Like thousands of others, we had come to Puno, Peru, to visit Lake Titicaca – the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world. More specifically, we had come to visit the Uros islands and Taquile in this massive lake.
From Puno, it was an easy, 10-minute journey to the port and out onto the pier. Thanks to our tour with Kuoda, we had a completely private boat at our disposal, and the time schedule was our own. Within about an hour, we were excitedly pulling up to the first of the manmade Uros islands we would visit.
The Uros islands (made by the Uru people) are ingeniously constructed. They are made out of floating mud rootballs, which covered with cut reeds pilled several feet high. As more and more rootballs are tied together and stacked with reeds, the floating islands can get to be huge – as large as 75 feet across and nearly 200 feet in length.
Walking on the islands is a fascinating experience. The Uros islands are spongy, with a bit of give to them, and if you kneel down in the wrong place, you are likely to get wet (I may be speaking from personal experience). You have to keep in mind at all times that you’re in the middle of a lake and not necessarily on solid ground. Nevertheless, the Uros eat, sleep, and cook here (and they also watch TV with the help of solar panels), so the ground is solid enough for them.
The Uros islands are part cultural legacy and part tourist trap in that most everything happening on the islands seems to be geared for tourists. For instance, the tour guides wear traditional, brightly-colored clothes for the visitors while t-shirts and jeans hang on the clotheslines…and there is no shortage of souvenirs. I had been warned by a colleague that this was a waste. We didn’t find it to be a waste at all, but it was a little more touristy than we would have liked. That said, we were enthralled with the simplistic but culturally rich lives these people lead. The pictures tell the story of Uros much better than I can write.
From the Uros islands, we headed out across Lake Titicaca to Taquile, a nearby natural island. Our boat dropped us off on the south side where we were able to see Bolivia in the distance. We initially considered going on Bolivia during our planning of this trip, but recent political instability and violence against foreigners had us reconsider.
On Taquile, we climbed halfway up the island (400 vertical feet) to a local man’s home where we had a delicious lunch of soup and omelets. As we sat there, we stared out at the landscape. We were there in April, right after the rainy season, so the hillside was bathed in color because all the flowers were in full bloom.
After lunch, we hiked the rest of the way up the 800+ feet to the summit and the town square. There, we encountered a local cultural dance, which was being held for a delegation of visiting tourism officials from other parts of Peru. I thought it odd that they danced around a six-pack of cola. Kind of strange actually. The town square was just that – a square. There wasn’t much else to it – a small church, a handicrafts cooperative for the shoppers, and a grotesque modern building serving as town hall. In the town square, we also encountered child beggars for the first time. This seemed to be more a local pastime than the kind of desperate poverty we have seen in other parts of the world.
From the main town square, we descended the 500 steps to the port (if your knees don’t hurt before this hike, they sure will when you’re done). As we approached the shore, I was astounded to see how brilliantly blue the water was. This was the most intense blue I’ve ever seen, and in Lake Titicaca, there’s a lot of it. We departed from our brief visit to Taquile and the Uros islands with a new appreciation for the expanse of the lake and the lives of the people living in it.