Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vacaciones con la Familia – Part II

Mom and I on the floating islands of Uros
The fam on the island of Taquile, Lake Titicaca in the background
Some temple (?) carved out of rock. The tour guide gave us some explanation about it but it sounded like some shit he just made up.

Puno – From Arequipa we took a five hour bus ride to the city of Puno. Puno is on the high plains in the south Peru on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world - high meaning around 3,800 meters or 12,500 feet above sea level. Now 12,500 feet didn't sound all that high but it is. After all, there's a group of folks called 14ers who climb peaks of 14K or higher for fun and that's only 1,500 feet higher than where we were, if my math adds up. Anyway, the altitude got to all of us and the Peruvian food got the best of my Mom and bro (happens to all the gringos) so we were winded whilst sprinting to the bathroom.

Lake Titicaca has a series of man-made floating islands called the Uros Islands. The floating islands are made of reed roots and reeds lashed together. Around six to ten families live on each floating island in tiny little houses also made of reeds. According to the guide, they eke out their living by fishing, gathering eggs, hunting, bartering and tourism. It was pretty cool hopping off the boat onto a floating, living island but to be quite honest, it was pretty touristy and I doubt that any of the folks actually lived on them. I've heard here and there that the people living on these islands are from the sierra and moved there to make a living off tourism and to avoid paying taxes. Either way, it's a tough way to earn a living. Looking beyond that, it was pretty cool to see a manmade floating island that was built the same way they did back in the olden days. Come to think of it, I don't recall the guide explaining why anyone would originally live that way in the first place – probably to get the hell away from some conquering assholes.

From the floating islands, we went to an actual island called Taquile. On the boat trip out there, I sat at the aft of the boat enjoying the sun and thinking that this looks a bit like the Greek Isles except I'm freezing and can't breathe. When we arrived at Taquile the guide pointed up and said we're going up there. So up we hiked because that was where lunch was (20 steps, stop, try to breathe, 20 steps, stop, try to breathe). Painful but worth the view. It was a nice walk on the way down with some impressive vistas.

I've been in Peru for over a year now and have seen poverty but not the Christian Children's Fund, Sally Struthers, fly in eyeball kind of poverty. Here in Puno, however, there was abject poverty. Everywhere we went, there were moms with their kids in their papooses on their backs waiting in a big-ass line for a little bit of Christmas paneton (fruit cake?), hot chocolate and maybe a gift for their baby. It wasn’t the kind of mom hacking of the kid's hand to make them more beggable kind of poverty like in Haiti but still heart wrenching to see especially during the Christmas season.

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