Floating Islands

Puno – Lago Titicaca

As a kid I loved to read. And I read a lot. I loved to read the adventure books of the 50’s and 60’s. Real adventures. Real people.

I still like these kinds of books from that time. Other than today adventures were not sponsored by big companies. It was not million Dollar investments in order to create a Billion Dollar worth advertising movie for example of somebody falling into the void from a balloon at 36km altitude. Not that I don’t respect the braveness of Baumgartner doing it. But the way everything is setup is to create as much attention as possible is annoying. It is advertising at the end.

How different is the approach and the style of the older adventures, like Lindemann who crossed the Atlantic in a folding boat.

Two of the books I read intensively and loved to read again and again where the books of Thor Heyerdahl. He was a researcher and saw connections between cultures of South America and Polynesia in the Pacific. The only way he could explain that, was that people crossed the Pacific. Since everybody told him that this would have been impossible at that time he build a float (which was used at ancient times in South America), found a couple of adventures guys and crossed the ocean against all odds in order to proof his theory.

He did the same thing with a papyrus boat in order to proof that Egyptian culture may have influenced South America by crossing the Atlantic with such a boat. The boat Ra II was built at the Titicaca Lake.

The book is an incredible documentary of braveness and great spirit of adventure.

I had the descriptions of how they built the boat very vividly in my mind when we approached the Lake Titicaca on our motorbikes.

We arrived pretty late, since the ride from Arequipa was so beautiful. We decided to check into a fantastic hotel since it was out of town and we didn’t like to be in the centre of the town of Puno as it didn’t look very attractive to us.

We slept in the next morning and after a fantastic breakfast with a great view on the Lago Titicaca we took a taxi to the towns harbor and looked for a boat to the floating islands. We didn’t have to look for long, the boats found us by means of a guy who dragged tourists to the ticket office and moves them on to the boats.

The floating islands are the remaining goods of the culture of the Uru. Still 2000 people live on the islands. They live on floating islands that are created from totora reeds. There are 500 small islands, each containing 5-10 houses, each house representing a small family. Each island has an elected spokesman who is responsible for the wellbeing of the island. The Urus live from tourism. But they live the very simple and hard life on the islands. It is very traditional, no TV, no Internet. They sleep and live here.

Visitors from Puno are getting put together in boats and then shipped to the islands. There they get distributed to the different islands, so that all islands can participate from the tourism.

We were only 6 people on our boat (normally it is between 10 and 20) when we arrived on “our” island.

Jose, the spokesman welcomed us and lead us around the island. There is a circle of benches, 6 little huts, a little tower. All made of totora reeds. Including the island itself of course. It is a weird feeling to walk on the soft ground. You are walking on a thick layer of these reeds. In areas which are more walked, the reeds are broken and are short. On the edge of the islands, the reeds are long. You can notice that they are spread out in one direction. Jose tells us that this is how they maintain the islands. Once a week they put on a new layer of reeds. After a while they break and you have to put on a new layer. They old layers are getting soaked by water and start to rot. And indeed, if you are moving away the top layer of the reeds you feel the moist already and only 10cm deep the ground is completely wet.

After we have seen everything each of the families put up their little stand to sell little items. This is the only income for these families. So we bought some little handcrafts from each of the families.

Later we boarded the “Mercedes-Benz” how Jose called his little reed boat to ride it across the lake to the main island where we got picked up by our motorboat to get back to Puno.

His two little daughters accompanied us and told us a little bit about their life as well. They go to a school here on the floating islands. They very rarely go to Puno and have never been anywhere else.

Even though the complete tour was fully organized and a well structured tourism event, I really enjoyed it.

These islands and the way of life of these people there is so unique, that I was able to ignore the whole system that they have set up here. Tourists get processed like in a manufacturing belt. But the life the Uuos choose to live is very hard. And to reserve the culture of their people by living this hard life gets all my respect.

To be able to ride on one of these reed boats and to get a little bit the feeling of how Heyerdahl and his daredevil friends travelled the Atlantic was priceless.

I had a great day. And the fact that this was my birthday just made it a perfect present for me.



1 thought on “Floating Islands

  1. Pingback: Site Content | peaks, pampas, and panniers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s