Newest Review: ... Located between Peru and Bolivia and partially owned by each country. I visited Lake Titicaca after staying in Puno, a fantastic lar... more
Home Sweet Home
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Advantages: Beautiful lake, chance to interact with locals.
Disadvantages: Cold in winter, little shelter.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by some of the villagers and taken to one of the chief's homes. Here our party was divided up amongst the other families in the village. Different villages take it in turns to house tourists. Our host was a young lady called Maria, and she took the three of us single females back to her house. Although the village had its own dock and was close to the lake, Maria's house was a smallholding a little bit further up a hill and it a bit of a scramble across fields. It was quite hard to orientate yourself, but Maria had a goat in her garden and that helped us identify where we were heading as the land was terraced and properties hidden behind walls and trees. We were only here for an overnight visit so there wasn't much need to unpack. We had been concerned what to buy our hosts as a gift, but our guide said that cash would be appreciated so that they can purchase what they need. We also had some chocolate and biscuits that we gave to her; I don't think she shared these with her family! The host families are given grants to develop their homes to welcome visitors, so we had a fully equipped bathroom - although the water was only turned on for a few hours. Our bedrooms were basically furnished with a beds and blankets, and a dresser, with thin curtains at the window, there is no electricity in this room, although the village shares a generator which is used for a few hours a day. We went in August, so although it was sunny with clear skies, it was also quite chilly. At night it dropped below freezing so be sure to wrap up warm.
After we had put our bags down on our beds we walked back to the main house so we could join the other members of our party for a sunset walk to the top of one of the two mountain peaks on the island. The whole island seemed to be a mountain but at an altitude of 3800m I am not much of a mountain climber (nor am I normally, but the altitude was a good excuse!) Some of us decided to stop and rest by the local school and basketball court and wait for the others. Although I adjusted quite well to the altitude without any sickness, I tended to find that walking upstairs or uphill required the use of an oxygen tank.
Back at the main house we had a simple local meal of vegetable soup, followed by fish, rice and potatoes. As a veggie I just had the latter. There were beers and soft drinks available to buy. The meal had been cooked collectively by the local women whilst we were on our walk, and after they cleared it away and washed up. Then Maria came to find us and took us back to her house. I was quite convinced I wouldn't be able to sleep due to the cold - I had thermal leggings and a long sleeved vest under my pyjamas, thick socks and even my woolly hat. The hat fell off in the night, but I slept beautifully, my body heat trapped under the covers meant I was comfortably toasty.
Maria woke us by leaving a basin of hot water outside our door for us to wash in. We then joined her and her mother for breakfast (although they had actually eaten many hours before) in their simple kitchen. The floors and walls were stone and bare, apart from a a few newspapers on the wall. The furniture was a small wooden table covered in a clean, colourful cloth and a bench seat with a wooden backing. They cooked on an open fire. This was the first real chance we got the chat properly to Maria, she lived with her elderly parents and her younger brother. Her older siblings had all moved to Puno and I get the feeling she would have liked to have joined them but they needed her to help out on the farm. She was only in her early twenties, but looked at least ten years older. The native language around here is Quechua, which has no bearing on any other language you many have heard. Maria was taught some Spanish at school and fortunately one of the girls I was sharing with spoke Spanish so we managed a little conversation, otherwise it would have been difficult. They grew mainly vegetables on the farm but they did keep guinea pigs, known as cuy, which were a regional delicacy for special occasions.
Our breakfast was Koca tea (helps with altitude sickness), flatbread, hard-boiled egg and pancakes. This seemed quite standard and what they have been told will suit a Western visitor. Don't expect any milk in your tea though. We then had some time to explore the island, you could help build a potato oven outside the main house if you wanted, although I chose to relax down by the beach in a little suntrap I found, out of the wind. We had lunch here, before leaving, it was similar to the previous evening but this time they dressed us up in traditional costumes so we could pose for photos and play some music.
After our visit to Amantani Island, we took our boat to the Uros Islands.
The Uros Islands are floating man-made reed islands. The Uros residents have dwindled of late, but they receive grants if they decide to remain on the islands which fund solar panels - the homes we saw had TV and satellite equipment. The first island we visited was owned by one family and had two homes - for the parents and the son and his wife, plus a cooking hut. They worked as fishermen and the women made reed crafts and jewellery to sell to the tourists. The father and his son demonstrated how the islands were made and our guide translated. Each island is one to two metres thick, but the older bottom reeds rot, so new layers need to be added fairly regularly with an island being completely replaced every ten years or so. You can also eat parts of the reed (not the tastiest thing I have ever eaten - a bit bland for me, and a very weird texture) and other parts are used as a natural medicine. Walking on the reeds felt quite odd, a bit spongey, particularly when you first step on the island as you could feel it move. There was also a watchtower made of reed you could climb for views but I wasn't brave enough!
After this island, we were taken to the main island of the group on a reed boat - this holds a primary school and a type of community centre and medical centre, and what seemed to be an impromptu gift shop! Like on Amantani, the younger children are educated on the island, but older children would then go to Puno. There is also a separate toilet island - we didn't visit! Although the islanders trade their fish and reeds, these days the main income is from tourism. There have been some reports of islanders going back to the mainland at night, after the tourists left, but we were there late afternoon and didn't see anything like that. Certainly the family we visited were living in there - we saw their clothes hanging up on the walls and their TV equipment. It's a basic living, but it seems to suit them.
After this we returned to Puno as darkness fell. I was pleased to see the simple lifestyles of the people who lived in this area, and the beautiful lake. I was pleasantly surprised by the way of life of the Uros people, and that it was less touristy than I expected in spite of the tourist souveniers for sale. I was glad to leave the cold behind however!
Summary: A large and interesting lake to visit if you ahve a few days.
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