Adventures in South America travel blog

The floating village of Uros

Solar panel

"Mayor" explaing how island is built

Family Introductions

Adrianne's room (notice TV)

Reed boats

All along th ewatch tower...

The city of Puna

Teacher's strike












Dung stove

July 20

Another day of adventure and misadventure...

Up at 7:00 to the sound of gunfire and the smell of smoke – I thought a revolution had broken out and the hotel was on fire, but it was just firecrackers and a wood stove in the restaurant. Off to breakfast then outside. A huge stage blocked the road to the hotel (big festival tomorrow) so we walked a couple blocks to the bus. That might not sound like a lot but at 12, 500 feet I was really out of breath plus a little (more than usual) dizzy. Anyway, we traveled through very narrow streets to the harbor and walked to the boat.

We headed off to Uros Islands – the floating villages about four miles from Puna. The villagers have been living on these man made floating islands for over 1,000 years. We entered a reeded area (which they use to construct the floating platforms) and passed the “guards” who count visitors to insure the village gets the proper payment!

The whole area encompassed about 70 floating islands, each a family group of from two to ten families. The villages had houses, storage areas, a kitchen, and toilets. They all had reed boats docked next to them as well as the more traditional motor and rowed variety. We docked at one village and went “ashore.”

The first thing we noticed was that the reed bed gave significantly. There was no rocking, but at each step we sank into the reeds. They had provided reed “logs” for us to sit on, and then they gave a demonstration of how they constructed the islands. They first cut blocks of lake bottom as the anchors, then layer reeds cross wise up to three feet deep. They have to constantly add new layers each week as the ones on the bottom rot away. Then they use lumber for frames and reeds for the rest of the construction for the houses and other facilities. They dredge dirt and layer it over the reeds for the cooking area. The only power they have comes from solar panels and they use these for lights, TVs, and radios... They are also modifying their toilets so the waste goes to a central facility on land rather than the traditional dump it in the lake system. They also maintain fish ponds on the raftes, All of this in 55 feet of water!

After the demonstrations we were all introduced to the five families on this island. There were seven, but a fight developed and they sawed part of the island off and the two families joined another! Alice and I were assigned Adrianne and we went to her hut (she's single, 17, lives alone) and we chatted a bit – then she tried to (and did) sell us a weaving she did about island life. Alice played her a Justin Bever song and she recognized it! We found out that they are a patriarchal society with women moving to the man's island on marriage. They also practice “trial marriage” of three years. After that they marry for life or try again. Any children belong to the mother.

Then, after looking around a while we boarder a reed boat for a paddle across the central lagoon. All the women from the island (about seven) gathered to sing us a farewell song in Spanish, Catchun, and then, Row Row Row your boat in English!

About a fifteen minute trip to the central island (the “chief's”) where we encountered a number of other tourists doing the same things. There were mostly bi-hulled boats but a couple single hulled as well. The illusion was lost a bit when I noticed that the reed seat we were sitting on had 2 liter bottles as it's core. The old mixes with the new... When we got to the central island there was, of course, many opportunities to purchase things... A couple of us climbed a traditional watch tower to get a view of the Uros world. Then, sadly, we departed for the mainland.

We had an hour and a half before the next tour, so Alice and I went to town to get some lunch and some last minute souvenirs. We had sandwiches (Mine was chicken and ham – I thought the word meant lettuce...) and a cookie shake. Turns out it was coffee flavored. Alice had two... As left the shop we ran into a protest parade – the teachers holding a strike demonstration. We walked with them a bit but Alice got freaked out and headed back to the hotel. I chatted with some of them and found a teacher who spoke English. I told them I was a teacher and supported their strike. He shook my hand, translated, and a bunch of people applauded me! Solidarity! There was a strong but quite police presence.

Finally back at the hotel we got some stuff together and met three others from the tour to head off to the Sillustani Tombs. A forty minute drive through the high plateau took us to 13,000 feet through grassland punctuated by cows, sheep, llamas, and the occasional other highland creature. Each compound we passed was actually an extended family group containing typically a father and his sons, their wives and children, usually walled in.

When we got to the tombs it was cool and a strong breeze blowing – sun and wind burn! The tomb complex was amazing. There were older tombs from pre-Inca cultures that were basically round uncut stone towers. The Inca tombs were cut stone, higher at the top than the bottom, and were all built with stones concave on both sides with a round stone in between. In the center of the tower a mound was built, the outer wall symbolizing the male,and the inner the female womb. Bodies were cleansed (brain removed), limbs broken, and mummified in the fetal position and placed in the towers.

The complex itself was the rim of a long extinct volcano with a central island surrounded bu a lake fed by snow melt and rain water. This is one of the few lakes where no non-native fish were introduced, the only ones there were a sardine sized fish and catfish. Beautiful lake!

We explored the complex and saw one tower that was actually in the process of being built when the Spanish arrived – the ramp leading to it was still intact. Alice and I messed around in the towers for a while then headed down the hill. On the was we found a neolithic spiral design on a rock dating to 3,500 years ago. This area has been in use of some sort of a long time.

Then the disasters. Alice was spit on by an Alpaca, then noticed that she lost her ipod. She told me it was missing but I had to go, so went to the bathroom. When I came out the whole group was gone – couldn't see anybody. I though I saw Alice heading back to the tomb complex but wasn't sure, so hung around a bit. Saw a couple people spreading potatoes to dry in the night air. They set them out overnight then the next day step on every one to squeeze out moisture, then repeat the process for five nights. The resulting dehydrated potatoes can last up to five years. Then figured she had gone to the bus so walked down the hill (13,000 feet – any movement meant you were out of breath!) but she wasn't there, so back up the hill.. met her half way but no ipod. She was NOT happy. We asked at the gate and got their number, but nothing...

We stopped in at a family complex for a bit on the way back to Puna. They raised some cereal crops and llamas and alpacas and some other animals. We were introduced to their diet – potatoes, clay (for magnesium and calcium, mixed with salt into a paste and spread on potatoes), plus cereals and dried llama. They also had Guinea Pig, but that mostly for sale and special celebrations. They used a dung stove (dried cow and Guinea Pig dung) for cooking and, surprise, they had stuff for sale! Very interesting compound, but my camera ran out of batteries so no where near as many pictures as I would have liked.

Back to the hotel Alice got into a little better mood. We went to a pizza place for dinner, then back to the room. She immediately went to bed (I'm letting her use my Walkman) and I went to the lounge to catch up on the day. Music from the square a half block away as a prelude to the festival and the amazing effects of a drink of alcohol (Havana Club) at 12.500 feet...

All in all a great day! Tomorrow we fly to Lima for a farewell dinner for the group. Then on to Ecuador!

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