Getting back to Arequipa after the condor experience, getting on the bus the next day to travel to Puno is a bit of a blur. We did it and again, thanks to Francis, arrangements for us worked out well. This was our last leg on the Cruz del Sur bus line and I need to emphasize one more time, that Cruz del Sur is a well run company. None like that exists in the U.S. or anyplace else I know of. Run very professionally, similar to an airline, it works and it works well. I highly recommend it to anybody, I am impressed.
We arrived at Puno and while we had to call our contact via telephone, he was there is no time and gave us a choice of hotels; we picked the median priced one for $ 40/night. Price was arranged by Francis, normally it is $70/night. Hotel Qalasaya is near the Plaza de Armas is centrally located and while expensive for Peru it is a first class, 4-star hotel. After we checked in and just unpacked, we received a phone call from Lizbeth in the lobby. Again, Francis had arranged some trips for us. Lizbeth gave us a rundown of our itinerary while in Puno and here is what we did.
The next morning we repacked for an overnighter on Lake Titicaca. We stored the main stuff of our luggage at the hotel Qalasaya. Early, at 7 am we took a boat ride on Lake Titicaca to visit the floating Uros Islands. So this part of my blog will only cover the Uros Islands.
Eons ago, way before there were any known tribes that made history in Peru, there were the Uros. A friendly, peaceful people that felt threatened by other, more inhospitable tribes in the area. The Uros devised a way to live in peace, even among each other. They moved and lived and slept and ate literally on Lake Titicaca. Using all the natural materials the lake has to offer, they have survived living this way even today. Powers came and went, Tribes ruled and Kings thought highly of themselves. Even the mighty Conquerors under the Spanish crown had little effect on them.
The way of the Uros people is simple, yet very effective. Using the reeds that grow naturally in the shallow parts of Lake Titicaca, the Uros built floating Islands. They built an Island large enough for just one extended family. Each Island is movable by pulling up the stone anchors and if the neighbor is not friendly, the Island is just moved to another, more peaceful spot. In the center of the Island is a fishing pond. On top of each Island are huts, each hut made for a specific purpose, a bedroom, a meeting room, a storage room, etc. Common chores are done in the open, like weaving, cooking, cleaning fish etc. Each Island can be enlarged but the ones I saw were as large as half a football field.
Food is taken from the lake or birds might be shot or fish is traded with people on land. I saw a small raised vegetable garden sitting right on top of the Island; the plants grew well, having plenty of water and sun and no critters that can destroy them. It is a simple but wholesome, life. They obtain needed supplies by barter, money does not exist. Wool for weaving, grains, roots and some spices like salt and pepper, etc are traded for fish and fowl. This system of living works, you will not get rich but you will enjoy what nature has to offer. Nations are formed, Powers change hands, the way of the Uros survives.
Today, it is being ruined by tourism, at least the Islands we visited. Boatloads of tourists arrive, being greeted by the Islanders with big hello’s and an open hand for handouts. Souvenirs are being sold that have little use to anybody. The men take you on a boat ride in their reed boats for a fee, Coca-Cola is being sold and TV is watched using Solar panels that are perched on poles mounted on each Island. It seems that the new century has arrived and taken over, yet…. I am not so sure. The Uros still speak their own language, still sing when they work, still cook food that is traditional to them, still eat the soft part of their reeds, still use a hole cut in the reeds at the end of the Island as their bathroom and still wear their traditional clothing. I am told that Islands farther away still run in the old traditional ways. Just those near the shoreline, near Puno are pray to tourists. Whatever the truth, the Uros live a unique way and their way of life has survived any invader and who knows, they might even survive the new power, the tourist, with their need for entertainment and news via electronic devices.