Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Peru circuit (Day 4) - Titicaca Lake, Uros floating island, Apu Kontiki - The 28th of April 2013

I don't think any of us was prepared for what we would soon find out during the following visit though we were all looking forward to it.

As we set sail from Puno boat port we headed towards the floating islands of Uros in what seemed like a very pleasant ride on the lake Titicaca, I initially associated to a similar one across the Atitlan, as we moved farther away from the shore, the difference being the shape and speed of the boat.

The islands are made from Totora rushes, as are the houses on them and the resident boats, which looked as if coming straight out of some fairy tale books, the moment we started approaching the first ones. The whole atmosphere looked unreal, with two women in very vibrant coloured dresses, whose tinged colour was projected onto the waters of the lake rushing towards the anchoring port of the island Apu Kontiki, as soon as they realised we were heading in that direction.

People of the Uros floating islands (a few dozen) are acknowledged as having been some of the most ancient peoples of Peru, said to have pre-dated the Incas and according to the legend even the existence of the Sun. They considered themselves almost "Super-beings" before having mingled with other tribes, as from which moment they lost the capacity not to drown or be affected by lightning rays and are said to have fled the continent and built these "movable" dwellings (which can withstand almost 30 years) to escape hostile tribes.

They mostly speak the Aymara dialect, though our host (the "leader" of three distinct families living on Apu Kontiki island), spoke Spanish as well.

We were given a fairly "live" explanation as to how floating islands are built up, which seemed to literally correspond to the placing of layers and layers of Totora reeds weaved together and anchored in a specific way. When they rot from the bottom in the water, new layers are added.

We could feel the soft floating ground as we stepped on it, which was quite a strange feeling, though in no way did we feel insecure.

They live from fishing (small trout, like the ones shown in the photograph underneath) and hunting, though tourism has been playing an important role in their economic growth lately, once they sell some of the rather exquisite and special artwork tehy produce (using reeds), as well as embroidered cloths reflecting life on the island.

Our host's wife holding a very colourful weaved and embroidered cloth depicting her family (I couldn't resist buying it, as well as the mobile seen underneath on the left).

Our hosting family comprised the parents and six children, one of whom had been adopted, as well as the lady's mother.

We had the chance of visiting their two-piece main house, where Marie Hélène and I took a photo with the children, whom I had just given sweets, balloons and some little hand drums to.

Just before we sailed off on the family's Totoro reed boat for a short 10 soles ride (equivalent to 3 Euros) across part of the lake, the ladies came out and put on a performing song and dance for us, which was sung in two dialects. 

The eldest daughter came around as well to say good-bye to us, as her grandmother and father both sat on each side of the front part of the boat rowing across.


The short sail was almost magic, not so much because we felt any major difference as the boat slid across the little bay, but because of the whole surrounding atmosphere. It was like being miles away from any form of "civilisation", as we know it.

Apart from the numerous photographs I took, I managed to film part of the sequence of this "adventure" trip trying to "capture" as much as I could in an almost "dramatic" attempt to register the extraordinary experience, which I feel is impossible to transcribe. 

The fact that these residents have very sporadic contact with "outsiders", though being a lot more exposed to tourists in the latest years, makes them still a very shy and genuine people, with certain untouched "values" I strongly felt for.

Our host took a special liking for me, so I managed to ask him as much information as I could in the limited amount of time we had to be with him and his family.

The next island, where we just stayed at for a couple of minutes, until the motor boat came to fetch us, had some solar panels, a school and a Canadian trout breeding artificial lake. 

We were also told that some of its residents breed rabbits, guinea pigs and other fowl to feed from.  

An unforgettable experience I will hold onto for a long time ... (I am sure).

(To be continued)

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