Puno / Lake Titicaca, Peru – Shocking commerce: the Uro’s swimming islands

There is one thing you shouldn’t expect: authenticity. Prepared for the worst you might be able to understand the people’s need for a better life, to earn money the easy way,and to see which damage tourism can cause. It is interesting to see the see the Uro’s swimming islands once and especially to walk on them. What is show and commerce today started with bitter seriousness. The small Uro nation originally lived at Lake Titicaca’s shores. Escaping the aggressive Colla, then the Inca and finally the Spaniards they built boats first and after the swimming island to protect their culture and to live their traditional life (they might have lost sight of this aim).

The islands consist of totora reed that abundantly grows in the shallow shore areas. Each island is made from many layers that rot at the bottom and have to be replaced from top. The traditional boats are made from reed as well and last only few months. Totora is also used for building of the houses – the traditional tipi shapes as well as the modern square ones. Partially the roots are even edible.

Puno is the starting point for excursions to the Uro islands. A roundtrip by boat costs 10 PEN plus 5 PEN island access and takes 30 minutes (altogether the trip takes 2.5 hrs). There are boats every hour or more often. Several islands are situated in a circle in a reed clearing and resemble one another. Walking on the fluctuating ground is very strange. One of the women explains us the construction of the islands, how they are pegged down to not move away. The suspiciously unused looking house is demonstrated first, then the souvenir stand where we are expected to buy handcrafts, but at least we can take photos free of charge. For another 5 PEN we are offered a ride on one of the elaborately made reed boats to another island where more souvenir stands and a restaurant wait. The island’s girls sing a traditional song and “vamos a la playa, oh-oho-oho”, a perfect moment to throw a screaming fit, but we bear it with a lenient smile. There are still more traditional islands, but only reached by expensive private boat rides.

The only camping option for RVers in Puno is Sonesta Hotel Posadas del Inca. The better known El Libertador doesn’t accept campers any more. For using the parking lot with hooting morning train the hotel asks for 15 US$ (we might use bathroom and showers), with electricity 20 $ (S 15°49’26.2’’ W 70°00’19.6’’).

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