Today we arrived in Puno, Peru after a couple of bush camps. We are now on the altiplano and will be so for another 3 weeks or better. For those of you who slept through your world geography in high school, the altiplano is a high plateau. This area covers much of Bolivia and the last portion of Peru that we are now cycling through. Lake Titcaca is at 3800 meters elevation and much of the altiplano is similar. Tomorrow we will climb out of Puno and head to Copacabana, Bolivia. I believe that to be another crazy border town but I will be better equipped to describe it during our rest day there. We left our bush camp early today so all who wanted to could have the opportunity to tour the Lake Titicaca reed islands and homes. One of our cyclists, Michelle, took it upon herself to organize a tour after we arrived and 22 cyclists climbed into a bus which took us to a tour boat which led us through the totora reeds of this large bay in the largest lake in South America. The bay has a average depth of 9 meters and is well protected from waves and storms by the very same reeds which the Uros tribe uses here to build their islands, their homes, their furniture and their boats. they have been utilizing this abundant resource for centuries. The island homes have been their defense against invaders and their base for fishing and harvesting ducks and other sea birds. All 22 of us easily fit into our tour boat and the guide was a native to the area, living on a floating island just a short distance from the one that we pulled into. Tourism is now a large part of the income of the 600 or so Uros who still reside on the islands in this vicinity. The islands themselves are created by using a dense mat of reed roots all connected together and anchored to a specific area. This base is about a meter and a half thick. Another meter of reeds are crisscrossed over the top of the base – that is where the reed homes and walking areas are created. If the reed base was not anchored, the residents could wake up and find themselves in Bolivia. These people fish for small fish about the size of smelt or ciscoes. They are then dried for food. We saw a duck which had also been dried. Doesn’t look all that appealing but no refrigeration needed either. The reed boats consist of the original version which was a very simple double ended design and oared swiftly through the protected waters. The larger version, the Mercedes Benz of the Uros boat world is a catamaran shaped reed boat which actually has plastic bottles which help it carry more of a load. Nothing like being practical. The original boats last only about 6 months before needing to be replaced. The reed islands themselves need to be replaced every 18 months or so as they rot from the bottom up. It’s a labor intensive approach to housing in that sense but the relatively new concept of tourism makes it profitable enough to continue the lifestyle. The children have primary and grade school on an island but move to land for their further education in the equivalent of high school.
The women on the raft island homes spend a fair amount
of their time with beautiful textile designs which they sell both in Puno and also to the tourist visitors such as us. They have managed to keep the whole tourist process on their home islands simple and basic. There is none of the craziness of Agua Calientes – the island people themselves are your hosts and very gracious hosts, We all enjoyed our experience here and appreciated the simple humble manner in which we were welcomed.
The large part of Lake Titicaca is much deeper – it contains trout and kingfish which were imported and also larger native fish. The deepest part of the lake is around 200 meters or so if I heard our guide correctly. There are no reed boats on this part of the lake as it is too exposed to the elements but they are also found in other bays. There are also some beautiful natural islands including the ones named after the Sun and the Moon located on the Bolivian side of the lake.
We will have two more days of riding after our rest day in Copacabana before reaching the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. My Aussie friend, Terry, has organized a ride on the Death Road just outside of La Paz. If you google you will find some spectacular photos of this crazily exposed roadway which once was the main route of travel for vehicles of all sizes. Hence, the term Death Road. Now a new route has been established and this former Death Road is only used as a tourist experience. We will cycle down it.
I’ll try to post a few photos here but internet is poor so they may have to come later.