We left Cusco for the largest high-altitude lake on earth – Lake Titicaca. At almost 4000m above sea level the clouds appear to hover just above the surface of the crystal clear water.
We spent a night on the shores of the lake in the town of Puno, a gateway town to the lake and its islands. Other than a decent supermarket and a cinema, the town itself doesn’t have much going for it. As for eating there is an unbelievable amount of pizzerias, in fact you need to look pretty hard to find anything else. We did manage to track down a decent grill. A slight misunderstanding on my part however resulted in the kitchen rustling up a plate of gargantuan proportions…rib eye steak, pork chop, butterfly chicken, heart, kidney and 3 types of sausage…it broke me.
We were booked on to a two day tour of the Lake, visiting the island of Taquile – a small island which has been inhabited for thousands of years and remains largely unchanged, a night with a host family in a community living on the banks of the lake and a visit to the floating Uros islands.
Taquile island is a pleasant little place with pre-Inca terraces and small ruins dotted around the hilly landscape. The Quechua-speaking islanders make a living from weaving, a practice that goes back centuries. Uniquely however is the “knitting men” who produce brightly coloured hats to indicate their relationship status in addition to the Alpaca wears they sell to passing tourists. The women also tie colourful scrunchies to their hair to indicate availability, the bigger the scrunchies the more *available* the women. Simple.
We left Taquile island in our little boat and set out for a peninsula some 2 hours away. It is here we would spend the night with a small community of Aymara indigenous people.
We were met at the jetty by a small group of local women in their traditional dress of brightly coloured blouses, black skirts and bowler hats. The bowler hats are apparently a relatively recent addition, inspired by the English engineers who in the 19th century arrived to assemble the steamships which had been brought across in pieces from England via Buenos Aires.
With a baby strapped to her back and no taller than 4ft, we were introduced to Matilda the lady of the house, along with her 12 year old daughter Anna. We talk a short stroll up the beach to their house – two small mud brick buildings. We stayed in one and the young family live in the other. After a brief conversation in very broken Aymara (indigenous language not even a bit like Spanish) we went off to help with the daily chores, digging up potatoes (have I mentioned there are 3800 varieties?!), herding sheep and taking them down to the lake for a drink and then entertaining the kids in the community with a game of volleyball. A game it transpired the kids are insanely good at, whilst we were atrocious. In the evening they put on a spread for us all and told stories about strange alien visitors and horned beasts that frequently visit the community. Call me a cynic but I suspect planes and cows are the most likely explanation…but I wasn’t going to ruin their stories which they told so emphatically!
The following day after saying farewell to our host family, we set off across the great lake once more in the direction of the floating Uros islands. The islands are still built in the same way that they were over 500 years ago when people living on the land fled the incoming Incas. Using reeds which grow in the shallows of the lake, they layer them up to a depth of 2 meters and then anchor the island to the bottom of the lake. A typical island might have 3-5 families living aboard, who share the maintenance of the island. If anyone doesn’t pull their weight however (which happens quite frequently) than a giant saw is used to cut the island and they are cast adrift!
Due to the proximity of the floating islands to Puno they now get inundated with tourists. As such trout farming and traditional weaving has largely given way to reed boat tours, floating shops and restaurants. Whilst interesting, once we’d made it clear we didn’t want to spend any money there really isn’t much to do and the tour was quickly over!
Next Stop > La Paz, Bolivia!