Yavari and Uros Floating Islands

Getting back into Peru turned out to be much much easier than getting out. I got a lunchtime bus back to Puno from Copacabana and when we arrived at the border, there was no-one there other than a small group of young Israelis sorting out their visas to get into Bolivia. No other buses… and miraculously all the tat sellers had disappeared too. There must be a key time of day that most of the buses show up, and on the way back I must’ve missed it……

From Puno, I took a trip out to the Uros Floating islands. On the way there, I managed to get a photo of the Yavari. I had seen her sister ship, the Yapura, tied up in Puno whilst undergoing restoration last time I was here, but couldn’t get a photo as it was surrounded by other vessels.

Anyway, I was pleased to have seen the Yavari and the Yapura, albeit from a distance, as I’d read about them before coming away.

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The Yapura and her sister ship the Yavari are iron-hulled steamships that were commissioned by the Peruvian government in 1861. They were built in sections in the UK, shipped to Peru, and then hauled across the Andes by mule (there were 2766 pieces in total as each had to be small/light enough for a mule to carry), a process that took 6 years (I wonder if any bits were missing when they arrived? or whether the instructions made any sense?). They were finally launched in 1870 and 1873.

I knew before I set off that the Uros Islands would be very touristy, but I was interested to see how they were constructed. Luckily, the first thing that happened when we arrived at one of the small islands was an explanation/demonstration. The reeds grow in very shallow parts of the lake. Sometimes, a part of the root system will come away and float to the surface. This looks like a big block of earth, but is 80% roots, 10% soil and 10% gas, which is why it floats (this was demonstrated by throwing a piece in the lake, trying to push it down with a big pole etc). The people take these blocks and firstly saw them into rectangular shapes. They then fasten blocks together using wooden pegs and rope. This was demonstrated using much smaller blocks – apparently the island we were on was made of just 2 huge blocks). The island is then ‘anchored’ to either a permanent island or one of the shallow reed beds using more pegs and ropes. Finally, lots of reeds are piled up on top to create the surface, and the houses are made from more reeds.

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The houses are tiny little one-room constructions used just for sleeping. They could build bigger ones but smaller ones are better for keeping warm at night.

There was then lots of touristy tat selling, some locals roped in to sing songs, and a ride on a boat to another island whose only attraction was selling food and drinks. The boat was pretty much two of the traditional boats with a room construction on top, so as to carry a whole group of tourists. The flaw in their cunning plan was that two of them could not now row it at more that a swimming snail’s pace – so they set off rowing, then once they thought no-one would be looking, a guy in a small boat with outboard motor came up behind and gave it a push to the other island…..

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