May 5th was going to be a busy day. We had two separate half-day excursions that day. Taquile Island in the morning and the Uros Floating Islands in the afternoon. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful. The resort provided a boat right from their pier for our excursion to Taquile Island. For the afternoon, we would have to travel by van to Puno and then board a boat to take us to the Uros Floating Islands.
Taquile Island is a living museum, a secluded island of weavers whose textiles have been held as heritage masterpieces by UNESCO. Part of the uniqueness of the island culture comes from the traditional social structure which is reflected in their dress, traditions and greetings. We departed from Titilaka’s pier and traveled by boat for about an hour to Taquile Island. Beautiful terraces were visible from the boat as we approached. We docked on the southern part of Taquile which is furthest from the city of Puno and therefore less frequented. This would allow us to have a much more intimate experience of the island. I would describe the island as peaceful and tranquil. We had a very leisurely hike and along the way stopped at an elderly man’s home. He was absolutely thrilled to receive a gift of coca leaves from one member of our tour. We were able to look inside his home at his very “rustic” kitchen (see included picture). Despite having very little these people are very content and welcoming. Even though their lives are difficult I would certainly not consider them stressed in any way. They simply coast along according to the rhythm of the day. They are not completely isolated and do have contact with the mainland. Media and television have influenced the island. As an example, as we were walking our guide was talking to one of the young women who recently had had a child (the slang name for a infant in the local dialect was “wawa” which seemed very appropriate) and he inquired of her as to the name of her child. We were expecting a very traditional name so we were quite surprised when she called out “Frank”. I guess no one is safe from the influence of television! We then carried on to a flat plateau where several villagers had gathered in traditional dress and had various handmade crafts for sale. They demonstrated their technique for cleaning and washing wool using a local plant for “soap” and some of their spinning and weaving techniques. They were very open to us taking pictures. Of course, we had to purchase a few items. Their textiles were absolutely exquisite and many of the pieces that they made, especially in courtship, took up to six months to complete. We were very glad of UNESCO’s decision to honour and protect their artistic skills. We then hiked up to the high point on the island for beautiful views of surrounding Lake Titicaca. We then had a beautiful descent to a beach where some locals were fishing. After boarding our boat we had a very pleasant sail back to our resort for a delicious lunch. I had the opportunity to take a few pictures of our beautiful resort.
At approximately 2:30 PM that afternoon we got ready for our trip to the Uros Floating Islands. We got into the van and drove approximately one hour to Puno. Puno is the major “resort town” of Lake Titicaca. It does not have an airport and that is why we had to fly into Juilaca which is located another one hour distant. We didn’t spend much time in Puno but immediately went to the local dock in order to board our boat. You can tell that this is a major tourist town and that many tourists board boats for excursions as there were numerous boats for hire. You cannot see the Floating Islands from Puno. Soon after leaving the bay just outside Puno you begin to see the reeds from which the Floating Islands are constructed. Numerous waterbirds were visible from our boat in these reeds. We also passed small rowboats that served as the “taxis” of the Floating Islands. As we approached the islands we had to stop at a small structure which represented a “tollbooth” for the islands. Our guide then took us to one particular floating island which housed 3 women and one man. I was surprised at how small their particular island was. On the island they had several structures that served as their living quarters and bedrooms. One of the advantages, according to the guide, of the floating islands is that if you have any problems with your neighbours you can just float away and park your island somewhere else. They also pay no tax here! Our guide also told us that the inhabitants of these islands tend to be heavier than the mainlanders because they do not get much exercise! This appeared to be the case. I was surprised at how stable the island was walking on it. We were given a demonstration by a local woman of how the islands are constructed. Fascinating. We were then shown into her sleeping quarters for a personal demonstration of the structure but in reality it was a clever ruse to sell us textiles that were apparently handmade (Anna pointed out on a different day at another market that one of the unique “handmade” textiles was also for sale at that market- we suspect a local sweatshop is responsible for most of the textiles that are sold around Lake Titicaca). This was a slightly disappointing experience as we really felt trapped in that small structure with one of the other local women blocking the doorway until we purchased something (the mafia could learn something from these women). After extricating ourselves we were then offered a ride on a very interesting boat structure that was made by the locals and was very ornate and colourful (once we boarded we were made aware of an extra cost for the cruise- 10 soles). The locals refer to them as their “Mercedes-Benz”. Before we got on board, we were serenaded by the woman with a traditional song (nice) followed by a song in English they had learned phonetically (believe it or not it was “Row Row Row your boat”). It was a little kitschy but we had to laugh. Anna and I felt a little guilty as one of the more elderly women and her similarly aged husband rowed us down a stretch of the Floating Islands. The sun was going down and the light was beautiful and we simply enjoyed the experience, in other words, we got over it! We were then dropped off at another much larger island which had cafés, restaurants as well as the Internet! I think the owner was a little bit disappointed we did not purchase anything. Our motorized boat then picked us up and we had a pleasant sail back to Puno. We got back into the van and returned to our beautiful resort for a fantastic meal, re-packing and then a pleasant slumber. We would be leaving very early the next day in order to catch a tourist bus from Puno which would take us back to Cusco. We were initially going to fly back however no flights were available on that day to Cusco when we arranged our adventure. Our tour operator was then going to have us take a train-which I think would’ve been really amazing- however, this did not pan out either. A 10 hour bus ride instead leaving at 6:30 AM! Would we survive?