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Published: August 17th 2008
Another bus journey, another border crossing...having got our exit stamp from the Bolivian immigration office and walked across the border to Peru we felt a wee bit emotional. We were very sad to leave Bolivia, it has been abosolutely fantastic and we wish we could stay longer. Why have we loved it so much? The stunning scenery, the fascinating culture and traditions, the noises, the colours, the smells but most of all because of the people. The Bolivians have been so warm, happy and friendly, we will never forget them, particularly the children! However, time dictates that we keep moving onwards as we are becoming increasingly aware that our time in South America is drawing to an end, and we still hope to see two more countries Peru and Ecuador. Bolivia - we'll be back, but now its time to peruse Peru.
After a lovely fast and hassle-free border crossing we boarded the bus to make our way to Puno, the town situated on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Puno is much bigger and not quite as pretty and tranquil as Copacabana but it didn't really matter as once again the reason we were there was to get out
into the lake and visit some more islands. So after one night in Puno (and a delicious meal of alpaca steaks) we wasted no time in booking onto a boat to tour the islands.
We boarded very early in the morning, and had to wrap up well for the chilly ride through the reeds to our first stop, the floating islands of Los Uros. Before we left Scotland, Lake Titicaca was on our list of must visit places in South America. We had read all about these mystical floating islands, fascinated by the construction of the islands and the lifestyle of the people who lived on them. Despite this nothing prepared us for the sight of the islands as we approached them through the reeds. We had not expected the community of islands to be so large and the constructions to be so elaborate. We had heard from other gringos that people no longer lived on the island but just posed there for the tourists. This was evidently a load of twaddle however as we could see that these islands were inhabited by around 800 people, who worked, lived, slept, and brought up their families here. There is also
We approach the floating islands...
another group of islands which the tourists never get to see where thousands more live. Fair enough, the people do make money out of the boat loads of tourists invading by selling their handcrafts but they live on very little and still live in very basic conditions. With the money made from the tourists they take occasional trips to the markets in Puno to buy tools and some food.
On the first island we arrived at, Isla San Miguel, we were introduced to the leader of the island who told us all about the lifestyle and customs of the people of Los Uros. First he told us how the islands were made using the reeds. At this stage I must explain that it is not just the islands that are made from the reeds or totoras but everything: boats, houses, lookout towers, beds and the children even eat the reeds. The islands are constructed from the roots of the reeds, then many layers of tightly bundled reeds are placed on top and are constantly replenished from the top as they rot from the bottom. This meant that the ground (?) below your feet is soft and springy, the hardy
locals don't even bother wearing shoes, which must be freezing but they don't seem to feel it like us weaklings.
The leader (who is elected by the community of each island every 6 months) explained that the people still ate only what they could find around them. They fished trout and pejorray from the lake and hunted ducks with very rudimentary guns which looked liked they'd been left over from the Spanish conquistadores. They also used duck eggs and made their own bread, which we had a taste of.
What was evident from what we saw was that there was a real community spirit on the islands, it seemed that the toddlers running around were collectively watched over by the women and men and we were told that all food caught or money earned is devided equally among the families. Once again we enjoyed meeting the people who lived there and playing with the extremely cute and lively children. The children go to school on the mainland and have to row there and back from the islands.
After San Miguel we took the boat to another island called Isla Taquile, which has a very distinct culture and
tradition from the other islands on Lake Titicaca. This island is a normal non-floating island! Here they are an island of knitting lovers! We saw men wondering around the streets merrily knitting away, the men knit and the women mostly weave. What they make is tied in with their social customs. The men wear lovely colourful wooly hats (which made them look a bit like Wee Willy Winky), which they have proudly knitted themselves. The men wear red hats if they are married and red and white hats if they are single, while the leaders wear really colourful hats with a bowler type hat on top. Meanwhile the women wear colour-coded skirts to denote their social status, single girls wear bright coloured skirts and flowers on their hats while married ladies wear darker skirts. The people here rarely marry non-Taquile people and their lives are once again pretty untouched by the modernities of the mainland. In fact Taquile felt like its own wee world detached from the rest of the earth. Once again the scenery was beautiful with is deep red soil of the fields contrasting with the deep blue of the lake.
After another tasty trout lunch we
boarded the boat for the long ride back to busy Puno. Sitting on the boat watching the sun drop we felt overwhelmed by the tranquility of the lake. Lake Titicaca has a magical serenity that sweeps over you and makes you forget the busy, hectic world of the mainland, making us think that the people living on these islands have the right idea. We would love to have more time here exploring the many other islands but we have some place called Machu Picchu to visit so better get going! Ciao for now...
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