch. Back to the bus and off again to dinner on our own.

Tonight I dined on caprese salad, followed by a Lasagna Carne. Both were delicious. All too soon it was getting late so we headed back to the hotel. On the way we say a large crown drawing near a government building. There were police present and before we got into trouble we asked about as to what was happening. It took a few tries, but some one finally told us the the president of Peru was in teh government building and they were waiting to see him. Well that was cool enough but the crowd was building and the 4:30 wake up call was getting closer and closer so we decided to head to the hotel and a much needed rest. Tomorrow we say good bye to Puno and head back to Lima for our last day in Peru.


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