So we took the overnight Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco to Puno. We left at 10:30 pm and got in at 5:30 am. The reviews made it sound like it’d be a pretty comfortable, pleasant experience, but I’m truly not sure if I slept at all.
In spite of the early hour, German, the representative from Titicaca Tour, through whom we were doing the Tour Uros Vivencial, was waiting for us at the station. He walked us through our itinerary for the day and night we’d spend on the nearby Uros Islands— artificial islands just off the shore constructed entirely of reeds. But! Things didn’t kick off until 9. So we had three excellent hours to spend in the Puno bus station which… is not the fanciest place in the world. And we weren’t feeling great after the bus ride and were wary of everything they served us in the sketchy restaurant. Not the highlight of the trip, really.
But before we knew it it was time to go. Had a quick tour of downtown Puno as we picked up a couple other travelers, then hopped on the boat to the Uros Islands, just five kilometers off shore.
A few things about the lake and the islands:
- Lake Titicaca falls directly between Peru and Bolivia, and is split between them. The “titi” is for Peru, and the “caca” is for Bolivia. …Get it?! [laugh/cry emoji forever!] We were first treated to the joke by Danny, when we were hanging with him and Jess in Lima, and then we also overheard a guide telling it to his group in Machu Picchu. You’re welcome for passing it on.
- Lake Titicaca is high. Higher than Cusco, even. You might even say it’s the highest navigable lake in the world. We maintained our chlorophyll and altitude pill regime and for the most part continued avoiding any real elevation sickness. (Yes, chlorophyll!) (And for reference: Cusco is 3399 meters high. Lake Titicaca is 3810 meters. Machu Picchu, by contrast, is only at 2430 meters.)
- I’ve seen figures in the forties and sixties online re: the number of Uros Islands. We were told there were 93. Each island has its own president; presidents can be male or female.
- Speaking of presidents, one of the current Peruvian presidential candidates is Keiko Fujimori. Her father, Alberto Fujimori, was the Peruvian president from 1990 to 2000 and was responsible for getting solar panels set up on the islands.
- Rather than Spanish, or even Quechua, the islanders’ first language is Aymara (though they do learn Spanish in school). There is a primary school within the island community, but at eleven or twelve the kids must travel to Puno by boat every day to attend school.
- Tourism is their main source of income. I saw a lot of reviews (thankfully after the fact!) saying the island visits were huge tourist traps and inauthentic. I can’t speak for the other tour options, but I really enjoyed our experience and (despite having souvenirs hawked to us a couple times) found it plenty authentic.
Our first stop was at Isla Mama Q’ota.
uros island life depends on these reeds, or ‘totoras.’
demonstration the island construction. first, cut the masses of reed root into squares two meters deep. then bind a bunch of them together with stakes and rope. cover that with dried reeds until they’re about another two meters high. build some huts out of more reeds. get a big rock on which to put your kitchen hut so as to not burn down your island, then bring your family to (or start one on!) your island.
inside a hut. i think the girl said five people slept there?
360 degree panorama of isla mama q’ota.
watching for bandits.
they called their ornate boats mercedes benzes. (as opposed to the simpler ‘love boats,’ where it sounded like certain courtship takes place?)
Then we stopped at Isla Santa Maria for quick refreshments, then Marlon and I were whisked away from the rest of the group for our stay on Isla Kantuta. (Cantuta being Peru’s national flower. Oh snaaaaaap, but also the name of a university in Lima/a massacre named after said university, on none other than the aforementioned President Fukimora’s watch! He gave solar panels to the Uros but was also convicted of human rights abuses! #themoreyouknow)
Anyway, we had the honor of receiving another run-down of how they construct their islands (this time in Spanish) from none other than the president of Isla Kantuta himself: Nestor. After a much-needed nap considering our sleepless night, we got to accompany Nestor and his twelve-year-old son Royal on their afternoon fishing and trap-laying trip. They fish with nets, and construct a sort of noose from– what else?– reeds (+1 piece of string) in hopes of catching a duck in its unique path. According to Nestor, every duck takes the same camino every day, and he doesn’t like other ducks in his camino. I’m not sure exactly how, but Royal was able to identify said paths and lay the traps.
we got a LITTLE suckered into paying 10 soles for a ride on the mercedes benz (but that’s like $3 so whatever)
reynaldo: the youngest of two sons in nestor’s family
our bathroom boat (we never actually witnessed the bathroom facilities on the island, but they’re assumed to not be up to snuff for foreign guests so they leave a boat with a toilet haha. but… no toilet paper.)
mar gearing up for the fishing trip with nestor and his son royal.
laying the fishing nets.
the flowers at the tops of the reeds are used as a medicinal tea.
motioning to where he wants to set a duck trap.
duck trap! the duck swims through and gets… strangled.
we were told we shouldn’t actually eat it as our stomachs weren’t accustomed. little did nestor know that at the first island we’d been served some with no such warnings… (no problems followed, though.) it was a little like a coconut/banana cross, but not so sweet.
royal, cheeks stuffed with reed, showing us how it’s done.
Then we hung out with the family while Nestor’s wife, Anna, prepared us dinner. The youngest boy, Reynaldo, who missed the fishing trip, was exceptionally cute and funny (and played with all manner of questionable items, as you’ll see). The kids all got a kick out of our cameras (ESPECIALLY my Polaroid [Well. Fujifilm Instax, but. Is not every tissue a Kleenex?]), and while Anna cooked, Nestor created little souvenir boats out of reeds for us. We were a little abashed to receive six fish each to the rest of the family’s one or two, but after a long day with few meals they were very welcome (not to mention delicious! Not sure I needed a full six, but better believe I ate them…).
juana, we learned, was actually anna’s grandmother. (also she requested a tip after i took this pic haha.)
i… feel like it’s fine.
the boys would fish through a hole straight through their island for fun! they used pejerrey meat to fish for pejerrey. it reminded me of ice fishing a little.
pejerrey from the lake and potatoes grown on the island.
I FEEL LIKE IT’S FINE.
We went to bed (in our own private hut, with blankets galore. Anna was kind enough to fill up hot water bottles for us to take to bed too.) when the sun went down, which was probably around 8:30 pm haha. We didn’t really sleep the night before, remember?! Got an amazing 10 hours of sleep before heading out at 7 to see if the nets and traps had turned anything up. (Spoiler: They did!)
they caught mostly kingfish, or ‘pejerrey,’ the same as we ate the night before.
the day’s haul. they said this was a good one for them and that we must be good luck!
did he catch a duck?!
stone cold royal.
Then we went back to Isla Kantuta to say goodbye to/take pictures (in local garb! [They instisted! We weren’t appropriating their culture!]) with the family. Then Nestor took us back to the mainland by the same route Royal goes to school every day. We got dropped in the center this time, where we found a café in which to post up until it was time to head back to our favorite ol’ bus station. We had a couple more hours to kill once there, then it was off to Arequip-Arequip-Arequipaaaaaaaa (as all the bus ticket salesmen were so wont to croon).