Uros aka The “T-Uros” trap
Historically, great civilizations have always had a deeply evolved spiritual connection with one or many higher beings. The Egyptians had their gods, the Romans had Jove, the Indians had Krishna and Vishnu, the Arabs Allah and so on. Strangely, though the world is a very big place, the land of the Gods always seems to fall within their own domain. The Japanese came from the Land of the Gods, for the Greeks, the gods lived on Mount Olympus, and Mecca happens to be just where the Prophet Mohammad is from. Coincidence?
For the Quechua people (commonly/mistakenly known as the Incas), the holiest place is Lake Titikaka. Mythology has it that the Sun, their main God, was born here, on the Isla del Sol, and that they themselves originate from this sacred place.
Now I see nothing wrong with venerating the Sun, many other civilizations do so, and I for one, am a big fan. It provides us with heat, food and recently with electrical energy, free of charge.
The Isla del Sol falls on the Bolivian side, and though not far geographically from Puno, to get there is a bit of a trek. Fortunately, Peru also has beautiful islands on the lake, so off we went to Uros, Amantani and Taquile.
Uros is the closest island to Puno, and certainly the most peculiar one. In fact, the whole island is made of nothing more than reeds. The reeds grow naturally in this shallow part of the lake, so the people of Uros cut it, pile it in big cubes, stack it all together by hand and voila, you have an island. Because the islands float on the lake itself, they have to be anchored down like a boat, so that the Peruvians don’t wake up on the other side of the border.
The Aymara people of Uros have lived here for longer than a millennium and here they work, fish, go to school, and even pray in the Methodist church. Some livestock is also raised here, and the pigs even have their own little islands.
The intrigue of a place like Uros, fills the average tourist with excitement and curiosity and we were no different. As we approached the island, we were greeted by the local people, dressed in their customary colourful outfits, and their quirky hats. They were all waving with cheerful smiles, as if meeting us was the biggest event since the discovery of the Americas. We could not have imagined more hospitable people and were certainly impressed by this, after all a traveler dreams of being accepted by the locals. Wow.
We paid the 10 soles entrance fee, got off the boat, and were greeted personally, introduced to the locals and given a short demonstration of how the locals build the island from reeds, complete with a display and a quick talk about how they have lived on the island for generations.
Five minutes later, all the travelers were invited by the local ladies to visit their living conditions (for a mere 5 soles more). So the female Bear and I were ushered into a hut of reeds, only to discover that the space could not house more than one and a half people, it had no door or windows, no mattress (I guess they sleep on reeds), and nowhere to place possessions. The kitchen was a separate communal hut that all the villagers share, understandable, an easy way to prevent a fire burning down the village. When asked where the kids sleep, we are told that they sleep in a separate hut, on a separate island, which is a bit strange, but I guess the parents like their privacy (but not enough to have a door, I suppose).
Soon afterwards, we were shown an impressive collection of artisan craftsmanship created by the lady herself – hats, scarves, sweaters etc. We were asked if we wanted to buy any of it, but we’re traveling for a while and don’t like carrying more than necessary, so we said no. The lady, though disappointed, was very persuasive and kept urging us on and on to buy her work of arts. Sorry lady not interested. Ok, I guess we’re done here, let’s go outside, where there is another stand of goods to be purchased. Sorry lady still not interested. But look, it has pachamama, the mother earth, the Sun God, the serpent and other Inca spiritual symbols, surely all this is very marketable. Sorry lady still not interested, but we are sure feeling a bit more guilty.
By this point, the beautiful island is becoming more and more of a tourist trap to be escaped, an Alcatraz made of reeds, if you like. Hey look, there’s a boat made of reeds, it has two stories, let’s go check it out, hopefully the lady won’t follow me, or ask me for money to get on it. She doesn’t. I get up on the boat and the view is absolutely stunning. The Island is more of a collection of islands, stretching on forever. You can see where the people really live, where the church is, and you can also see dozens of other tourists trapped on separate islands, lured into buying goods. More boats come from far in the distance, with groups of Asian tourists, backpackers, all greeted by the same trained cheerful smiles.
A little girl climbs up onto the boat with me. She’s 4-5 year old, barefoot, dirty and beautiful nonetheless. I love kids, I’m a teacher after all, and am very excited to see her. We sit, try to communicate, and after a few minutes she goes for my pockets. Has she not ever seen pockets before, or is she going for my money? Huh.
I get off the boat and am told that for just another 5 soles per person, we can take this actual boat across to the other island. Ten soles is about 3 dollars, so I convince a reluctant female bear to jump on the unmotorized boat. This is definitely going to be a cool experience, it’s a very cool looking boat, and they’ve been navigating the lake on these for centuries.
Well, the gentleman uses an oar to push the boat out on the lake and gets himself on a smaller motorized boat, turns on the engine and starts pushing the bigger boat across the lake with it. Our jaws drop, we’re pretty peeved but well, at least we escaped the pushy lady, at least.
Once on the other side our tour boat awaits us, with everyone else on it, ready to dash for dear life. They’re all smiling at our authentic boat experience, feeling wise they didn’t fall for it.
Off we are to Amantani, where we are spending the night with the locals. Let’s hope they don’t also go for our pockets.
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