I must admit that having not planned a single thing for this trip, I had quite low expectations about the places we were going to. I had no idea where the town Puno was located but had been told that it was famous for being next to Lake Titicaca (name sounded familiar for having a humorous child’s name that I must admit I did snicker at). Little did I know that it is actually the highest fresh water lake in the world standing at 3850m above sea level; this was a big sticking point for us as we were quite nervous having had past experience with altitude sickness when we flew to Lahsa in Tibet (3750m altitude) and were immediately breathless feeling like we were pack a day smokers. We gingerly left the airport and to our surprise we didn’t need any oxygen tanks on standby.
Puno town is vastly different from the capital of Lima. Having a more industrial feel the buildings resemble more of what we have seen in Asia but with cleaner streets. The streets are narrow with 2 way traffic bustling for space and the familiar car horn happy drivers was music to our ears. Parents walk their kids to school, children play volleyball or football in the street and everyone greets you with a smile.
We quickly felt comfortable in our new surrounds and were feeling so good we even managed to fit in a 40 minute climb up 600 steps to the condor statue that overlooks and protects the town from atop its metal nest.
The next day we had arranged a full day tour of the famous Uros floating islands and Tequile island that lies in the Peruvian side of the giant lake. We couldn’t have asked for a better day with cloudless skies and our guide Samuel who was born on Amantaní island and had first hand knowledge of island life and the pre-Incan language (Aymara) that they still use in island life.
We were first taken to a floating island in the Uros province. Apparently the Uros people initially lived in Puno however after conflict with the Incan people, they fled to the water initially living on long boats before constructing and inhabiting islands. There were about 100 individual islands with each island run own and cared for by individual families ranging from 3-10 members. The islands are built by cutting lake reeds and dragging the floating soil back to the village where it would be tied together and anchored down so it wouldn’t float away. Each island had about 25-30 year lifespan before it would breakdown and the family would have to destroy it and rebuild another island which could take approx 1 year to make.
Life on the smaller floating island was much different to the life on bigger island Tequile where people had more stable houses, grew their own crops and got married much earlier in life with girls commonly marrying at 15 and boys 17. They have livestock and would spend most of their time caring for agriculture.
We had seen floating villages in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam before, however we were truely amazed by the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people who had schools and a trading system set up with Puno. It is definitely another unique experience and we keep being surprised by how much Peru has to offer thus far.
Till next time
Jason and Ann