When in Puno, Carnival

Carnival de la Virgen de Calendaria en Puno

When my host dad explained to me what the floating islands in Lake Titicaca were, it made both perfect sense and no sense at all. How? and why? were the first questions that came to mind. It’s something you have to see for yourself to understand completely-an excuse to travel to one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in Peru so far (but also worth an explanation in writing beforehand).

Lake Titicaca, shared by Peru to the northwest and Bolivia to the southeast.
Lake Titicaca, shared by Peru to the northwest and Bolivia to the southeast.

With a ground layer composed of thick reeds and roots, these fairly small artificially-made masses of land are free floating. Every six months, a fresh layer of plant is added to the exposed layer to compensate for the ever-sinking plant floor beneath. To get to and from these secluded homes, natives to the island travel in reed boats, made of totora. They’re small in size: about a quarter of a football field, sometimes smaller. Whereas most of the Uros are used for housing, there are also one specific to schooling, for example. In addition, there are also several natural islands found in Lake Titicaca: Isla de Amantani and Isla de Taquile within Peru’s half of the lake, and two more which Bolivia claims: Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna.

Uros Islands
Uros Islands

But also, how come? The Uros islands were originally constructed in a way that allowed for optimal defense against outside tribal invasions. The carefully pre-Inca islands were, in a sense, disposable—or else, were easily movable from one location, to another safer one. To this day the Uru people who speak primarily Spanish, Aymara, and Quechua live simple lifestyles despite a new kind of outside invasion: visiting tourists groups. Each island is made up of eight or so huts, whose people gather together as a community for one large meal every day around noon or a little afterwards. Reed boats remain the primary means of transportation, although motorized boats are making their way onto the island as well.

A model of one of the Uros floating islands as well as the reed boat on the far left.
A model of one of the Uros floating islands as well as the reed boat on the far left.

From the natural island of  Taquile, both the shore of Peru to the left, and that of Bolivia to the right are visible. –An atmosphere totally serene and also fairly secluded.

And most of the time, back on shore, the neighboring city of Puno (population: 100,000) is also quiet and pretty laid back. But for one weekend out of the year, during the festival called La Virgen de la Candelaria which takes place during Carnival, the city stays awake for over 48 hours.

Isla de Taquile
Isla de Taquile

Celebrations took place this year February 9-12, as dancers, musicians, and spectators from all over Peru traveled to take part in the explosive festivities.

Almost 450 years ago, the statue of the Virgin was brought from Spain sometime between 1580 and 1590. Early 1700s, an Inca uprising lead by Tupac Amaru against Spanish rulers ensued. Something like 12,000 men were gathered in the hills encompassing Puno, and many more in the city itself. Worried about a possible invasion/looting, the statue of the Virgin was taken out of the church for a long procession, along with dancing and loud music that lasted into the night. It’s said that these festivities scared away the invaders, who feared the military strength of the people. Since then, the Virgin is venerated and held high as the patron of Puno.

Today, couples and families line the streets along the 5-kilometer parade route. Dressed in ornate costumes of every color, bordered with sparkling gold and silver, performers in the parade make their way from the lake’s edge to the cemetery in the city’s center. Dozens of cases of beer and Peru’s own Pisco Sour are stacked on street corners, which onlookers swig back as well as those marching and dancing along in the parade. It’s kind of a free-for-all; Peruvians like their alcohol, especially along with the festivities. Young kids also standby with globos de agua (water balloons) and silly string for unsuspecting passersby. Each group of dancers or musicians represents a region of Puno, Peru, or even internationally (within South America). For two days, the streets are also filled with a  whimsical embrace of family and culture.

Upcoming Trips:
• Machu Picchu! (March 2-3)

Spring Break Wish List:
• Lima
• Arequipa
• Piura
• Ecuador/Galápagos Islands
• Chile (Santiago)

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