December 10th and 11th, 2011
I left Cusco thinking it would take me two days to get to Puno, it wasn’t crazy far just further than I thought I would want to go.
The sky was gray all day, and it got surprisingly cold in the afternoon. I hooked up the heated liner for the first time since…Alaska maybe. It had been a while. And the miles just flew by. I was approaching Puno before I knew it, though as I ended the city night fell and it started to rain.
I got lodgings, and signed up for a boat tour of the floating islands the next day, then I took a hot shower (yay for hot water), ate Alpaca, and went to sleep.
Morning was sunny, and warmer.
My tour boat looked a lot like this one, but this wasn’t it. And it wasn’t a three hour tour, either, so I figured I was pretty safe.
Puno’s nicest hotel, recently dropped to 4 stars and straight out of the 60s. It was on a strip of land jutting out into the bay and well away from the rest of the city. To be honest, a lot of Puno was run down and looked half-built. It’s the second most popular tourist city in Peru (after Cusco), and there was tourist money around, but I don’t think it was filtering down very well.
The boat ride was pleasant,
and before long we were among the reeds.
There was also a checkpoint we had to pass, but it only involved the boat crew. No one asked us anything.
Once on the other side of the checkpoint, things got a little more homely.
We pulled out of the channel into a larger, open area, surrounded by the floating islands and filled with local reed boats.
The women in the bright clothes lined most of the islands, and waved as we went past. I think there were there to attract the tourists who were using the ferry system, rather than those of us on tours.
Long ago, the Uros people found they could weave islands from the totora reeds (which are also partially edible. I tried one, edible it may be but flavorful it is not). They made themselves some island and floated out on to the lake to flee another local tribe (The C-somethings, I didn’t take good notes) who were increasingly violent.
Since the 1970s the floating islands have become a popular tourist destination, with some even allowing homestays. Tourist companies abound, but many rip of the people on the islands. The island culture itself has changed, going from basically a subsistence to tourist-based economy. There are even rumors that some of the island people actually return to the mainland at night to sleep.
One thing that is true is the Uros people, as a distinct local tribe, have vanished. A version of the their culture does remain, though, and you can see and learn about it by visiting the islands.
We went to this island-
Where we were given a well-rehearsed explanation of life on the island, and the lives of the islands themselves (They only last about 30 years, and need a new layer of reeds added every week or so). There were even props.
After the little lecture we got to walk around the island and look in one of the family’s house. I got my picture taken with a silly hat.
And, yeah, they had a pink girly blanket. At least it made me feel like they really lived there. The island “mayor” had a solar panel and a radio.
After the look in the house and the picture we were offered the chance to buy craft items. I usually pass on that sort of thing, since I don’t have a lot of space on the motorcycle, but I know the craft sales were what really supported the islanders (since I didn’t think the tour company was paying them a lot). Then we had another brief talk, and were offered a ride on the island’s boat to the next island. The boat looked…bad…and I passed.
The next island was much more of the ‘tourist center’ with a restaurant, bathrooms (the islanders have a special ‘bathroom island’ they use, the individual islands don’t have bathrooms) and more crafty stuff for sale.
Lonely Planet actually suggests eating here, if you can. It’s run by the community and the money goes directly to the islanders. I didn’t, mainly since it was still early and I wasn’t hungry (free breakfast at the hotel).
This island felt like a museum gift shop, and not a very good one. We were stuck there for a while, probably on purpose, before the tour boat was ready to take us back. So I got to see a lot more local boat on the lake.
I think using a powered boat to push is cheating. And I met the local cat,
And watched them stuffing new reeds under one of the buildings (remember a new layer has to be added every week)
Then the boat was ready to leave and we all got back on. The ride back was less entertaining, since we weren’t allowed on the viewing deck anymore. I still saw this
which was the island’s look out tower all decorated up. Pretty cool.
Once back on land it was still early afternoon, so I decided to walk around Puno a little.
There was a parade going on, though I missed most of it.
And went looking for food
I still couldn’t quite bring myself to eat the guinea pig.