Tucked away in an old courtyard, the centuries-old casa del corregidor (the mayor’s house) now serves as a little courtyard housing some of Puno’s socially-minded businesses.
A couple of travel agents and a fantastic cafe can be reached via the peaceful courtyard.
But tucked to the right of the main entrance was the surprising find, k’antu. It was, as the sign proudly displays, a fair trade shop.
K’antu is a retail part of the organisation CIAP (Central Interregional de Artisanos) that for more than 20 years has tried to assist the more vulnerable people (women in particular) in various parts of Peru, particularly around Puno and Lima, the capital. Individual members of CIAP are organised into associations that typically comprise around 15-20 members. Nearly three-quarters of CIAP members are female. In the Puno region there are about eight different associations.
William Flores is the manager at k’antu and when he wasn’t chatting to one of his local artisan members, he gave me an insight into k’antu’s origins.
Puno is a relatively poor region. The idea of the k’antu shop was to try to take advantage of the tourism in the area and create a space to sell the products made by local artisans.
It’s membership of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) ensures that all the producers are paid a fair price for the products they create.
Using local materials, the biggest sellers here are clothing (made from alpaca and llama wool), jewellery and handicrafts. Each product carries a WFTO label, the name of the artisan who made it and the association name they belong to. In our virtually-connected world it felt more appropriate that I was able to connect to a real person by buying an item from k’antu and supporting fairly the livelihoods of people who’ve lived here for generations.
And what better way to finish up a hard afternoon’s shopping than with a cup of local fair trade coffee sat outside in the sunshine.
While in Puno I took the chance to do some sightseeing for a day. And the main attraction is on the lake itself, Lake Titicaca.
It is one of the most famous local attractions for tourists – a visit to the see the Uru people (los uros) who inhabit a multitude of floating islands just a few kilometres by boat from Puno. It is certainly another world. The indigenous people here pre-date the Incas, living on islands of reeds they made themselves. Even today they still make their homes and their boats from the reeds.
Tourism helps to keep these communities going, but much of it felt staged. From the welcoming sing-a-long to the information talk and the hard-sell of the local crafts I hoped the communities maintained their sense of identity, and not just a tourist facsimile. When the tourists aren’t around, the people here still have to maintain their way of life.
An inhabitant of the islands greets arriving tourists
Reeds are used in construction; nature eventually takes over and buildings can start to sink back into the water
A typical part of the Uros community
A striking locally-made boat. Tourists are taken around many of the different islands
Away from the tourists life goes on as usual
Locals build their own boats
The Uros women, always colourfully dressed, greet tourists with a little sing-song
The slightly larger islands can support a few families
Local men row the reed boats for the tourists
Sometimes assistance is required to navigate gaps in the floor
A typical Uros dwelling – predominantly reeds and a simple roof
Life here still adheres to its old traditions, despite encroaching modernity
The locals try to make a living by selling handmade items to tourists
Another typical Uros dwelling
As well as a visit to Los Uros, Puno has a few other attractions, including a ship built in the 19th century (MN Yavari) that took six years to be hauled up over the Andes from the coast and then reassembled on the lake. As well as checking its seaworthiness I climbed up the local hill overlooking Puno (Condor hill) and later relaxed in a fine cafe with a cup of local fair trade coffee.