Rock of the Puma

Trip Start Dec 08, 2004
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Trip End Dec 07, 2005


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Saturday, August 20, 2005

"May the Sun remain a young man and the Moon a young woman,
may the world not turn over -
let there be Peace"

-- An Inca Prayer --

Well we've made it into Bolivia after visiting the stunning Lake Titicaca and the Uros (floating reed islands). Lake Titicaca is actually two lakes joined together by some straits which i didnt know and At 3810m it is breath taking, literally!

We first went to Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca and took a boat out to visit the Uros (floating reed islands) named after the indians who inhabitted them. Legend has it the Uro Indians had black blood that helped them survive the frigid nights on the water and safeguarded them from drowning.

The last full-blooded Uro was a woman who died in 1959. Other Uros had left the group of islands in earlier years owing to a drought that worsened their poverty - and intermarried with Aymará and Quechua-speaking Indians. But the Indians who now inhabit this island - a mix of Uro, Aymara and Inca descendants - follow the Uro ways.

We were expecting a tourist circus but we timed it perfectly and missed all the tour groups, fantastic! The Islands are incredible. They are a made up entirely of layers of reeds which they renew every year. There are 42 seperate islands in total, it was like a floating reed city.

Only a meter thick in parts it makes it really springy underfoot, it was like walking on a water bed, really wierd. The main thing that struck us was how peaceful it was. As there is no other noise from traffic etc the people talk to each other in extremely quiet voices. It was hard to work out who they were talking too as the other person would be so far away. Amazing to watch.

Tourism is their main income today and they dont seem to be doing to badly! They live in reed huts but all are fitted with state of the art solar panel powered electricity and one even had satelite TV :)

We did the touristy bit and had a short ride on a traditional Balsa (reed boat) from one Island to the other, well its not everyday you get to to go on a reed boat is it?

That afternoon we got a bus to Copacobana a few hours north up the lake into Bolivia where we watched to sun set into the lake. The following morning we rented a traditional sail boat for the day and sailed to a little white sandy beach for a picnic, gorgeous. Pretty cool to have sailed on the highest navigatable lake in the world.
We tried fishing but no joy which I was secretly quite glad about after the whole Mexican fish killing saga :)

The next day we moved further south across the straits by ferry to the small town of Huatajata on the smaller lake to visit an island where they still make the reed boats. The island of Siraque is where the Balsa boat for the Ra Expedition was built.

We stayed at a hostal in Hautajata whose owner, Maximillon, is famous in the world of reed boats as he and his brother sailed a reed ship from the Andes to The Atlantic down the Amazon!

We had planned to sail to the island but after a very dodgey practice run in strong winds and a very near capsize we decided not to push our luck. Apparently if someone falls into the lake, like a fisherman, it is traditional not to rescue them but to let them drown as an offering to the Earth Goddess Pachamama. So we opted for a ride with Maximillons brother in his motor boat. Unfortunately weren't able to see a boat been made but saw the finished thing. Maximillons brother collected a small reed canoe to take to a festival and we got to have a paddle on it. Well we couldnt really get the paddling thing down and went around in circles alot but it was good fun.

The meaning of the name Titicaca is uncertain, but it has been variously translated as Rock of the Puma. Indian legend says the sun god had his children, Manco Capac and his sister Mama OcIlo, spring from the waters of the lake to found Cuzco and the beginning of the Inca dynasty. Later, during the Spanish Conquest, the lake allegedly became a secret depository for the empire's gold. Among the items supposedly buried on the lake's bottom is Inca Huascar's gold chain weighing 2,000 kilos (4,400 lbs.) and stored in Koricancha - the Temple of the Sun in Cuzco - until loyal Indians threw it into the lake to prevent it from falling into Spanish hands.

Oceanographer Jacques Yves Cousteau spent eight weeks using mini submarines to explore the depths of the lake but found no gold. (What he did discover, to the amazement of the scientific world, was a 60-centimeter (24-in) long, tri-colored frog that apparently never surfaces!)

Titicaca Facts

* About half the lake resides in Peru and half in Bolivia
* It is the highest navigable body of water at 3,821 (11,463 feet) meters
* It covers 8,300 square km, sunning 190 km NW to SE & is 80 km across
* It lies in a 60,000 square km basin between the coastal & eastern Andes
* The average depth is over 100 m with deepest point at 281 m
* 25 rivers, mostly from Peru, flow into the lake and a small outlet leaves the lake at Desaguadero on the Bolivia-Peru border, which is only 5% of the inflow with the rest lost in evaporation.
* The lake is the remnant of a vast area of water formed in the Ice Age known as Lake Bolivian
* The traditional totora-reed boats take 3 days to build and last 7-8 months while wooden boats take longer to build but last 7-8 years
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