I had planned one last stop in Peru, before going to Bolivia, my sixth and last country: a city called Puno, at the Titicaca lake, situated at 3.812 meters asl (above sea level). As usual, I had made no reservations whatsoever, so when the representative of one of the many agencies in the bus station offered to arrange an excursion to the floating islands, hotel AND bus transfer to Copacabana, on the other side of the lake, the following day, I bought the lot, too happy not to need to think any further. I was brought to my hotel and there I waited until the minivan would come and fetch me for the excursion.
It was late afternoon and the sun was slowly starting to set already. I spent part of the trip to the islands on the roof of the boat but it was quite chilly out there, especially with the wind we were getting from the speed. So I didn’t stay there long, though long enough to enjoy the gorgeous view. The cloudy sky had a fantastic texture and colour and I couldn’t help myself and took as many pictures as possible.
The floating islands are man-made islands. They are home to a few hundred Uru people, a pre-Inca civilisation, who make and maintain the islands using totora reeds. And not only are the islands themselves made of reeds; their houses and boats are made of the same material. Each island has a president,very often a woman. I can’t even remember having seen a man on any of these islands. When we got there, we got a short explanation on how they were built and then had the opportunity to buy some handcraft. A way to support the communities, as the maintenance of the islands requires a lot of effort and resources. To add layers of reeds as the bottom is rotting in the water but also to get the construction anchored, so that the islands won’t drift away on the lake. As I discovered only recently, these tasks are even more tedious since an increasing number of tourists are visiting. For the Uru, it is an opportunity as well as a challenge. As more people set foot on the islands, they are getting more means to acquire the necessary resources. But each step also makes the islands sink a little deeper, which requires a more regular maintenance.
A second way to support the community is to pay a few soles more and take a ride on one of their reeds-made boats, which I did. Our captain was a woman, assisted by a cute little 4-year old lady. As soon as we left, the girl started to sing in Aymara, which, with the Quechua, is one of the few original languages that survived through the centuries and the Spanish invasion. She was absolutely adorable! Brought a big smile on my face. Until she finished, looked stern, took her woolly hat off and started collecting the audience’s change. Hadn’t seen that one coming. I just thought I was enjoying a very spontaneous and local experience – don’t we tourists just love some good ol’ “local experiences? – But then again, it was for a good cause.
Once on the other island, I started to chat with some of my travel companions. Amongst them were two Chilean guys, friends travelling together, and a Japanese couple. They had met a few months ago in Mexico but the guy had been travelling for… more than 9 years. He had not been home one single time since he had left his home country. I was wondering if you could still be amazed by the world after having spent so much time discovering it. He didn’t seem to be interested in people that much anymore. His girlfriend did most of the talking.
It now started to get dark and cold. Time to get our feet back on firm land.