September 21st, 2008

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titcaca is one the most beautiful spots I have yet seen in Peru. The setting is humbling located at 13,000 feet above sea level. The lake is the highest navigable lake in the world and has stunning blue water set against stunning blue sky. After a grey Lima winter it is a delightful get away.

Unfortunately Richard had to get back to work after our visit to Cusco. Sharon, Craig and I forged on, by train, southward to the city of Puno whose only redeeming aspect is that it sits on the lake. The train trip was an absolute delight. After the "roughing it" train trip to Huancayo and the surreal train trip to Cusco this journey was truly sublime. We chose not to take the "backpacker" special and opted instead for the comfortable, but still very affordable, Andean Explorer. While the trip takes 10 hours it was done in comfort.

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Our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection, sits right on the lake. I highly recommend this hotel for anyone planning to visit Lake Titicaca. The location, service, restaurant and comfort were excellent.

The hotel also has a dock that took us through what appeared to be marshlands and a bird sanctuary. Craig went exploring there and discovered a bit of a reed island as well.

So having rested up and gotten used to living without oxygen we headed out to see the highlight of the area - the floating Uros reed islands.

The Uros are about 53 floating islands that are made up of piles of totora reeds, or cattail reeds, that grow on the lake. The islands no longer float since they have set up a system of cables between the islands that now provide stability - but they still consist of a pile of reeds that sit quite a bit above the lake floor. The reeds are used to continually refresh the islands (since otherwise the islands would just deteriorate), to build boats (they have to be built each year or two since the bottoms deteriorate), to build homes and other structures, and are edible. I know the latter because I tried - it tastes like a cross between celery and jicama.

Many Aymara Indians still live on the islands and survive by fishing, hunting birds and - obviously - tourism. What was very apparent in visiting the islands was that life there is very communal. In fact, our guide the day after we visited the islands, told us that he lives on the islands. His family put aside savings to send him - the oldest of the children - to the language institute in Puno so that he could work for a tour company and share money with the rest of the family.

While on the islands we met Luz Maria who invited us into the home in which she and her husband live. The housing is humble but the quality of construction is incredibly good.
The boats don't leak and I'll bet the houses survive rain storms quite well.

Luz Maria also sold us some reed products and told us about her husband who is currently off fishing somewhere on the lake to supplement their income.

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After visiting the Uros reed islands we got back in a motorized vessel and headed a few hours across the bay

to a "fixed" island - Isla Taquile - for a hike and opportunity to climb yet higher into the oxygen free atmosphere. (we really did feel the impact of the altitude lest you have not guessed!) Here are some shots of our wanders about:

A view from the top after a somewhat strenuous climb:

The local countryside - tough farming but probably much greener in the rainy season:

Connecting with a local boy in search of a camera and tip:

There are no vehicles on Taquile and when you see the streets you understand why:

The traditional dress on the island is fascinating. We learned about the significance of sashes and hats and shawls - all of which signify something about the person's position in the local culture, their marital status, etc. This is the mayor if the town in his traditional dress:

And finally, the hike back down more than 500 steps: