22nd and 23rd April - Puno, Lake Titicaca and the Uros Floating Islands

On the morning of Monday 22nd April we caught a bus up to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We left at 8.00am and did not get there till 3.00pm - the journey seemed to go on forever. We got a taxi to our hostel and chilled  out there for a couple of hours before taking a look round Puno.
Puno is a fairly scruffy town although I did notice some new designer university buildings on the outskirts. The town was thriving in Spanish times with a population of 10,000 due to its silver mine. It was very much a frontier town and very violent - so much so that the Spanish authorities executed the two brothers  Gaspar and Jose Salcedo, who owned the mine. 
We walked down through the town to the lakeside which was all fairly new.

Rickshaw ride

Outside the Plaza de Armas and Catedral

The Catedral (1657)

Inside the Catedral

An odd church

Sign in the ladies' banos

We were lucky to catch the moon over the water when we got down there. Puno lies at 3827m above sea level, and as everyone should know from childhood geography, Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is 8,300 square kilometres in size (15 times the size of Lake Geneva) and up to 284m deep.
While we were on the harbour front we investigated the trips out to the Uros Islands for the next day.

Tuesday morning we were down at the harbour again catching our ferry over to the Uros - a trip of about 30minutes. On the way down the pavements were full of vendors.


We got on to a small motor boat with a few other passengers and sat at the top for a good view. The water and the sky were both incredibly blue. I had the Fuji XE1 with me as I thought it woud be more 'people friendly' than the DSLR.
We rode out in the perfect blue, through a channel in the reeds as we approached the islands.

The islands are all man made and inhabited by the Aymara people who are descended from a tribe who preceded the Inca by about 300 years. There are two theories on how they came to be here, the first that they were trying to escape the Inca Quechua speaking people and second that they were fleeing the Spanish. At the last census there were around 2000 inhabitants living on the islands.
The islands are made from a base of living totora reed roots about one and a half metres thick. On top of this is placed cut reed in opposing layers, again this layer is about one and a half metres thick. The reeds do eventually rot and a fulltime maintenance programme is needed. An island will last around 20 years. The people also make reed boats, looking like gondolas with puma heads on the prow. The houses are made from reed although the two primary schools and the church had corrugated iron in them. Children need to go in to Puna for secondary school.
We landed on one of the islands and our guide explained its construction. The islands are anchored down but apparently if the islanders quarrel with their neighbour they can up anchor and move off. Also if individuals on an island fall out it is not unknown for the island to be sawn in half! Each island has its own president who is elected for a year, so they are all independent and democratic.

Our guide explaining the construction of the island

The stove and cooking pots

The cooking stove needs to be placed on a large stone to stop the reed catching fire. The people live by fishing, there is a plentiful supply of trout in the lake and some is also farmed. They also eat wildfowl and eggs from the ibis. 

Rather ancient rifle for wildfowling

Each island has its watchtower

Needless to say one of the main sources of income is now tourism and there were plenty of trinkets and textiles to buy on the islands. I did feel obliged to get a few small things to support them.

Naomi and Mairi in the watchtower

We were loaded in to one of the reed boats and rowed (with the assistance of a motor boat pushing from behind) over to another island on the opposite side of the community. As we were leaving some of the women were singing and clapping 'Row, row. row your boat', naturally.

The oars were handed in and we were off.

On the way  (not very far) we were entertained by a tiny girl also singing 'Row your boat'. She passed her hat round and we all dutifully placed a sol in it. She didn't look happy in her work!

None of the islands are very big

What I thought originally was washing turned out to be scarves for sale

We were tied up and descended on to the next island. I took another picture of the little girl on the way out but she scowled at me

This island was rather larger and I walked around taking photographs, as well as buying a scarf to take home. There were very few men around. A couple in the food shop and restaurant and one lounging by a boat.

Drying the washing

Craft stall

Lounging around

The photographer!

The restaurant

We all boarded back on to our original motorboat boat and  were soon back in Puno. I found these islands to be rather charming, very touristic, but in a low key sort of way.

On the quay side in Puno is a an old steamer, the Yavari which was manufactured in the UK in the mid 1800's and shipped, in parts to Puno, the last section being completed by pack mule. She was commissioned for the Peruvian navy and later, in 1976, the navy used her as a hospital ship. Finally she was used as a mail boat around Titicaca. The boilers were fuelled with llama dung! She is at present seaworthy but not in use.

We walked back to the hostel, stopping on the way for lunch. At the side of the lake were some strips of agriculture - I found out later that this irrigation and farming system is very ancient. There were also some sheep being kept there and some were being shorn by hand.

Interesting take on the chain link fence

Ladies shearing sheep at the side of the lake

Child with sleeping shearer

Ibis in the field next to lake

Dog guarding the wood yard

We spent the afternoon in the hostel, but Mairi and I walked to a viewpoint in the evening and took some pictures of the moon shining over the town.
Tomorrow it would be Bolivia.


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