Monday, September 7, 2009

Peru: Lake Titicaca

This is my fifth post on our Peru travels.

This is what we came to Puno for. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and has a very interesting history and culture. They say it is shaped like a puma catching a vizcacha (similar to a chinchilla). The puma is one of the three sacred animals in Inca mythology (along with the serpent and the condor). The Incas believed that their gods arose from the Island of the Sun and the Island of the Moon near Copacabana on the lake. Those two islands are on the Bolivian side of the lake and we did not get a visa and go there. Instead we choose a day long boat trip to two sites on the lake not far from Puno harbor.

From the harbor we boarded a boat that would hold about 20 passengers for our trip. We didn't know what to expect, but the boat had a cabin that would fit everyone and then a few at a time could be on the observation deck on the roof of the cabin. There was a tiny bathroom on the boat. It was a slow cruise.

Our first stop was one of the many floating islands of the Uros. The islands are made from totoro reed root matts they cut every year and which float once the roots are cut from the lake bottom. They insert wooden spikes and then tie them together to form the base of the island and then cover them with the cut reeds. They use the reeds to make their homes, their boats, their islands, they burn them as fuel and they eat them. Because the reeds are full of silica, they also use them to brush their teeth. They taste sort of like lettuce, but with a cucumber consistancy--we tried them.

We landed on one island and were given a talk by our guide and the leader of the island and they demonstrated how they build the islands and talked about their way of life. Afterward we were invited into the tiny home of one family to be shown around and shown the embroideries and other handicrafts they made. Then we all climbed into one of the traditonal boats made from reeds and given a short cruise to another of the islands with a fish farm in the center of it for a few minutes.

Men demonstrating with models how they build their islands.

We purchased a small boat replica made of reeds and an even smaller one we will use as a Christmas ornament.

You can't tell from the photos, but most of the people were barefoot on these damp reed islands and my feet were getting cold with shoes and warm socks.

This is the gentleman who gave us a tour of his house

Caleb touching a fish in a bowl

double prow boat we rode in--these boats only last a few months before they rot away

Caleb on the boat playing with the boat replica we purchased

After the floating islands of the Uros, we got back in our boat for the one and half hour continuation of our trip to Taquile (ta-key-ley) Island.

Coming up on Taquile--you can see across the lake to mountains on the Bolivian side

When visiting Taquile, your boat will probably drop you off at the dock on one side of the island and pick you up on the other side when you leave giving you a chance to walk across the small island. To begin with you have to climb a steep, rocky path to get to the main square of the town. At 12,500 ft elevation it seems even steeper than it actually is.

part of the path from the dock to the main square

The people on Taquile have very interesting customs like not being allowed to marry unless they've lived together for 5-6 years and had at least one child. The single and married people dress differently. Notice in the photo below the closest man has a hat that is partly white (he's single) and the man behind him has a hat that is mostly red (married). The women on the island prepare wool and spin it into yarn and the men knit and weave. We saw men walking around kniting.

main square


man knitting--you can tell he is one of the leaders because he is wearing a combination of knit hat and black hat

These guys do great work! I think the textiles on Taquile were the finest we saw on our trip. They have fixed prices for their textiles--almost everywhere else we went we had to make an offer. We didn't have much time for shopping on Taquile, but I purchased a woven sash. I wish now that I had bought more of them. It seems like you are spending a lot when you pay 60 soles for something, but it's only 20 U.S. dollars for days of labor and exquiste workmanship. I'll photograph my sash for the upcoming blog post I'm planing on shopping in Peru.

cantuta flowers--the national flower of Peru

We walked part way across the island and stopped at a restaurant to have lunch in the courtyard. We had a choice of an omlette, fried trout or steamed trout for the main course and everyone had wonderful quinoa soup, fresh bread, fries and veggies followed by coca and muna tea.

Caleb enjoying freshly baked bread and quinoa soup--he looks blue because we were under a blue awning

family of musicians entertaining us at lunch

coca leaf and muna tea

cantuta flowers

After lunch, we continued across the island and climbed down to a dock on the other side for our long boat ride back to Puno. We happened to be there the right time of year for the Uros to be burning reeds in order to help them harvest the matts for building more islands and for encouraging new growth.

Puno harbor

That evening we had a nice dinner at a pizza restaurant. We had pizza a few times in Peru. They have the traditional clay, wood-burning ovens to make good pizza. Also, pizza is pretty safe to eat if it's cooked all the way through--kills the germs. All of us ended up getting somewhat sick one time or another, but nothing that lasted very long.

The next morning we packed up and headed for the Inca capitol of Cuzco. Check back in for that blog post.

Copyright 2009 text and photos. All rights reserved


  1. Pretty! Looks like DS had fun!

  2. Wow...the colors amaze me....The clothing is so bright and beautiful!