Very near the top of her “must see” list in South America, Kristen was ecstatic about finally arriving to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru. The Uros, a pre-Incan people, began living on islands made of bundled totora reeds for the purpose of distancing themselves from their more aggressive neighbors. Only a few hundred continue to live the traditional lifestyle (mainly for the purpose of tourism) as most have moved to the mainland.
Also, this is admittedly a tourist trap. We know it. They know it. Everyone knows it. That doesn't stop it from being interesting though...
We hopped onto a boat with a small group of curious tourists, all armed with big cameras with equally big lenses. As soon as I saw the rest of our group, I immediately began to dread what easily could be a zoo-like atmosphere when we reached the islands.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Not only was the rest of our group very respectful, but the island we visited was full of people that were genuinely interested in giving us a window into their lives.
Our island, called Waca Wacani, was home to five families and 7 structures entirely made of reeds. Their way of life is primarily funded by visiting tourists, but it’s not a gimmick. They legitimately live out their lives floating on Lake Titicaca. The community of nearly forty islands share a school, courthouse, community center, and bathroom facilities all housed upon bundled reeds.
I should say that there was definitely a little “push” to purchase some of their handicrafts but it was definitely not as bad as it could have been. Considering the insight that we gained into a people that live drastically different than how we do in USA, it wasn’t much a sacrifice.
The President of Waca Wacani: (you got my vote bra...)
After experiencing the reed islands, I can definitely see how it could be an awkward and morally odd situation in different circumstances. Considering we were confined to a small space for several hours as guests in their home, we both found the Uros people to be gracious and had no problem going along with their desired flow of the tour. If you’re squeamish, however, in situations where something is financially expected of you, this may not be a good idea...
Seeing as we had been staying in some pretty mediocre places for cheap over the past couple of weeks, we decided to splurge for one night on a really nice hotel right on the lake. That night we ate at the hotel’s fancy restaurant and found ourselves with food poisoning a couple of hours later. Considering the state of the places we have been eating throughout South America, it is amazingly ironic and I legitimately laughed as I huddled over the toilet. Being sick took it’s toll and we were urged to stay a few nights - not great for the wallet.
At least the hotel had a herd of alpacas!