Friday, June 27, 2008

Titicaca Lake and its Islands

Next stop on our trip after Cusco is the city of Puno. The biggest attraction of Puno is the access it gives to the Titicaca lake. We arrived late and went directly to the Duque Inn, a nice cheap place 3 quatras from the Plaza di Armas. At the hotel, they had already a tour package ready, so at 7 30 am next morning we departed for a 2 day islands tour.

We spent the first day on Amantani, the island the furthest from Puno (4 hours boat ride), where we were awarded a host family for lunch, dinner, and night. Our 22-year old mom, with a 3-year old daughter, made us potatoes and cheese and brought us to the fiesta in the evening, sharing her clothes to dress us up and make the tourists happy. She revealed being paid only 25 soles ($4) for the job of taking care of the two of us, but that is tourist business´s way. Below are the happy dressed-up tourists:

But first on our boat journey we stopped at the Uros islands, or the floating islands of the Titikaka lake. Uros people decided to live on the water for unknown reasons long time ago. Since, the real Uros-speaking population has itself disappeared. The aymara locals continued the traditional way of living on the islands, however the Uros language has been lost since 1960s.

The islands, made out of totora plant, last around 25 years. The base is made of totora roots, the top of totora stems, added every week. The islands are around 2m thick and support around 7 families. If the families do not get along, it is a traditional way to cut the island to accommodate everyone! Now they mainly live out of tourism. Each day boats coming from Puno bring visitors, that are welcomed in the fashion below:

There are over 45 islands, and the main problem today for the population is ... dental care because of all the sweets the tourists bring with them! Otherwise it is definitely an interesting spot to visit and to feel the totora under one´s foot. We even took a boat ride on a totora boat, with this beautiful girl rowing all the way for us:

As i said earlier, we spent the rest of the first day on the Amantani island. The highpoint has been the sunset, seen from the top of one of the island´s hills, whose top is still at 4100 meters, as high as Mont Blanc du Tacul back home. Below is myself, on the hike up the hill, with Titikaka and Cordiliera Real in Bolivia behind me:

Titikaka actually means Puma in Stone. There is a legend that before being a lake, this region used to be a fertile and happy valley. The only requirement God put on the people living in the valley was not to climb the mountains around it to look for the sacred fire that supposedly awaited them on top. For may centuries people followed the good advice and did not climb the mountains. The valley remained prosperous and green. However, the evil spirits came over, attracted by so much well-being. They seduced the people with tales about the sacred fire, and convinced them to climb up. As soon as the men started up, God sent pumas to the valley, and they destroyed the fertile valley and its inhabitants. Inti, the sun god, saw the disaster, and cried so much, that Titikaka lake was formed, and all the pumas were turned into stone. Only a man and a woman stayed alive - but never again could they return to the fertile valley...

On the morning of the second day we left for Taquile, the island seen in the middle of the picture below. Actually our host mom with her cousin and her mother are knitting here. Women all wear beautiful costumes with skirts and flower-embroidered blouses. The black shawl comes from the Spanish, that themselves borrowed it from the Moorish women they invaded before coming to the New World. Thus, a part of the Arabic heritage can be found on the shores of the Titikaka...

Taquile is known for its textiles, which have been declared Unesco heritage. This is one of the rare places where men wear traditional costumes as well and proudly display their hats. One of the reasons is that you can tell if they are single or not by looking at those hats - the man on the left on the picture is single, the one on the right is married!

After the Taquile visit, it is time again to return and go elsewhere. The beautiful arches of Taquile lead us to our boat and back to Puno:

New adventures await...

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