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Published: October 9th 2007
We arrived in Puno on the overnight bus from Cusco and found a hostal. We were here to visit the Islas Flotantes, the floating islands of the Uros people, on Lake Titicaca. When people said 'floating islands' I was picturing some sort of complicated set of large rafts tied together. Even when they said 'made of reed' I was still picturing the sturdy raft-style thing covered in reeds. So it was a slight shock to realise that the islands are truly and honestly just made of reeds packed together in bundles and squashed down onto each other until they form a (almost!) secure place to walk. The Uros people originally built the strange floating islands of Lake Titicaca in order to escape the aggressive Inca and Aymara tribes and several hundred people still live on them. The obvious reason as to why they still choose to live there (apart from tradition of course) is the brilliant fact that they don't have to pay whatever the Peruvian equivalent of land and council tax is. Technically, as they 'create' the land they live on themselves, they cannot be made to pay. Genius idea that I somehow don't think
would transfer to the Lake District very well! The tout who had organised our hostal for us sold us a (pretty reasonable) trip to the islands for the next day and seeing as we wanted to cross into Bolivia as soon as possible we figured we might as well do the easy option.
The first island we visited from our motor-boat was Isla Kontiki where our guide gave us a talk on how the islands were constructed. Slightly disconcerting to be walking on bundles of tortora reeds and not much else! Especially when we were warned to stay away from the edges and they even had a hole in the middle for us to see! The islands themselves were very soft and springy to walk on and I constantly felt as though I were going to fall through! I still don't quite understand how they stay afloat and you sank into them everytime you put any weight on your foot. All the inhabitants make traditional souvenirs to sell which is their main source of revenue. It's amazing how their way of life has survived to the present day - their population stays pretty much the same because, although girls
who get married to men from the mainland go and live there, the Uros men who marry girls from the mainland have their new wives move onto the islands to continue in their way of life - personally I think the novelty of living on a pile of reeds in the middle of a lake might wear off rather quickly! The one good thing about the islands being that you can walk around everywhere barefoot!
It's easy to see how they make money as we only just got away once we had bought something from every stall! Still, they were certainly unique souvenirs. One of the little girls living there was obsessed with plaiting our hair and decided to line us all up on a (reed) bench to style our hair 'a la Uros' and was very unhappy to see us go. It's truly amazing what you can make out of reeds - an island, houses, benches, wardrobes, benches etc. Although we didn't actually ask about the toilet facilities!
We took one of the reed boats (complete with singing boat men who were determined to serenade one Japanese woman with, what they claimed was, a 'Japan song'! -
despite not knowing a single word of Japanese I can confidently say that they spoke less than I do!) to get to the main island of Parihuana complete with reed church with a reed altar!! And a reed telephone box! Personally, I'm not quite sure how that work and I'm afraid I didn't get to test it. Mini reed versions of the boats were on sale at all the islands as well as traditional weavings which the islanders managed to persuade practically everyone to buy! Then we were loaded back onto the motorboat (which had loads of the little reed boats hanging off it - obviously a popular souvenir) and headed back to Puno for the evening before setting off to Copacabana in the morning to cross into Bolivia!
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