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    South by South America Tour – Peru Part 3

    Monday, October 14, 2019
    Puno, Peru

    These guys have got some 'splainin' to do on the Isla Uros near Puno, Peru.
    These guys have got some ‘splainin’ to do on the Isla Uros near Puno, Peru.

    A dragon boat made out of totora reeds that shuttles tourists around the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A dragon boat made out of totora reeds that shuttles tourists around the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    Around 8:40 am, a van pulled up in front of the Olimpo Inn to pick me up for a little jaunt to the Isla Uros, a group of man-made reed islands on Lake Titicaca. The only problem was I was told they would show up at 9:00 am, so I wasn’t ready yet. I really had to scramble to pack up my stuff and lock it in my backpack, since the hotel had no lockers. Anyway, 10 minutes later, I jumped in the van, which already contained two or three other passengers. Next, the van circled around the narrow, congested lanes and streets of central Puno to pick up more passengers. When the van was full, we proceeded a paltry few blocks down to the marina. That’s when the ridiculous nature of what had just happened dawned on me. They should have just had everyone meet down at the marina. After all, it was only a short walk from everyone’s hotels.

    A woman sews a textile by hand on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A woman sews a textile by hand on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    A tiny stove / tea pot on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A tiny stove / tea pot on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    Next, we boarded a boat for a slow 30-minute cruise to the Isla Uros. Upon arrival, I was delighted at the springy surface of the reeds. They are really fun to walk on. First, our guide had us sit on totora reed benches in a semi-circle as he and the jovial chief of that island offered up a lengthy explanation of how the islands were built. Next, were cut loose to explore the small island, which included some of the residents’ kitchens and bedrooms. A surplus of hand made clothing and textiles were offered for sale. I bought a pillowcase. Next, after three local ladies sang a song for us and shook our hands, we paid a small fee to ride on a totora reed boat shaped like two dragons. As the three ladies untied the ropes holding the boat to the island and we started to pull away, they exclaimed in unison, “Hasta la vista, baby!” which was really funny.

    Huts made out of totora reeds on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    Huts made out of totora reeds on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    The interior of a hut made out of totora reeds on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    The interior of a hut made out of totora reeds on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    Next, we cruised around in a big circle on Lake Titicaca between two rows of islands, then pulled up to the second and last island that we would visit. There, lunch was served to anyone who wanted to pay for it; many souvenirs and Isla Uros passport stamps were also on offer. I opted for the latter. After a short while, everyone climbed back on our original motorboat and we made the 30-minute cruise back to the marina in Puno. Overall, despite the tourist trap feel of the whole spectacle, I enjoyed the visit to Isla Uros, as it was neat to learn about and experience a little bit of the unique living situation of those people.

    A woman holds a pillow case that I bought on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A woman holds a pillow case that I bought on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    A close up of the totora reeds that form the soft, springy ground of the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A close up of the totora reeds that form the soft, springy ground of the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    “The Uru or Uros are an indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia. They live on an approximate and still growing 120 self-fashioned floating islands in Lake Titicaca near Puno. They form three main groups: the Uru-Chipaya, Uru-Murato, and Uru-Iruito. The Uru-Iruito still inhabit the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and the Desaguadero River. According to legend, the Uru descended from a people who spoke the Puquina language. They considered themselves the owners of the lake and water, and historically called themselves Lupihaques, or Sons of the Sun. Although most Uru languages have been lost, the Uru people continue to maintain their identity and some old customs. The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive; if a threat arose, the floating islands could be moved. The largest island retains a watchtower, as do most of the smaller islands. Historically, most of the Uru islands were located near the middle of the lake, about nine miles from the shore; however, in 1986, after a major storm devastated the islands, many Uru rebuilt closer to shore.

