The Islands of Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Mar 08, 2005
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Trip End Mar 29, 2005


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Saturday, March 26, 2005

We bought tickets to do a two day trip to a few islands in Lake Titicaca. We set out on a boat with a couple dozen people, many of which turned out to be very cool. Our first stop was the floating reed islands of Uros. The Islands of Uros are artificial islands made of reeds which grow in the shallows of the lake. The reeds are the same material the people use to make huts and boats. Old boats are usually placed on a thin layer of dirt and reed roots, then more and more reeds are piled on. This creates a giant floating island that can be moved anywhere in the lake. The people simply use long branches to anchor the corner of the islands to the lake bottom. The people may move an entire island, or if there is a dispute between people on a single island, then a single family may cut off their portion of the island and float to another area. Walking on the surface is a little disconcerting, but not dangerous. New reeds are constantly placed on top as old reeds rot on the bottom. The people also eat the reeds. They taste a little like water chestnuts.

The main islands the tour groups stop at are obviously touristy. But there 30 relatively large islands in the area, most of which are not visited by tourists. So these people really do live this way. Most of them just do it without an audience. It's believed that the people originally took to the islands to escape from the Incas on the mainland.

From there we took a 3 hour boat ride to a large natural island called Amantani. As soon as we arrived at the island people on the tour were matched up with families they would stay with for the night. The women were dressed in traditional clothing and sat on a rock wall waiting to find out who would be staying in there home. We all waited patiently to see who our host family would be. It was like we were picking teams to play kickball during recess. Bev and I were picked last and sent to right field.

Actually it was cool because we had been chatting with an English couple during most of the journey and all four of us were set up with the same family. Our dorm mother, Gloria, introduced herself quietly and we set out up the hill toward the homes that were scattered along the terraces carved into the mountains. The elevation is pretty high here as well so we had to stop every 14 steps or so. But oddly enough, at no time did Beverley vomit. We made our way into our home for the night. There were children and chickens playing around a small courtyard which separated the two sides of the house. We were shown into a decent sized room, which was entered into by way of a small, Alice in Wonderland door. They said the doors are so small because the winters can be very harsh and it keeps the rooms as warm as possible. Sounds logical.

The English couple (there names are Doreen and Stephen, but we'll just continue to call them the English couple) had an identical room above us. It was simple but clean and quaint. Our tour included accommodation and 3 meals. The first meal was a late lunch which was served on small table in our room. The four of us enjoyed quinoa soup, white rice and potatoes. It was basic but nice. Gloria was very soft spoken and covered her head and a portion of her face when she walked. Even as she served us she rarely made eye contact. As I am from from America, I didn't know how to handle a docile and quiet woman. I tried several times to engage her in conversation but without much success. It was nice because my Spanish is atrocious, but all of these people are native Quechua speakers, so Spanish is there second language. This means that they speak slowly and deliberately, which makes them easier to speak with than most Peruvians.

After lunch Gloria led us to the town square to meet up with our tour group. Our tour guide (not Gloria) told us about the island and its history. It was really fascinating. The island held a great deal of importance for the pre-Inca and the Inca. It is still important today and considered a place of great energy. We hiked to the top of the island which is home to two temples: Pachu Papa (the father) and on the other the temple of Pachu Mama (the mother). I don't know enough about the people and the history to realize and appreciate the significance of these temples, so I was resigned to simply enjoying the views the mountain provided.

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and is shared by Peru and Bolivia. We left from Puno on the Peruvian side. There are a number of islands and the coast line is beautiful. It is all lush and green and carved with ancient terraces. In the distance the snow peaked mountains on the Bolivan side create a startling back drop. Despite all the people, it was absolutely stunning and peaceful. As we hiked up the hill we constantly passed the people of the island, all in traditional dress and bringing items down from the fields on top of the island. If you can use your imagination and make all the westerners disappear from your view, it's fascinating and mythical.

After our hike we made it back to the square just after sunset. Gloria met us there to lead us back to our house. The island has electricity but it is only used on special occasions. For some reason my visit didn't constitute a special occasion, so it was very dark. We had noticed that our house had solar panels and lights in the room. But we hadn't checked to see if they worked. So I asked Gloria if we had electricity in our room. She said no, so we bought some candles at a shop on the plaza. We had a nice 10 minute stroll in the dark back to our house guided by a single flashlight (thanks Madre). Once there we walked into our room and Gloria turned on our lights. We all looked around confused. I asked her what hours the lights worked. She said they worked all the time, and hadn't I seen the solar panels? I said yes and she left us to try to figure out the puzzle. Evidently electricity means that you're on the power grid from the generator. Solar power is some other magical form of energy. So we sat down to a lovely dinner of...quinoa soup, white rice and potatoes. It was lovely, for the second time. Gloria barely spoke to us and we were a touch disappointed in our home stay. We all thought we'd be IN a home, interacting, chatting, knitting, baking, whatever. But this was just like a relatively sub par hostel stay. But sensing our angst, Gloria appeared at 7:30 and sat down on the bed by the table. By the way the bed was made of reeds. Is there anything reeds can't do?

Well Gloria was still shy but we chatted a little. My Spanish was enough to find out the following things: She had 4 children aged 4-14, there were seven people in the small house, the other two her father and his second wife. Her husband has passed away; I didn't inquire as to how. And as we found out in our lesson the next day the reason she is so shy is that she is once again single. Single women wear light colored shirts, partially cover their faces when they walk, speak very quietly, and rarely make eye contact. To a very large extent, culture governs all of our behaviors whether be realize it or not. What I found so interesting in this case is that when her husband died, she was forced to revert back to a dress and demeanor that she hadn't used in at least 14 years. That must be quite difficult.

So Gloria (at 7:30) asked when we were going to bed. It has been a long day so I said probably 10 or so. She suggested 9. We settled on 9:30. She went to bed soon after. She had to be up at 5 a.m. she said. Probably to make more quinoa soup, white rice and potatoes. The four of us sat around chatting and laughing until bedtime and Doreen and Stephen headed upstairs. Bev and I chatted about far off places and fell asleep.
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