Never again....

Trip Start Nov 05, 2009
Trip End Apr 26, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Puno,
Thursday, February 4, 2010

We arrived into Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, at some horrible hour of the morning. Within 5 minutes we were accosted by a lady selling tours and were talked into taking a morning trip out to the famous floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca, before boarding our planned bus onwards to Copacabana. I wasnīt at all keen but decided to throw caution to the wind and hoped that it wasnīt going to be as ghastly as I thought.

The floating islands lie a half hour boat ride from the town of Puna on Lake Titicaca. They are the home of the Unos people who predate the Incas. They have built a series of 40 floating islands made from the Totora reeds that are native to the lake. The reeds are used to make the islands, their homes and are also used as food. Before the tourist masses hit they survived by catching fish and trading with other tribes from the mountains for vegetables and meat.

I think it has to be the worst and most depressing thing that I have done in a long time. It was an interesting experience to see the islands and how they are made but the rest of it was just painful. It reminded me once again why I avoid organised tours like the plague.

We were loaded aboard a motor boat for the half hour journey to the islands. Our tour guide gave us a quick run down of the format of the morning and what to expect. I think the most frightening thing was that the whole experience totally followed exactly what he said to the letter. As our boat docked at one of the islands we were met by the islanders who had formed a welcoming committee. We had all been prepped beforehand to shout out hello in the local language. Arghhhhhh.

The island was quite small with around 5 or 6 houses made from reeds and a central seating area, to which we were ushered from the boat. We were given a talk about how the islands are formed, which was interesting and then one of the islanders explained a little about island life.

We were then each targeted by one of the ladies from the island who dragged us into their tiny homes. Before I knew it Nic was wearing a local costume and I was being strongly urged to follow suit so that we could have our photo taken together. As Iīm sure that you can imagine I was not at all keen but the way the women was looking at me it looked as though I didnīt have any choice but to put the bloody thing on. Iīm sure that we looked total prats...thankfully I think that any photographic evidence has been detroyed. I just felt incredibly awkward being in this womens home, knowing that they are only doing it because they desperately need the money from the tour groups. I know how I would feel having tourists wandering around my home, taking photos, every hour of the day and so I hated every minute of it. Thankfully it was a flying visit and no sooner had I got the costume off we were dragged (literally in my case) to the real point of the whole exercise - their handicraft stall. Itīs a clever have just been in their home, worn some of their clothes, so you now feel compelled to buy some horrible piece of tat from their extortionately expensive stall. Nic succumbed and bought a cushion cover at some exorbitant price.

I thought that it couldnīt get any worse but we were then herded onto a catamaran made of reeds (pretty cool) so that we could be paddled to the next island. As we were leaving all the islanders gathered around to serenade us as we left. I was dying deaths at this point and nearly hurled myself over the side when our tour guide encouraged them to sing īTwinkle Twinkle Little Starī in broken English. Could it get anymore demeaning for these people?

As we floated across the water to the next island you could see that all the other islands had exactly the same set up for tourists as the one we had visited and all had boats docked up alongside. They must perform this same ritual many times a day, every day of the week. Poor things.

Totally selling your soul to tourism is a big price to pay to educate your kids and to have more food but I guess that these people feel that they have no other choice....
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