Tuesday, January 11, 2011

11 Jan 11-Lake Titicaca

These last few days we’ve been exploring the fabled Lake Titicaca, the mythical origin of the Incan people and, at about 13,000 ft above sea level, the highest lake in the world.  We went on a 2 day tour that explored several islands in the Peruvian side of the lake (the lake sits on the Peru/Bolivia border). 
First, we visited Islas Flotantes, one of over 60 floating islands.  These floating islands are man-made from reeds that grow in the lake.  Legend has it that locals constructed the islands and set out to sea in order to isolate themselves from aggressive Incas, who spent 100 years violently conquering and subjugating western South America.  These islands are trippy!  They are constructed of several layers of reeds that float on the lake’s surface.  The islands last about 30 years each.  They are constantly decomposing, so they smell a bit and they are squishy!  Walking on the island is kind of like walking on top of a mattress...a little unstable.  The houses are also made out of reeds and last about 10 years, and their boats are made out of reeds and last about 5 years.  There are little garden plots in some sections, and they place their stoves on top of rocks so that they don’t set fire to the island.  Smoking on the islands is strictly prohibited for the same reason!  Honestly, this part of the tour was over touristy….a little short on interesting information and a little long on efforts to squeeze a few more bucks out of visitors, but still good.  Also, I really liked seeing all of the solar panels outside the houses…technology at work!  Jynene and I got to hear a few of the local boys speak Quechua, which is the pre-Columbian Andean language.  The boys were going out on a trip in their canoe to hunt flamingos with these crazy looking hunting rifles.
Then, we visited the real earth island Amantani.  This island is very rocky and hilly, and is inhabited by 4,000 people split among 10 villages.  There are no cars or hotels on the island, and the people mostly speak Quechua and wear traditional clothing (seen in pictures below!).  Also, there is no church on the island because they were never converted to Christianity!  They still worship their ancestral deities.  This is really cool to me because I have never visited a community that maintained its original non-major religion.  First, all of us gringos climbed up to the top of one of the peaks on the island.  This was extremely difficult because of the altitude: we climbed from about 13,000 feet to 13,700 feet.  It was tough!  But the view was worth the effort.  Jynene played a game of soccer before the climb, because she is un poco loco en la cabeza.  From the peak we could look over the entire island, which is all hills, but the local community has cut terraces into the entire island to create farm land.  It’s really amazing looking and must have taken hundreds of years to terrace the entire island.  Also, the two peaks of the island correspond to the two places of worship, Pachatata and Pachamama (Father and Mother Earth).  So we got to visit the temple of Pachatata at the end of our climb.  We learned a little bit about the way of life on the island: There are 10 villages, and each village is responsible for growing one or two types of crops.  For example, a few villages will grow potatoes, a few will grow quinoa, a few will grow oca, a few will grow coca (although the source plant of cocain, coca is locally grown for use in tea/medicine and religious ceremonies and is not a narcotic here).  I don’t mean that it’s just not considered a narcotic, I mean it’s actually not a narcotic but is just like any other tea leaf and is good for treating altitude sickness and other ailments.  The 10 villages pool their produce and rotate crops.  Inside the 10 villages, the fields are communally owned and farmed.  Once a year each year, everyone on the island journey’s to the top of one of the two peaks, Pachatata or Pachamama, 5 villages to each peak, for a day of worship and prayer and communion with the heavens.  All of us tourists got to stay with a local family and share meals with them.  We ate quinoa soup and rice and eggs and potato and pasta.  The islander’s aren’t very well off and so can’t provide meat.  They did, however, dress us up in their traditional garb and bring us to a local dance.  See pictures for more on that!
The next day, we went to our last destination, the island Taquile.  Here is where the trip fell apart- a bit.  Our tour guide had partied that night before on the island and was still intoxicated in the morning.  He gave us curt instructions about what to do on the island in garbled Spanish/English/Quechua that none of the 30 of us tourists understood.  But we made our way from the port to the main square, had lunch, and walked to the other port on the other side of the island where the boat picked us up.  As the boat pulled up to the docks on the mainland and the tour was about to end, this tour guide suddenly woke up and started telling us about the island of Taquile, about 4 hours too late.  A few of the folks on the tour called the company and complained, and Jynene and I got a call at our hostel asking us to confirm the complaints about the tour guide. And apparently that guide no longer works for the company.  As annoying as it was that our guide didn’t do his job, it was good for a laugh.
So here we are, sitting in our hostel in the mainland, reflecting on our fun and interesting exploration of Lake Titicaca.  Tomorrow, we head to Cuzco, the heart of the Incan Empire!

The reeds that make Islands


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