    Locals perform for tourists on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    Locals perform for tourists on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    Three local women exclaim, 'Hasta la vista, baby!' as tourists leave on a boat in the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    Three local women exclaim, “Hasta la vista, baby!’ as tourists leave on a boat in the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    “Over the centuries, the Uru people traded with the Aymara tribe on the mainland, intermarrying with them and eventually abandoning the Uru language for that of the Aymara. About 500 years ago, they lost their original language. When conquered by the Inca empire, they had to pay taxes to them, and often were made slaves. The Uru use bundles of dried totora reeds to make reed boats, and to make the islands themselves. The larger islands house about 10 families, while the smaller ones, which are only about 30 meters wide, house only two or three families.

    The Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    The Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    Welcome to Restaurant Island in the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    Welcome to Restaurant Island in the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    “The islets are made of multiple natural layers of materials harvested in Lake Titicaca: The base is made of large pallets of floating totora roots, which are tied together with ropes and covered in multiple layers of totora reeds. These dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called khili, which are about one to two meters thick and form the main flotation and stability devices of the islands. The islands are anchored with ropes attached to large eucalyptus poles driven into the bottom of the lake. Each floating block of khili measures approximately 4 x 10 meters. Said blocks used to be harvested with eucalyptus wedges, but are now sourced using 1.5 centimeter long metal saws custom made for this purpose.

    “Once the khili pallets are tied together and anchored, multiple layers of cut reeds are added. The bottom layer of covering reeds rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every two weeks to three months depending on the weather. (The resultant springy feeling is what makes it exciting for tourists to walk on the islands.) This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about 30 years.

    A close-up of the totora reeds that are used to build everything on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A close-up of the totora reeds that are used to build everything on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    A woman stands next to a totora reed boat on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A woman stands next to a totora reed boat on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    “Each step one takes on an island sinks about 2” to 4” depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As each reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added on top of it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there receive so many tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island. in facts, tourism via boats from Puno has become the primary financial income for people living on the islands.

    A totora reed hut and a boat on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.
    A totora reed hut and a boat on the Uros Islands near Puno, Peru.

    A colorful corner in Puno, Peru.
    A colorful corner in Puno, Peru.

    “Around 2,000 descendants of the Uru were counted in the 1997 census, although only a few hundred still live on and maintain the islands; most have moved to the mainland. The Uru also bury their dead on the mainland in special cemeteries. Food is cooked in pots by means of pottery stoves, which are placed on flat stones to prevent the flammable reed islands from catching fire. To relieve themselves, the Uru people have built tiny ‘outhouse’ islands near the main islands with simple toilets installed in them. The ground root absorbs the waste.

    A Catholic church in Puno, Peru.
    A Catholic church in Puno, Peru.

    A tuk-tuk is all covered up with nowhere to go in Puno, Peru.
    A tuk-tuk is all covered up with nowhere to go in Puno, Peru.

    “Most islands feature a standardized shower building with tiled roofs, water heating cells and a hot water boiler to allow for warm showers. Houses on the floating islands are mostly made of reeds, too, with some using corrugated metal roofs – but insulation exists only in few of them. All of the houses are built on top of an extra one meter layer of dry reeds to prevent rheumatism. Local residents fish ispi, carachi and catfish. Trout was introduced to the lake from Canada in 1940, and kingfish was introduced from Argentina. Uru also hunt birds such as seagulls, ducks and flamingos, and graze their cattle on the islets. They barter totora reeds on the mainland in Puno to get products they need, such as quinoa and other foods.

    A scenic overview of Puno, Peru.
    A scenic overview of Puno, Peru.

    A fruit vendor in Puno, Peru.
    A fruit vendor in Puno, Peru.

    “The Uru do not reject modern technology. Most of their boats have motors, and nearly all of their islands have shared solar panels to run appliances such as televisions, and the main island is home to an Uru-run FM radio station, which plays music for several hours a day. Kindergarten and elementary schools exist on several islands, including a traditional school and a school run by a Christian church. Older children and university students attend school on the mainland, often in nearby Puno.”—Wikipedia

    Does anyone need a dentist? Puno, Peru.
    Does anyone need a dentist? Puno, Peru.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

    One response to “South by South America Tour – Peru Part 3”

    1. Larry Balma says:

      Muy interisante!

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