16.02.2006 - 19.02.2006
Traveling over the Altiplano, it was it was 10PM before we arrived in Puno. The city is moderately sized, and spreads out over several hills on one side of Lake Titicaca. At 3855M, more than 12,500 feet, it is easy to get out of breath just walking around. It feels very much like a working class city despite the presence of many tourists. In this respect, it is quite different than Cuzco.
We had timed our visit perfectly, as we there at the time of the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria, with its Diablada or Devil Dance, in which many of the local towns and villages compete to show off their dancing moves, music, and costumes.
Every village has its own typical dress, each more colorful than the next. Many of the costumes were bright blue or red, and there were musicians playing wooden pan pipes of all sizes, as well as drums.
In the afternoon the parade went on for hours and ended up in the main plaza of town next to the cathedral.
I spent much of the time taking pictures, both of the marches and spectators. It was an incredible opportunity as no one objected and they were obviously dressed in their best clothes.
At one point one of the female marches came over to Yusef and threw some white powder on him. It looked a lot like talcum powder, but a little stickier.
We were trying to decide if this was just directed at him in particular, when a few minutes later someone came up to me and did the same thing. It must be part of the celebration we decided, and before long we saw marchers doing this to many other people as well. Not to be outdone, I decided to join the parade. I saw an opening and proceeded to mimic some of the steps of the group I joined, none too successfully. No matter, they all seemed to get a kick out of a dancing gringo covered with white powder. I marched with them for a few minutes and then ducked back out. This was the highlight of my day.
The festival went on for several days, but we decided to take a tour of some of the island communities that live on the lake. The first place we visited was a short boat ride away, the floating islands of the Uros.
People have lived on reed islands made from material dug up from the lake for centuries. Every 5 to 10 years the islands have to be rebuilt. Their primitive houses, boats, etc. are all made from the same reeds.
They live very simply, fishing and eating what the lake has to offer, though for many years tourism has been an important source of income. Naturally, just about everyone who comes to Puno, wants to see the floating islands, and the people are certainly used to seeing foreigners gawk at them. Nevertheless, they live basically as they have for years, and are still very poor.
We spent an hour or two here, taking pictures and buying the tiny reed boats they sell to the tourists About half the islands are open to visitors, while the rest are protected from the constant influx of outsiders. By now, at least according to the The Handbook, there are very few pure Uros left. Most have intermarried with the Aymara, the largest native group living around the lake.
Our boat then continued to Taquile, a larger island in the southern part of the lake. The Indians who live here are obviously much more prosperous than the Uros. Their houses are made primarily of stone and are substantial and sturdy looking, very different from the reed structures. Everything is quite picturesque with many paths crossing terraced fields high over the lake.
We walked up a stony path from where the boat docked to get to the village, treading under several stone archways. Along the way we passed several women making yarn,
and others walking arm in arm, seemingly in no hurry. Woolen goods were sold in a cooperative shop in the small plaza. We didn't see any cars, though I imagine there must have been one or two on the island. Several other tour boats disgorged their passengers, and before long there were 30 or 40 tourists milling about. They served us lunch on a long outdoor table, and this too seemed to be a cooperative endeavor, though I'm sure the tour operators took a significant percentage of the profits.
Later we made our way back, but not before I had the opportunity to take more pictures, especially of the children in the village.
I was sorry to leave as Taquile was an idyllic place. The returning ride was spectacular. At first the water was an intense blue similar to the sky, and the clouds were very white. The high snow capped peaks of the Cordillera Real in Bolivia were visible in the distance. As the sun went lower, the wake of the boat shimmered in the darker water,
and the side lit clouds grew pink and magenta. In the rarefied air, everything seemed to have an extra clarity and the lake reflected the colors of the sky which changed quickly in the fading light.