Around 2000 years ago, the people of Puno fed up with invading forces decided on a radical strategy, they left the land and took to the water on Islands made of reeds.
Having decided they were obviously bonkers they were ignored by every invader (including the Inca and the Spanish) and now they welcome the new invaders (the tourist) into their homes to generate a new stream of income.
To get to the Islands we met with our tour guide Hubert, and jumped in bicycle tuk tuks for a 10 minute dash across the city, which of course turned into a race – congrats Paula and Richard! We then jumped on the slowest boat in the world and putted out to the Reed Islands.
There are about 60 islands, each with a set of about 10 houses. Each island is moored with a rope and the cluster of reed islands and reed boats, with reed houses and reed arches looks a little like a slightly surreal Reed Disney Land.
The islanders add to the reeds every 2 weeks as the lower reeds start to rot. This means the island gets deeper and when it touches the bottom of the lake it can no longer move with the lake levels and has to be abandoned. So every 100 years or so, they start again, cutting blocks of reed roots like giant brown polystyrene blocks, roped together with reeds and reed houses balanced on top.
The whole effect is a bit like trying to walk on a water bed!
The village we visited talked us through their construction process, showed us the parts of the reeds that were good to eat, took us for a tour of a house and then… dressed us up in local gear.
OMG – to say they favour bright colours is an.understatement. Each lady wears a gathered wool skirt and matching jacket in day glow 80’s colours.The ensemble is finished off with a tiny bowler hat and the hair is platted with colour coordinated pom poms at the ends.
Not the most flattering of outfits I have ever worn – we looked like a team of umpaloompas – i think the locals do it better!
Having de-robed the head of the island took us across the water to another island in his reed boat. These are normally used for honeymooning and take 3 months to construct. I had a go at the rowing and we were entertained by his two sons singing traditional songs and for some random reason a version of “my bonnie lies over the ocean”.
The arrival of tourists has allowed the families to buy food other than reeds and fishes and some of the houses even had solar panels to give them some light in the evening – but other than that, not much has changed.