NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.
Our last days in Peru were spent on the beautiful shores and islands of Lake Titicaca, the a high elevation lake (13,000 ft) in the south of Peru. Here modern culture clashes with older ways of living, making for a unique atmosphere with tons of exciting aspects to explore.
To begin, we took a long drive from Cuzco to Puno, where we would be staying for the next and last two days. This is about eight hours, but theres plenty to see and do along the way, including many old cathedrals (pay attention to the paintings!) and if you are lucky, you might see some flamingoes off in the distance.
Once in Puno, there is lots to see on the lake. One of the most interesting is easily the floating reed islands. People have been creating and living on these islands for a long time, despite difficulty and weather issues. The base of the islands is created by roots from the reeds that then make the ‘carpet’ of the island. Houses are then built from the reeds as well as other buildings and features.
This was all detailed to us by the people of the island. In addition to how the islands are built, they also gave us information on their way of life. Tourism is easily their main source of income, however the islands used for tourism are switched frequently as this is their daily life and visitors can also be a privacy invasion. This idea of community is spread throughout every piece of their life. Families often join islands and a trade system is used rather than currency between people on the island. There is certainly a level of trust that doesn’t seem to be found in many other communities I have spent time with.
In recent years, their economy has been boosted by the crafts that are made by the people of their island. Men weave replicas of their large reed boats that look akin to cats (see a few photos above) and women embroider large pieces of fabric with Incan symbolism and bright colors. I couldn’t resist and bought a black one with flaming red and orange colors. Currently don’t know where to hang it, but it was too gorgeous to resist.
One of the women that helped us understand their way of life was exceptionally gracious and even allowed us into her house. It was a tiny reed building, filled with her traditional clothing and her son, Alex, was curled up at the foot of the bed. She had us try on her clothes, but spent the time telling me to eat more because I was too thin (may I add this was after my issues with altitude so I was a bit peaky). Tin Tin, our guide, also tried on the clothes, leading to quite comical photos.
Lastly, before we departed, we had the opportunity to ride on one of the reed boats. Called Mercedes Benz boats by the locals, these have been the traditional methods of movement for the people on Uros for many decades. I was impressed with their size; about 20 people could fit on it with ease. Out boat was guided by an abuelo (grandpa), and his son in law. Even the two children hopped aboard with their dog. This was one of the sweetest families I met throughout the whole trip.
While we saw many beautiful places in Peru, these people on the island captured my heart more than anything else and I loved getting to know their way of life. I was so impressed by their graciousness and hospitality and just the sheer beauty of their lifestyle on the little floating islands.