High up in the Andes mountains of South America, situated between Peru and Bolivia is the largest commercially navigable lake in the world – Lake Titicaca. By volume of water, it is also the largest lake in South America.
We have come to see the floating islands. There are around 40 of them clustered together about a two-hour boat ride from Puno. I had never heard of the floating islands until shortly before we booked this trip, but I am so glad that they got included in our itinerary.
The islands are made from totora reeds and inhabited by the Uros tribe. They change in size and more are created as the need arises, however most are a combination of living museum, tourist attraction and floating marketplace.
Although families still live on the islands, they rely heavily on tourism for their survival. The ladies waved us a warm welcome as our boat eased toward the shore.
After being greeted, we are given a demonstration of how the islands are made. The dense root system from the totora plant is cut and connected. This forms the base. The cut reeds are then layered on top. Due to rotting, constant upkeep and repairs are needed.
Walking on the island is similar to walking on a water-bed.
The women dress in full colorful wool skirts, often layered four deep. They place a derby hat on their head, but their feet remain bare. Large pom-pom fringe is attached to their long braided hair. Black denotes a woman with children.
They were proud to show us the inside of several living huts and dress us in local attire.
The reeds have many uses; to fuel the cooking fire, for pain relief and can be eaten. The soft heart of the reed is compared to asparagus.
The women sell the family’s handicrafts and barter fish with the mainlanders for potatoes, rice and sugar. When their husbands are away fishing, the wives are in charge of the house, children and constant weaving and repair projects.
One more use for the totora reeds – making boats!
We took a ride in one of the woven boats to another island as Tim “manned” the oars with a little help from a tiny friend.
As a final send-off, several of the women lined the shore and sang to us.
Back into our motorized vessel as we headed deeper into the lake toward our next stop – Taquile Island.
Disembarking at a picturesque fishing doc, I felt an instant admiration for the beauty of the island and a return to a simpler way of life.
The Taquileños are known to produce some of the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru, especially their fine hand-woven clothing and textiles. Everyone on the island spins and weaves, even the children and men.
A steep trail led us up, up, up to the peak of the island. At this high elevation, I had a challenge keeping up with the group, as did one of my traveling companions. But we eventually arrived in time to enjoy a fish lunch prepared for us and watch a demonstration of indigenous dancing. Tim got his feet moving when invited to join in.
Then time to head back down the hill where I was better able to enjoy the views. Going down-hill is so much easier…