Gary and Sarah Girotti/Jones|
¡Hola South America!
Lake of the Sky
After our adventures in Cuzco and on the Inka trail, we decided to make one more mountain stop before running to the warmth of the coast. After great debate (read, pulled name out of a hat) we head south thought the high plains of Peru to the town of Puno, on Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca is billed as the highest navigable lake in the world at just under 4000m above sea level. This point is somewhat disputed by the guide books, but it is steadfast in the minds of the locals. Whatever, the lake is huge, high and beautifully ringed by snow capped mountains.
Puno, the major port city on the Peruvian side of the lake, is a very nice little town with narrow streets and friendly (hawker free) pedestrian walkways. It was a refreshing change from the ultra-touristed atmosphere of Cuzco!
One anti-recommentdation we must make is the city of Juliaca, just north of Puno. To get to Puno you must drive through or fly into Juliaca--but that is all you should do there. In all the places we have been, Juliaca is rated as the most depressing. Every thing is brown, crowded and appears to be falling down.
The Floating Islands and Taquile Island
The floating islands of Lake Titicaca are (much to our surprise) actually floating islands. Even more surprising is that the islands are the permanent home for a few hundred people of the Uros tribe. Each island is made of totora reeds, which the locals use for everything: making the islands, making their houses, firewood, and food. The reeds grow wild in the lake, and the Uros people harvest them, dry them and then lay them on top of each other several feet thick to form the foundation of the islands. They then anchor the islands to the bottem of the lake with a few wood logs taken from the shore, and voila! Instant home with no property taxes!
As you step onto the islands, you get the sensation of being in the kids play area at McDonalds. The floor bounces up and down as you walk, and if you fall you land on a soft mat of reeds. That is no Ronald, but there are brightly clothed Uros people selling things. No McMuffins, but really cool trinkets and wall hangings. Afer touring the whole island in about 30 seconds (all 40X40 meters), we boarded a traditional reed boat (see? They use the reeds for everything!) for a tour to the other floating islands.
The trip was consistent with the playland analogy as well. The bow of the reed boats are cartoon-like heads of animals and dragons. The boat moves slowly along the calm lake waters, just like it was on the rails of a ride. Without knowing it, the Uros had built a mini Disney World in South America.