Illuminating Lake Titicaca

Huffing and puffing were the sounds of our trip to Lake Titicaca, at 12,500ft we certainly felt the altitude! Even just walking up the stairs took our breath away. But we sure are glad we made the trip to visit, as it was a really interesting experience learning about the Aymara, Quechua and Uros people who uphold their traditional customs here. In Puno, I longed to take photographs of the old ladies in their tradition dress of bowler hats, big skirts that represents the mountains and layers of colourful wool throws wrapped around their shoulders. The lines on their faces could easily tell the stories of their lives.

Lake Titicaca is huge, about 60% of the lake is in Peru and the southeastern 40% is in Bolivia. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world and an Incan spiritual and sacred place.
This high up in the Andes Mountains, I’m thinking these Incas were super fit – they took massive rocks uphill, determined – they built giant cities and superbly led to be able to create such an amazing empire.

The legends of the Inca start here, their God Viracocha emerged from the cold blue waters of the lake to create the sun, stars and humans in his image. The first Inca King – Manco Capac was born on Lake Titicaca to found the Inca Empire, the name Titi Kaka means Rock of the Puma.

Our first example of creative Incan architecture was at Sillustani. A half hour drive from Puno took us to beautiful Umayo Lagoon and there on the Sillustani hill we saw these huge flower-pot shape towers.

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These Chullpa burial tombs were for Inca kings and important rulers. These perfectly formed cylindrical towers are huge and are a marvel of construction.

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Of course the treasures buried with the dead have been looted over time, however archaeologists uncovered the skeleton remains giving valuable insight into these mysterious towers. The sun setting over the strange flat island out on Lake Umayo was luminous.

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While in Puno we took a trip out to visit one of the 40 man-made Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. Originally built as a defensive system by the Uros Indians who had retreated from the mainland, some of these floating reed islands now receive boatloads of tourists in rotation so each colorful community can sell their handmade goods.

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Although it was quite touristy, it was very special to see this remote way of life and we wondered how long it can survive with the younger people moving to the mainland.
The President gave us a demonstration of how the island is built on large floating peaty bases, then dried reeds are laid on top in alternate layers. The island will last for about 15 – 20 years and needs constant maintenance as it has to be topped up with more reed layers each month.

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The island was certainly soft and squidgy to walk on, our guide told us that we would be able to spot the Uros people by the way they walk with a gait when visiting the markets in Puno. The ladies sang songs for us, invited us into their homes and of course gave us opportunity to buy tapestries, sweet little reed mobiles and colourful bracelets.

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The cute tiny tots were a joy and cleared us out of sweeties. These little kids have wind chapped leathery hands and faces with tons of smiles.

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On solid Taquile Island our tour boat docked and we took a slow walk uphill, panting like knackered racehorses to spend some time with the Taquileno people. Mr E found this experience very interesting but felt uncomfortable watching the family being paraded for us tourists. But the way I see it, the family makes money, tourists get to take photos and it was fascinating overview of the traditions that have been carried out for centuries. The tourist money of course helps to maintain this self-governed community.

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We learnt the men have to be able to knit before they can marry and will carry on knitting throughout their lives. Father of the intended bride will test the suitors worth by pouring water into his tight knitted hat. If it holds water he can marry his daughter, if not he can knit another hat and try again in six months!! The style of knitted cap is used to identify the marital status of the men. Along with farming on the Incan terraces there seems to be a reasonable distribution of duties, women weave and the men prepare natural herbs that are used as a detergent for washing wool and clothes.

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The family cooked us a delicious lunch of quinoa soup, fresh lake trout and gave us a digestive muna tea to wash it down with.

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The walk down to the boat across the island was stunning, fluffy white clouds reflected on the blue lake and it did indeed feel very peaceful on this heavenly island.

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Next up: Heart of the Incan Empire – Cusco

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