Part of the boat trip out to Amantani Island for the homestay includes a visit to the Uros Islands – floating villages built on stacks and stacks of reeds. It is an incredible concept, born out of necessity when the Incas from the highlands arrived and sought to subjugate the local people. By moving out onto the lake, the Uros people were able to avoid conquest.
Of course the modern-day Incas – the Quechuas – are not on any sort of colonial conquest kick at this point. So one must ask the question, without such existential danger, why are these folks still out here creating their own islands? Is this all for show?
I got the sense at the Uros Islands that this really was contrived. Maybe there are islands where these folks live and then different islands that they show the tourists? Or maybe these folks live on the mainland, wearing Nikes and using cell phones, and just come out to the floating islands ahead of us each day – like Disney employees arriving early to be in place when the doors open?
But then… there were plenty of other places where I might have had a similar thought, only to be corrected with obvious clues otherwise. There were the gentlemen we met on a distant trail on Taquile Island, wearing the unique hand-sewn hats that locals use to differentiate single men from married men. (A man is only marriage material when he can get good enough to sew his own intricate hat.) There was the community of local Quechua people celebrating a holiday with traditional dancing in the square, decked out in the most amazing combinations of traditional hand-woven wear, punctuated by children dressed as gorillas! In each of these instances, we were in areas that folks had no reasonable expectation for western travelers to come around the corner. And when we did, we were the only westerners for miles. If we were at Disney, we would have been way, way, wayyyy backstage. Yet, everyone was living their life with each other in what appeared to be very traditional ways – nothing contrived about it in the least. So, was I wrong about the Uros as well? I’ll never know.