A day on the lake

Leaving Puno
Leaving Puno

I was picked up from my hotel at 7am and, along with the others we collected along the way, was taken down to the pier to join the boat and our guide for the tour on Lake Titicaca. In total there were about 30 in the group, including a lot of Canadians and some Australians, one of whom was quite talkative, to say the least. Our guide for the day was Oswaldo, who proved to be very knowledgeable, with a good sense of humour.

Once we had dropped off some kayakers at one of the islands, we continued on our way to the island of Taquile, where life still exists as it has for centuries.

Most of the morning was spent doing a gentle stroll from one part of the island to another, where the boat picked us up. On the way, we stopped at some houses where the villagers showed us how they do their weaving and knitting. The women do the former and the men the latter. Apparently, in days gone by, it was very important for a man to be a good knitter, as marrying his girlfriend depended on whether his potential father in law approved his standard of work. The man had to produce one of their traditional hats, which is knitted extremely finely, and if it wasn’t good enough, he was rejected as a suitor. There were no second chances! The girl, on her wedding day, presented her husband with a woven belt, which she had made using her own hair that her mother had collected over the years when she brushed it. This was then used for the warp in the weaving. It was very strong and supported the man’s back when he was carrying heavy loads.

Small village on Taquile
Small village on Taquile

Whilst we were walking, we had periodic stops to catch our breath, as the altitude makes walking difficult, and also for Oswaldo to tell us more about the villagers’ way of life. On a couple of these occasions, we were passed by children on their way to school, all dressed in their bright red outfits. They had over an hour’s walk and even quite small children seemed to make the trip.

Once we had been entertained by the knitters and weavers, who had transformed themselves into musicians and dancers, and, inevitably, brought some of their wares that were spread out to tempt us, we walked on to a beautiful beach where we were instructed to find a spot and sit and think of nothing for a while. Most of the Canadians went paddling (one even went for a dip) and I sat on a rock trying to ignore their chatter. By this time, I had got quite a headache, which nothing, once again, was shifting. The altitude problem is really getting very tedious.


Our next stop was in Lachon for a Pachamanca lunch. Here, we had chicken, fish, potatoes, beans and banana that had been cooked using hot stones in the ground, with a quinoa soup to start. It was very reminiscent of a Maori hangi, although a great deal tastier. Quinoa is a traditional crop here but most of it is now exported as the Western world has discovered its health properties. This has, unfortunately, made it expensive for any local people who don’t grow their own.

By the time I had drunk about a gallon of exceedingly expensive water, my headache was a lot more manageable, so I was feeling better once we set off again. Lake Titicaca is renowned for its floating reed islands, inhabited by the Uros people, and it was to one of these that we headed next. There were 6 families and a total of 28 people living on this particular island, which didn’t seem very big to me for that many inhabitants.

Another Uros island
Another Uros island

We were, firstly, given a demonstration of how the islands were made. To begin with large blocks of cork are collected and joined together. The reeds are then laid on top, with layers being built up day by day. Lastly, the whole structure is anchored so, as they said, they don’t wake up one morning and find themselves in Bolivia! Walking on the island felt quite strange and rather like walking on a water bed. (Not that I have walked on that many water beds!) The houses are then placed on top of the reeds. Apparently, they even float islands to join them together for celebrations if they need more space, which, to me, seems quite extraordinary.

A reed house in the Uros Islands
A reed house in the Uros Islands

The Uros people have a lot of trouble with rheumatism and arthritis, as they don’t wear shoes and water can seep through the reeds, resulting in damp living conditions. Every so many weeks, they also have to lift up their houses and build up the reeds underneath them again as the reeds start to sink. We had a look inside one or two of the homes. They were, of course, very basic, with no furniture and clothes piled up around the edges of the walls. Cooking is done outside when it is not raining and great care has to be taken not to set the dry reeds on fire.

Part of our group in a reed boat
Part of our group in a reed boat

To supplement their income, they have turned to weaving, many items of which were on display and for purchase. Unfortunately, I had already made my weaving purchase on Taquile, so didn’t buy anything. I think the colours were probably a bit too vivid to fit into my home, anyway, as they were extremely bright. The ladies themselves were dressed in fluoro colours, so a lot of colour obviously appeals!

 

One of the ladies on the Uros Island
One of the ladies on the Uros Island

Whilst we were preparing to go on a trip on a reed boat (now only used for tourists) all the school children arrived back from school. The population suddenly doubled and became a lot more lively! The boat ride was short and afterwards we had to get back onto our tourist boat and return to Puno. Once back, I set out to buy yet more water (it is supposedly the best antidote for altitude problems, along with coca tea) and, on the way back, wanted something sweet so purchased some flat pastry type food from one of the many street vendors. They were quite nice but she seemed to have forgotten to put the vanilla custard in between the layers!

I was asleep very early once again this evening. I am not sure if it is the altitude or the drugs that I take to combat the headache that are making me so tired.