The floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Jul 12, 2012
Trip End Jun 21, 2013

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Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Oh bla di oh bla da life goes on, bra. La la how the life goes on..!" Imagine this Beatles classic played by a one-man band simultaneously playing panpipes and a guitar-like instrument. Then picture yourself on a boat on a lake that you can't get off to escape this fairly crap bit of busking. This is exactly how it was for me and the other 20 or so passengers on a tourist boat bound for the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. Somehow, our cheesy serenader set the tone for the trip...

First stop on the overnight tour: the Uros Islands. These are the famous floating islands made of woven reeds. For 5 sol, the passengers were allowed onto one of the islands. The reed floor was springy and kind of unnerving as it occasionally gave way a little as I walked across it. Thankfully, it was never enough to send me plunging into the chilly water below. A local man gave a talk in Spanish about how they build the reeds: first, cubes of compacted mud are tied together; on top on the mud, layers of reeds are laid and tied together with rope. If the islanders want to build a fire, they first have to lay more mud on top of the reeds to prevent a catastrophic burning of the island. After the talk, women in traditional dress lay in wait for us. They pounced and dragged us to their houses, dressed us up in their traditional clothes for a photo shoot, then did the hard sell to try to flog their handmade tourist tat. It seemed a pity that this island was so geared for tourism, but in fact it might be a good thing, as having a "show" island leaves the other authentic reed islands in peace. And they really are quite amazing.

Afterwards, the boat sailed for 3 more hours across the mirror-like lake towards the island of Amantani. The passengers sat on the roof of the boat, dozing in the glare of the sun and looking out towards the milky-blue horizon.

On arrival at the port on Amantani, the passengers were distributed amongst various local families. I was sent to a homestay run by Presentacion (yes, that's really her name). She was a stern woman who wore the traditional dress of the island: a wide brightly coloured skirt, a bright waistcoat of another primary colour, and a long black cotton veil hung from forehead. My room-mate was a lovely lady from Valencia called Dulce. She was extremely patient with my pretty hopeless attempts at Spanish conversation.

Dulce and I (along with all the other visitors to Amanatani) climbed Pachatati, a hill at the centre of the island, to watch the sun set over the lake. From the top of the Pachatati, there were 360-degree views and it was exceptionally beautiful. We sat and watched the colours of the lake and sky change while the sun dropped below the horizon.

As everyone made their way back down the hill to town, I got carried away taking pictures of the sunset and lost my group. Never mind, I thought, as we were to regroup in the Plaza de Armas and meet Presentacion there. However, on reaching the town square I realised my error. A gigantic fiesta was taking place and every islander plus visitor was out to celebrate. How on earth would I find Presentacion? Every female islander was dressed in the same bright clothes and long black veil. I distracted myself by watching the celebrations. Parades of people carrying bales of hay charged across the square to rhythmic music. The bales were set on fire and cloaked dancers circled around them, dramatic flames lighting up the faces of the cheering crowd. Apparently, this was to celebrate their New Year (on 8 August). I felt lucky to have had an authentic Amantani experience.

Against the odds, Presentacion, Dulce and I were reunited. Presentacion fed us, then took us out for some organised fun at a Puno dance. (I confess to having felt a little scared as we were led by torchlight across unknown fields by a tiny, unsmiling, black-cloaked woman...) The dance was the exact opposite of an authentic Amantani experience. In fact, it was ritual gringo humiliation. All of the tourists were brought to a dingy village hall, dressed up in traditional Amantani clothes and made to dance the Conga to never-ending panpipe songs. I longed to escape; Presentacion looked desperately bored (she must have to do this every night) and pretty soon Dulce and I made our excuses to return to the homestay.

The next day, the boat took us to Taquile, another similar island where the locals were continuing a fiesta that had started the night before. The men were hopelessly drunk on homebrew and high on coca so we left them to it. After admiring more stupendous views, we caught the boat back to Puno on the mainland.
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Garey Howe on

Just going through your blog, some interesting sights and beautiful pictures. Keep enjoying your adventure, be safe and all the best.

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