Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru

Walking to the center of Puno the morning after our arrival, we were immediately on the sidelines of a "cultural" parade.  Known as the "Folkloric capital of Peru", the music, dance and colorful costumes of the participants were reflective of groups and provinces that surround the city.

But what brought us to the area was the world's highest navigable lake at 12,397 feet, and the  intriguing Uros people living on Lake Titicaca.  Hundreds of years ago, they were driven from their homes and onto the waters due to repeated attacks by Aymara tribes, and later the Incas.  Hiding in the Totora reeds, they developed a unique lifestyle, which they have maintained with minimal changes.  Living year round on the floating islands created from the reeds, they have subsisted on fishes, birds and the reeds for food, but also trade with people living on the shore to obtain other necessities.  Housing, boats, rope, and even their beds are made from the reeds.

42 floating islands exists in the Lake with around 500 Uros living this difficult lifestyle.  Modern
technology is not rejected, per se, but they have limited resources,  Solar power first came to the some of the larger islands about 25 years ago, with the government providing small solar units on the smaller islands 7 years ago.   So now all of the islands have limited electricity, to provide light and to charge cell phones.  Schools for the young children exist on the larger islands.  Older children go to the mainland for school, which can mean a 2 hour power boat ride each way depending on where their island home is located.

Arranging a tour on the lake through our hotel, we headed out the following day.  Roughly an  hour later, we disembarked on a floating island.  Tourism is now an important part of the economy for the islanders, with curious visitors wanting to see a glimpse of their unusual life.  Tourists are rotated on different islands to help distribute the income source.  On the island we visited, through our guide/interpreter, we received information from the island's mayor on how the islands are constructed and maintained, and their diet.  Roots of the reeds are dried to create a base which is then topped with reeds in multiple alternating layers 2- 3 meters thick.  Lasting up to 30 years, the islands are replenished with reeds 4 times a year.  We were also given an opportunity (for a minimal fee) to ride in one of the reed boats, which are still used, and a chance to buy the beautiful handiwork created by the women.  It was a fascinating visit, and impossible to imagine the daily hardships incurred by their decision to remain on the floating islands. 

The frame before this I was almost crawling, not a pretty picture!
Next, our boat moved two hours away to a natural island, Taquile.  Fishing and agriculture are the prime income sources on the island of 2200 inhabitants, but tourism is becoming a growing factor.  Upon docking we started the challenging walk up to the village located at 12, 959 feet.  No mistake about it, it was a challenge!  Even though we were, by far, the most senior travelers on our boat, we managed to make it to the village about the same time as everyone else.  In the village, we checked out the large men's knitting shop and beautiful textiles made by the women.  Only men knit here, and they start when they are 8 years old. 

We moved on for a "typical" Taquilean lunch which started with a vegetable quinoa soup, and then
Looking up to the village from the dock
grilled trout, white rice and boiled potatoes.  During lunch, our guide explained the clothing worn by the locals, and the significance of designs and colors.  Chumpis are a wide, thick belt woven by the women, and worn by everyone.  Prior to marriage, a woman will  include lengths of her hair in the weave as she is making a belt for her intended spouse.  The return to the boat was almost as difficult as the climb up, I guess any physical exertion at the altitude takes its toll.  A few hours later we were back in Puno.

Next day, we were up before sunrise to catch our 6:15 AM bus to Arequipa.
Parade in Puno
Indigenous women sitting on the church steps.
Cathedral near the main plaza
Painting by Carlos Dreyer, a German artist who settled in Puno in early 1900's
Gold breastplate from Inca era at the Dreyer Museum
Channel through the Totora reeds on departing Puno
Larger reed island with a school, health center and watchtower
Mayor of the village explaining through our guide how the islands are constructed.

Girl munching on a reed.  We tried some, it reminded me of celery, but not quite that crunchy.

Interior of the Totora hut

Young Uro girl imitating her mother, carrying items wrapped in a blanket
Looking over to Bolivia from Taquile Island
Taquilean man knitting, the red hat means he is married.  If wearing a red and white hat, it would signify that he is single.
Young Uro girl helping her father steer the reed boat
A woman wearing a red top is married, any other color means she is single and available
At entrance to Taquile village center
Our lunchtime entertainment on Taquile
Potato fields on Taquile

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