JUNE 2011 NEWSPAPER COLUMN

BUCKET LIST TRAVEL TALES
ADVENTURE #1


Having just returned from Peru, I’m happy to report that I’ve once again encountered new sights and sounds on this adventure. This year, our adventure included Puno on the Peruvian Bolivian border, a visit to Lake Titicaca, and the famous floating reed islands of Uros.

We arrived in Puno late in the evening after a long bus ride and checked into our hotel off the main square. We had some free time before dinner, and while wandering in the cobbled side streets, I could hear a band playing close by. In Peru this usually means something is going on; usually a parade or festival, so my intrepid roommate and I head out to investigate. As we reach the main square we are not disappointed! The school children are parading around the square at dusk, holding candle lit lanterns on sticks. What a great start to our journey.

The next morning we awake bright and early and are met at the front door of our hotel by bicycle taxis’. Peddling toward the harbor, after a fun ride downhill, dodging speed bumps, each other, taking pictures, and generally making a spectacle of ourselves, we arrived at the port. What a change of scenery from all the mountainous, dessert like terrain we had witnessed in Arequipa. It was a clear sunny day and the sun glistened off the smooth lake as we boarded our boat to head out to the floating islands. It was a relaxing hour and a half ride out; waving to nearby fishing boats and passing through the narrow reed channels out into the lake and the Isla des Uros.

These islands are entirely man made and floating in the middle of the lake. When we stepped off the boat onto the island, it was much like walking on a bog or a waterbed. You could feel all the movements in the water and others walking across the island. It was bit surreal. It was later explained by the men of the island that they take the roots of the reeds, which resemble peat moss, and cut this for use as the base of the island. Then they stake and rope these base pieces to anchor the islands. Next, they build up the floor of the island by laying reeds in alternating directions until several feet have been built on top of the base. The continually replace the top layers of the reeds to keep the island in good condition. Their houses are built on platforms atop the reeds and the higher the better to absorb the cold and movement, they explained to us. We were invited into the sparse, one room, homes with a bed in the corner and a solar powered lamp in the other.

These islands do not have electricity, so they rely on solar panels to provide them with light and radios in the evening; a very ingenious way to use what they have an abundance of, sunlight.

Every inch of the reeds are used for their homes, boats, crafts and they eat the fleshy white bottoms of the reeds as well. The reeds have a similar taste to celery and are very refreshing. Honestly, they would be great in a salad. Four families lived on the island that we visited, and shared the daily tasks of cooking, cleaning and maintaining the island. Their native language is Amaru and some of the men spoke Spanish and a little English as well. They explained to us, that if a spat broke out, they would pull out a big saw and cut the island apart where needed to solve the dispute. They also explained that they had not needed to do this yet in the four years that they had all shared the island. The island children have a school on one of the outer islands, and we passed their teacher being rowed out from Puno on our way back to shore.

It is a never ending source of amazement to me how people have adapted to life in the most far flung and exotic locations. On the floating islands, we were able to see exactly how the ladies of the island make handicrafts, cook and maintain the reeds on the base of the island. While the men also weave, build elaborate boats and canoes, and fish. They live in perfect harmony with their environment and we were amazed by there ingenuity and engineering skills. The woven boats they make are not only practical and functional, but they are beautiful works of art as well. In a modern recycling twist, they showed us how, inside the woven reed bases, they had put plastic water bottles to aid in flotation.

For our return journey, we were offered a ride in one of the large party boats as I would describe it. It had a large balcony built above the reed platform base, so you could either sit up top or below on the base of the boat. We enjoyed a leisurely ride past several other floating islands that included a reed restaurant, the local bar, and the final island we landed at had a lovely trout pond you could choose your lunch from.

From here, we board our larger, and faster, boat to head out to Amantani Island for our home stay. All of which I will tell you about in the next chapter of our Peruvian Bucket List Adventure.

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