Lake Titicaca: Uros (The Floating Islands), Taquile and Amantani Islands
Monday, December 26, 2011
In the morning, we met Manuel, our local guide, in hotel. Carlos hired four triciclos (three-wheeled cycles) for the 10 minute ride to the port where our boat was awaiting us.
Before boarding we purchased gifts (mainly food, fresh fruit, sugar, salt, pasta and rice) for our hosts: This night we would sleep with a local Quechua family.
Lake Titicaca, at 12,507 feet (3,812 m) the world’s highest commercially navigable body of water, belongs half to Peru and half to Bolivia. The lake is 165 km long and 300 m deep, with temperatures between 3 C and 13 C. Life at this altitude needs to be adapted to extremes: high levels of ultraviolet radiation, freezing temperatures and oxygen-depleted air.
The Incas believed that Lake Titicaca was the cradle of civilisation, the place where all life began.
Our first stop was at the floating islands where the Uros have been living for nearly 600 years. They took to living on the water as their way to escape from conquering people, first the Inca and later Spanish.
The Inca "conquered" neighboring people and implied strict rules, one of which was mita, obligatoric work for the ruling class: Everybody had to work part of the year (we may think of this as a way of paying taxes) for the Inca dynasty which enabled the Inca to build so many cities and temples in such a short time and achieve their greatness.
Along the shore of Lake Titicaca grow 36,000 hectares of buoyant totora reed (of the papyrus family). While the Urus first hid in the shore area, they later built floating islands and moved out onto the lake.
The Uros, who speak Aymari, use this reed grass for everything - to build their floating islands, houses, boats, for their crafts... they even eat it.
The Uros fish and collect wild bird eggs.
About 10 years ago, there were only 10 islands left... but then the tourism started. Today, there are approximately 60 islands, but not all of their "inhabitants" truly live on the islands. According to Manuel, about 60% live on shore around and in Puno and treat the islands and entertaining tourists as a day job.
Tourists, like us, can stop on the islands to learn about the life of the Uros.
The women were all lined up, waiting for tourists.
And here we go...
Usually, about 6 families live on one island, all are related with each other.
None of us was brave enough to try the reed which is supposed to taste like hearts of palm.
This gentleman explained (Manuel translated) how the Uros build their islands and homes:
The base of the islands consists of many interconnected blocks if reed "roots" that float. Then, multiple layers of reed grass are placed on top. While the island lasts about 15 - 20 years, the reed grass on top rots much faster, and fresh layer needs to be added every two weeks. Needless to say, we could not escape nor get used to a certain smell...
The houses are so light, that they are just lifted when another reed layer needs to be added.
Because candles are troublesome in an environment like this, progress reached the islands when President Fujimoro introduced loans for solar panels. This allowed kids to study longer at night - nowadays the Uros have their own floating school.
After the little presentation we are invited into the homes and dressed up.
Meanwhile, the ladies had removed the tarp covers and revealed their goods...
This old lady is bilingual (Aymari and Quechua) and used to be valuable to her family because she could negotiate with other tribes. She has nothing to do now - and is asking for tips in return for having her picture taken.
The reed boats can be simple...
or quite elaborate.
For 10 soles per person we could have taken a ride...
Back on our boat, we continued towards Taquile Islands...
enjoying the view from the top deck...
or playing cards.
Taquile Islands, with 7 square kilometers the second largest islands (after Amantani) on Lake Titicaca, has been inhabitated for thousands of years. The approx. 2000 Quechua-speaking inhabitants who live in six villages show a very strong sense of group identity. The customs of this tiny community are totally unique to this island: There is no police, just a village leader (identified by a special hat), and everybody has to comply with three principles: Do not lie, do not be lazy, do not steal. Whoever violates any of these rules will be exciled.
The views across Lake Titicaca as we hike up to an isolated village are spectacular.
Main village square: This building with large glass windows (below) seems utterly out of place.
Taquile has a fascinating tradition of textile handicrafts.
The type of hat a man is wearing signals whether he is single (white and red), married (red) or has a certain social position (like village elder). Men also wear wedding belts with their wife's hair woven in.
Men and women are knitting...
The islanders have other - unusual - rules: A young couple can live together for one year, and then decide if they want to get married. The exception to this rule: If you conceive a child during this trial period, you have to get married.
We’ll have the chance to hang out with local people in the Plaza de Armas and learn about their famous textiles and fascinating way of life...
before hiking up some more and
enjoying a traditional lunch of delicious Quinoa soup (Quinoa is the main diet) and grilled trout.
Meanwhile, Carlos drew another amazing Inca figure into the dirt:
We continued towards Amantani Islands, encountering a very rough sea with high waves.
At the harbor, we were greeted by members of our host families. Each family had sent an older daughter who could speak at least a few words English. We were very thankful that these girls didn't mind carrying our luggage and water supply, since we were busy dragging ourselves up the mountain.
After we greeted our host familiy,
some of our fellow travelers were up for a game of high-altitude soccer—nothing we could do as we all suffered from severe shortness of breath due to the altitude of about 13,000 feet...
and therefore decided to watch from the bleechers.
When the game was over, we hiked to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) Temple at the summit of Amantani Island...
finding terraces all the way up to the mountain top (interestingly, only very old ladies were tending the fields)...
... for breathtaking views of the sun setting over Lake Titicaca.
Carlos had us pile up some rocks...
Carlos (left) had us perform another custom: building a rock pile and burying a little plat part and wishing for something...
to remember our trip and friendship.
It was quickly getting dark ... and very cold.
Heiko captured a few pictures of strangely shaped clouds which at this altitude are practically touching the lake’s surface.
Back at the village, our hosts were waiting for us with a delicious dinner.
The Quechua people have maintained their traditional way of life for centuries, weaving wool, keeping cuy (guinea pigs), and farming their smallholdings.
Dinner consisted of soup, rice with bean and squash and coca tea.
The stove and only heat source. In the back: The guinea pigs try to stay warm as well.
After dinner, we were dressed up again and lead to the community hall for a traditional dance with the locals.
With no streetlights or cars, it was very dark and quiet – we have never seen so many stars!