Puno is famous for its location on the shores of beautiful Lake Titicaca and the floating islands of Uros a short boat ride away – Uros is the name of the culture which originally constructed the islands. The islands are made of layers of interwoven reeds collected from the many reed beds in the shallows of Lake Titicaca, they are several feet deep and constantly replenished from the top to support houses and people.
While definitely one of the more touristy things you can do in Peru – and there is some debate about the authenticity of the islands these days – the islands remain fascinating living histories of an Andean culture that evolved a unique way of life. We went to the islands on the local ferry which drops you at two of the floating islands (there is a strict rotation so that everyone in the community benefits from tourism, providing a rare example of egalitarianism within the tourist business).
The islands seem pretty much dependent upon tourism and I wasn’t expecting to enjoy a visit as much as I did. In part that was down to the people we met on the two islands we visited who who were friendly and funny, and not particularly pushy when it came to selling.
While the floating islands are the main attraction, Puno’s other floating wonder is the M/V Yavari, a steam ship built by the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company and brought from the United Kingdom on a journey that is almost as extraordinary as the islands of Uros. Once little more than a wreck, the M/V Yavari has been lovingly restored by the Asociacion Yavari and now can be visited at its mooring just outside of Puno.
To get the M/V Yavari to the shores of Lake Titicaca it was designed to be shipped in component pieces and then reassembled upon arrival in Puno. Easier said than done! There’s a bit more information on the ‘Whys’, ‘When’ and ‘WTFs’ below – I particularly like the fact the original engine was fuelled by llama dung!
The ship was brought in pieces by boat to the port of Arica in modern-day Chile. Here it was loaded onto a train for the thirty mile journey to Tacna across the arid deserts of northern Chile/southern Peru, before being detrained and loaded onto mules and llamas for the incredible journey across the Andes. A journey of over 190 miles on little more that llama trails that reached altitudes of over 15,000 feet. I think it would be fair to describe this journey as ‘epic’.
Things didn’t quite go to plan. There were many problems with transport, not helped when the original British contractor failed to get the 2766 boat parts beyond Tacna, forcing a delay of several years in the transportation of the parts across the Andes. During the mule and llama train part of the journey many parts were ‘lost’ or abandoned forcing more delays while they were either recovered or new parts were shipped.
Finally, the M/V Yavari was launched in 1870 and her sister ship the M/V Yapura in 1873. Since then their histories have been somewhat checkered until in 1976 the Yapura was converted into a Peruvian navy hospital ship and the Yavari was left to rot before being rescued for restoration.
There are components of the ship from all over the UK – although the current engines are Swedish in make – and the engineers who reconstructed both ships were from Liverpool (where else?).