We went to Puno for one reason–to walk on a reed island which is probably the only reason anyone goes there. We arrived in Puno at 3:52pm and somehow got on a 4pm tour of the Uros floating islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca. The islands have become quite a tourist trap, nicknamed “Reed Disneyland,” so many people avoid the stop altogether. It’s true. Everything is scripted, super cheesy and has a price. As our boat pulled up to a reed island, we were greeted by several little girls who could be the world’s best salespeople.
I’m serious…there is NO WAY you could say no to them. They welcomed us to the island by first introducing themselves, then grabbing our hands and asking us all sorts of questions, and finally, by singing a song in the language of EVERY person on the tour. Watch. I’m positive they had no idea what they were saying, but it was the fact they did it. (Do I know a song in 8 languages? Definitely not.) They were so attentive…and persuasive.
Walking on the island was strange…it was bouncy, but also more sturdy than I would have expected. The “president” of the island and her helper showed us a demonstration of how they build one, by tying large blocks of roots and mud together and then covering them with reeds stacked this way and that. Every 14 days, they add more reeds as the islands disintegrate quickly. We still can’t quite grasp how they live on these islands. They are larger than you’d expect, but still just a few huts, a few fishing holes, and a bunch of reeds.
Originally, they built the islands in the middle of the lake to isolate themselves from the Incas and other threats. Because of this isolation, they don’t receive any assistance from the government. Now, many of the families live and send their children to school on the mainland, using the islands just to make money for the community. They use reeds for everything: for building their houses, for food and for transportation as boats. When they invited us to ride their “Mercedes Benz” (reed boat) for $4, nobody could turn these girls down. They even joked that it was a fraction of the price you would pay to ride a gondola in Italy. How could we not?!