25th Sept 2007, Tuesday
We woke up early in the morning with no visible symptoms of Sorojchi (altitude sickness). Puno, at 3800 meters (12500 feet), was as high as we were going to travel in this trip and knowing we were past the worst was comforting. We descended to Hotel Taypikala's Lake Titicaca facing breakfast room and gorged on a sumptuous breakfast of exotic fruits like camu camu, Quinoa (staple diet for Andeans for over 6000 years), sweat potatoes and coco tea.
We finalized the day itinerary with our taxi driver - who did not drop his price one bit - and headed out to the jade green waters of "highest navigable lake in the world". The lake spans the Peru-Bolivia border and has the outline of a Puma chasing a rabbit. See it to believe it.
The major attraction today is the Floating islands of Uros. We rented a motorboat and started a journey back in time.
More than six centuries ago, tired of the then persistent warfare, the Uros tribe fled land to live on islands made out of totora reeds. The islands are actually gigantic rafts made of layers and layers of reed. Water rots the reed easily and the Uros lay down a new layer on the top every few months. Walking on an island is like walking on a massive haystack.
Uros Island on Lake Titicaca
The Uros have deliberately and judiciously clung to the old way of living embracing minimal technology like rotors for the boat, or solar panels (more to attract tourists than convenience).
The tribal people of Uros
The Uros drape several layers of extremely colorful woolen clothes and are said to immune to the lowest of the temperatures. They make their living by catching carrche (a small lake fish), trapping birds over the lake, - and lately selling woven and painted souvenirs to tourists. The islands are jocularly called souvenir islands.
There is almost zero agriculture other than a rare harvest of sweet potatoes when the level of the lake drops too low. The Uros travel from island to island in reed boats, live in reed houses, use reed for food and medicine, make artifacts from reeds.
It is amazing what one gets to see when one travels. I had read about the islands before I started out I must confess, it does not compare with being there. Like Indian Jones says in the latest caper, " If you want to be an archeologist, get out of the library"
By mid afternoon, we caught the boat back to mainland - leaving behind the people and their idiosyncrasies. The one question that haunted me - what do they do with the dead? I did not dare ask it. The street near the boat stop was colorful and noisy. We heard "Dhoom machale" playing at one of the eateries. The waft of warm soup acted like an invisible rope on an invisible pulley.
It was nice to be on terra firma.