|Isla Taquile: Slow Death by Tourism||1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7|
LAKE TITICACA, PERU — An early morning start in Puno, on the edge of Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. We crammed one night's worth of cold-weather clothing and toiletries into our day packs, then locked up our backpacks and had our hotel store them for us, since we'd be back here tomorrow night. A taxi met us at about 8am to take us to the docks for our boat to the islands.
Our boat wasn't exactly what I'd call hi-tech. A weak onboard motor that had to be hot-wired to start carried us at a staggering speed of, oh, roughly one knot. The waves were faster than us, for crying out loud. Now I understand why it takes three hours to get to where we're going, even though one can bus around the lake — four times the distance, at least — in just over half the time.
Our first stop was the Los Uros islands, also known as the floating islands, because that's basically all they were: floating reeds, piled together so thick that they can hold people and a few straw shacks. They were quite an amazing construction. Walking on them was kind of like trying to stand up on a waterbed: a little squishy, and a lot disconcerting. They have very simple thatched huts here, about four to a forty- or fifty-foot island, with solar panels providing power, and a tall tower in the center of it all, presumably for sending smoke signals to the neighboring reed patties. The indigenous-descended residents of these giant lilypads used to make their living fishing, but now with the invasion of the tourism industry, they just sell sweaters, whistles, and other things that they probably buy on land at half the price as often as they make them here. Although it's nice to know these people are "thriving", at least by their standards, it's sad to see it come at the expense of their traditions and customs. I've heard at least one person refer to these islands as the "floating souvenir stalls".
We stood around admiring one of the islands for a while, learning about the reeds, and taking photos of a lone pink flamingo. Then we rode in a puma-headed reed boat shaped like...well, something feminine and vaguely obscene...to a neighboring island for 3 soles (about 90 cents) per person. A young girl, possibly the rower's, sat next to me enthralled by the strange foreign (white) people around her, and grabbed on to my finger more out of curiosity than out of any fear of being two inches above the water surface. At the other island, we saw more of the same, including a close look how the boats were built, and how four-year old children playing can jump from the tops of these towers, at least 10 feet up, and land on their heads doing a somersault. The reeds are that soft.
About 45 minutes after arriving at these islands, we were back on our boat with its lone gerbil trotting away, and heading for Isla Taquile, about 2 hours into the lake. On the way, we talked a bit with a European couple, Heinz and Agathe from Holland and France respectively (though both living in Paris now). They'd been travelling through Ecuador and Peru for the past couple of months, and it was interesting exchanging cultural ideas with them. Not only did they offer us fascinating insight into young European minds, and what they thought of Americans, but it also allowed us to meet the only people we'd ever see that actually liked Ecuador.