Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Peru Trip: Floating Uros Islands & Sillustani

Ugh I'm being eaten alive by midges/mosquitos at the moment. Usually I'm one of those lucky people whom the Manhattan mosquitos tend to ignore - clearly I am not fashionable enough - but as soon as I am bitten by a non-New York mozzie then the Manhattan ones suddenly find me palatable. I was bitten half a dozen times by Machu Picchu mozzies and since I've come back I've had half a dozen more bites from Manhattan mozzies. My poor hands are covered in these huge swollen mounds. It's not pretty. I'm not one of those disciplined people that can stop myself from scratching them; the itching drives me mad and it's woken me up early twice this week. As children we used to kill the itch by putting malt vinegar on the open bites. It hurts like a bugger, but it works. I've tried the old British antiseptic standby of TCP, but it's not quite working, so I was looking through my cupboards this morning to see if I had any vinegar lurking back there, but all I could find were 3 different bottled of Balsamic vinegar!! I'm such a yuppie, that is if yuppies even exist anymore. What a 90s throw back I am with my yuppie chat and Balsamic vinegar in my cupboard. Anyway I'm guessing Balsamic is not quite as effective as malt vinegar when it comes to midge bites, too sweet I'm thinking!! Knowing my luck I'll probably attract more of them.

After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, our Amantani mommy/sister, Madelana, walked us down to the docks to meet the rest of our group and catch the boat back to Puno via the Floating Uros Islands and we were all happy to see Dinh perched on the harbor wall looking healthy after his health scare the previous night. He told us that he felt much better, but was unsure of whether he would hike the Lares Trail as planned, a two day hike which peaks at a higher altitude than the Inca Trail at 4600m vs. 4200m for Dead Woman's Pass, the highest point on the Inca Trail.

There are over 40 Floating Uros Islands made of totora reeds which lie approximately 3 miles (5km) from Puno. According to our guide, Oswaldo, the Uros people originated from Bolivia and used to live on the shores of Lake Titicaca, but when the Incas began to advance on the region the Uros people hid among the reeds. The islands are anchored to the bottom of the lake with sticks which go through the reeds. "If the islands are not anchored they may wake up in Bolivia," joked Oswaldo.

An Uros gentleman demonstrating how layers of totora reeds are used to build the islands. The reeds compress after a while so every 35-40days a new layer is added to the surface of islands.

The island we visited, Isla Vinay Tortora, had 20 residents divided among 6 families. Overall the community has more than 1800 inhabitants across the 40+ islands. Not only do they use the totora reeds for building the islands they also use it for firewood and as a food source. Apparently it tastes similar to celery.

As well as the totora reeds the Uros residents also collect eggs from the reeds for food and hunt for ducks and fish on the lake.

Here's Oswaldo showing us a dried duck!!

The residents also go to the market in Puno on a weekly basis where they barter goods, such as the reeds which farmers buy for their pigs, sheep and cows to eat, in return for potatoes and what not.

Uros ladies demonstrating the barter process.

The Uros women also create tapestries that tell stories of their culture

Here's Sylvia showing me around her home.

Sylvia dressed me in traditional Uros dress the style and colours of which were indicative of my single, childless status. Sylvia and her friends were shocked that at 39 I wasn't married. I'm an old old maid by Uros standards. By New York standards too I suppose, but what can I say, I have more sense ;-)

Anyway there's no way I am posting a photo of myself in traditional dress, however here's a photo of Jacqui who was happy to pose, "I have no shame," she laughed.

Not only do the Uros people make their islands of totora reeds, they make boats out of them too. Apparently these reed boats absorb a lot of water and as a result they only last 7-8months. For S/.5 each we took a spin around the island on a reed boat.

We were back at our hotel in Puno by 1.25pm, just in time to take a quick shower before Melissa and I were picked up at 2.15pm for the optional tour to see the funerary towers, or chullpas, at Sillustani, a pre-Incan burial site just a short trip from Puno. The setting is magnificent, I highly recommend it if you have a chance to go.

On the way back to Puno we stopped at a local farm for a brief tour, where our guide - Hugo - told us about the agriculture local to the region, the 4000 different types of Peruvian potato, the local cheese and the clay that is dissolved in water and eaten on top of potatoes because the minerals are believed to aid digestion.

"Come on and try the potatoes, the cheese and our special mayonnaise," urged Hugo.

Why the hell not!! Melissa and I each tried half a potato topped with a little clay.

"Maybe it's a trick they play on the tourists," quipped one woman, "let's see if we can get them to eat mud." Ha!!

It didn't really taste of anything much, but the potato was pretty good.

Oooooohhhhhh, such cute little guinea pigs....tonight's dinner????


Kitty said...

See, I'd love to live there for a month at least. What an incredible break from daily life?

I know people eat guinea pig but I'd have such a tough time of it. I had one as my first pet!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Kitty,

My junior school had a guinea pig as a pet too so I couldn't bring myself to try it either. According to our tour leader it's something that's only eaten on special occasions.

Amel said...

Reading your posts makes me realize how much people can adapt to their surroundings in order to survive...WOW...