We're resting this afternoon in Puno, Peru, after spending a half day exploring the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake at the highest altitude, 12,628 feet. Our trip began on a boat to Jiska Chaulla, an island made entirely of reeds. Eight Aymara families live here, following a traditional life of fishing, sewing, and bartering in nearby towns on Market Days for such essentials as salt, soap, potatoes and meat. They prefer to barter rather than sell, by trading a handful of fish for a handful of potatoes.
We were greeted with welcoming smiles and proceeded to learn how the islands are made. Ramon demonstrated how the roots of the reeds are cut to create a base, which is then covered by alternating layers of cut reeds, up to about 10 feet deep. Their reed houses rest on another reed bed. It took about 3 months to build the island we visited, which included houses for the 8 families and a guest house, where we could have slept for 10 soles (about $3 dollars. The island needs fresh layers of reeds about every 15 days in the dry season, but this island will last 25-30 years. If someone wants to build a new island, he can do so with another Uros simply by cutting a chunk of this island free and adding to it.
Allen and I both tried on a traditional hat -- to laughter all around. We took a short boat trip in a traditional reed boat (see pic from Webshots), and we ate not only the white part of a reed that Ramon pared for us (tastes like celery), but we also ate wonderful barley cakes cooked by our host. Everyone knows everyone else's name, and we sensed a wonderful sense of community as we were welcomed here.
Tomorrow we're back on the bus for a good 10 hours, but we shall be making 4 or 5 stops to visit other rural areas in Peru as we head to Cusco and a slightly lower altitude.