The power of reed – The floating islands of Lake Titicaca

On the way back to mainland Puno, we stop off at the floating Islands of Lake Titicaca. These 2.5m deep reed floating Islands accommodate around 30 to 40 Uros descendants (a tribe that predates the Inca’s), is around 10m by 10m’s large in mass, each have their own president, and a ‘lawyer’ which is actually a rusty old hacksaw that the president uses to slice up the reed island whenever there’s an irreconcilable dispute between the islands inhabitants.

What happens when they don’t like their neighbours? They pull up their anchors and float upstream until they find neighbours that they can stand to live near.

This floating tribe uses reed for EVERYTHING – to build their island, their homes, their boats and watch towers, they even eat the reed.

T, as Chris picks up a piece of reed from the floating island’s ground – ‘Chris! why are you eating their floor?!’

Chris, casually chewing – ‘It’s ok, we can eat this’

Local guide, with the islands president – ‘No no no,’ takes away the bad reed from Chris and gives him a new cleaner looking edible piece.

T explains – ‘The reed they eat is fresh. The reed on the floor is a part of the ground that everyone, including the island’s live stock, walks all over and pisses on’

Chris, understanding – ‘Oh, I thought it was the same stuff they gave us earlier!’ then hungrily continues to chew on the new reed.

Why do the Uros people chose to live like this? Most of the villagers go to the mainland to work, then come back home to the island to stay. But if there is no work, this way they don’t have to pay rent or land taxes. They can fish in the lake, catch ducks, and hunt down eggs from the lakes wildlife, even keep chickens on their island.’

Amantani Island family homestay experience – Lake Titicaca

Arriving at the Amantani Islands we’re greeted by our local family that we were spending the night with. The Island, we were told, is inhabited by around 800 Quechua speaking families, has no electricity, and we were asked to bring gifts of food staples such as rice and oil, and stationary for the children. Sugar products were not recommended as the island has no dental care.

Previously before reaching the Island in a conversation with Hetal.

Hetal, in his British accent – ‘Bet this is just a set up tourist village where they pretend to be poor and primitive and when we leave they all go back to their modern homes with electricity and laugh at us.’

T, laughing and joking along – ‘Yeah, we bring these gifts of oils and grains, thinking we’re giving them survival consumables when all they’re thinking is “what cheap crappy presents?!” They’ll probably dress us up in traditional clothing and make us dance around a fire for kicks’

Cansu, Gemma and I greeted our new ‘papa’ and followed him as he lead us up the rocky hillside to our mud-walled home for the night. Carrying the gifts of shopping up this incline in high altitude while still feeling the nausea from the boat ride was seriously reminding me of the Inca trail. I realised that I had been scarred by the 4 day Inca trekking trauma and now any hilly walk that went on longer than a minute had become like a scary ‘back in nam’(Vietnam) war flashback.

Our lodging was cute. A small 4 single bedder room on the second story of what looked and felt like a quick barn conversion that would have failed the most basic of western construction regulations.

Gemma, seriously – ‘If I turn in my bed I’m going to go through the floor, best not to move’

The most memorable moment was dinner with our host family. Unfortunately, the boat ride had almost killed Cansu, the only spanish speaker of our little trio, and she was too unwell to join us for the meal of egg and rice.

Sitting in the low lit, tiny, combined family room, dining room slash kitchen, was a culture shock. It was so so basic and poor to my western developed standards, yet full of charm and cultural character, that I admittedly wondered ‘is this a set up?’

With Cansu out of action, Gemma only knowing to ask the basics like ‘what is your name’, and me knowing fuck all spanish, this dinner lasted for what felt like 4 awkward hours with 2 sets of English/Spanish-speaking language phrase books being flicked through and the only end result being semi successfully asking if our papa had any children. ‘yes, 4 children who are already adults who study on the mainland in Arequipa’

Exhausted from the effort of trying to communicate that single sentence and translate the response, Gemma and I decided to skip being dressed up in traditional clothing and save ourselves from dancing around a fire. The evening spent with our Papa, mama, and sister had been quality enough.

As we lay in bed listening to the loud heaving rain on the thin roof, fearful that it was going to cave-in in any second.

T to Gemma – ‘Is this the experience you came looking for?’

Gemma, wanting to turn to her side but terrified of the threatening creaks that each movement brought – ‘Yes.. I think it is’ laughing.

The next morning after saying goodbye to our ‘papa’

Gemma , with a look of ridiculous wonder on her face – ‘ When ‘papa’ said goodbye to you, did he grab your arse?’

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world (12,500 ft above sea level) and is the largest in South America bordering both Peru and Bolivia. The group was having an excursion across Lake Titicaca to get to the Tiquile and Amantani islands, a 4 hour journey from mainland Puno (Peru) in what seemed like a little tug boat filled with 25 people.

The scenery over the lake was fantastic, with a variety of water birds, fisher men and clouds in blue skies to watch, and the first hour went along smoothly while sitting next to Cansu discussing the political issues that Australians face.

I don’t know if it was the
bad karma from talking politics on a holiday, or perhaps the crazy driving of our captain combined with strong winds and choppy waves, but the second half of the journey found many people sea-sick and nauseous, including Cansu and myself. No longer could I look out the window and appreciate the scenery without needing to have a spew. In fact, Cansu did have a little spew out the window. Technically speaking, being in that state and hanging your head out the window to have a spew is NOT the same, and is much more considerate, than vomiting inside the boat, which spoke wonders of Cansu’s character 🙂

I sat there eyes tightly closed, being violently rocked, smelling and hearing the sick of everyone, wishing for a fast and merciful death. This was the kind of stuff Hell was made out of.

Recommendation – Never accept a boat ride over an hour-long without the adequate anti-sea sickness drugs.