Lake TiticacaSeptember 14, 2014 in Peru ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C
After a hasty photo of the 'Inca on the landing' at our hotel and, following the usual early morning minibus transfer, we arrived at Puno Dock and boarded our boat, ready for the trip across Lake Titicaca:
I'm not sure about 'looking for the lake'. With an area of 8,372 km² and a maximum depth of 281m, it's a bit blooming big to miss. According to the stats, by volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America. It is also the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812 metres above sea level and, whilst there are more than 20 bodies of water around the world that are at higher altitudes, all of them are much smaller and shallower. The western part of the lake is Peruvian and the eastern side is in Bolivia. Five major river systems and more than twenty smaller ones feed into Titicaca and the lake has 41 islands! It certainly is a unique sight to behold.
Our first stop was at one of the 'Floating Islands of Uros', made entirely from the totora reeds which grow in the lake. The original inhabitants created these islands so that they could be moved in the event of danger. The watchtowers (also made of reeds) that all three of us climbed are a reminder of this fact. Island houses in the shape of teepees or ridge tents are made of the same stuff and the protein rich reed also serves as a valuable food source for the residents, who chew it as we would rhubarb, but without dipping it in sugar first.
We were welcomed and our boat was landed by a group of ladies, all wearing the wide, brightly coloured, pin-tucked skirts, embroidered waistcoats and straw hats that are typical of the community; there are five families of 25 people all living on this one tiny island. As we stepped gingerly off the boat, the reed floor felt spongy underfoot and we were warned not to walk too close to the edge or behind the houses for fear of falling through. After a talk from our guide and a demonstration by an islander of how to cut and gather a bundle of reeds, we were invited into a family home, consisting of just the one room. The bed was made of built up reeds, clothes hung from the walls and there was a TV in one corner. A satellite dish was also attached to a house along the street. The householder pitched her hand made textiles, explaining the symbolism of their rich embroidery.
Next, we sailed upstream on one of the intricately fashioned, dragon boat-shaped vessels, again made of reeds. It was so peaceful on the lake at oar-stroke pace, if a little cool. Our destination was the capital of the Uros, an island with its own church, cafe and shops. Disappointingly, I was unable to queue for the stamp in my passport that would have proved my visit because I had left my rucksack on the larger boat, which we soon re boarded to travel onwards.
Final destination, Taquile. A beautiful, natural island in the deepest part of the Peruvian side of the lake. Arriving here, I was reminded of holidays in Greece or Turkey; vivid, ultramarine water revealing seaweed covered boulders on the floor of the lake, scorching hot sun, puffs of white cloud ranged across the skyline, a paved walkway heading up the steep hill towards the eucalyptus trees. The only discordant note, hinting at the South American location? The stone heads mounted on the archway part way up, complete with Peruvian high hats, and the Taquileños in traditional dress, trudging up the hill ahead of us with their heavy loads.
We too had a long way to climb. The main village is at 3950m and the highest point of the island is 4050 meters above sea level which was where we had lunch - vegetable soup, fried trucha straight from the lake, and chips, served at long tables, overlooking 'that view'. Afterwards, a leisurely hike down the other side of the cliff to meet our boat for the magical return trip. We were the African Queen, forging a path through the reeds, out into sparkling open water, amidst flashes of water birds dipping for insects.
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