After a long drive through the mountains of Colca Canyon, we arrived at Puno on the edge of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca spans from Peru to Boliva and is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812 meters. Another hour’s drive from Puno, we arrive at our home for the next few days: Titilaka Lodge. Titilaka, a Relais & Chateaux property, is an all inclusive lodge on the shores of the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. All the 18 suites here have a lake view and are in a contemporary design with touches of the Inca heritage. It is a wonderful hotel filled with mod cons to come back to after exploring the neighboring villages and floating islands.
The deck of Titilaka on the lake.
Ride out to the islands on Titilaka’s boat.
The highlight of Lake Titicaca is the floating islands of Uros made of totora reeds. Uros is a group of 44 or so artificial islands built by people who predate the Inca. The islands were made this way so that they can easily be “floated” to another location as a defense mechanism. The indigenous people used to be captured as slaves, so by living on these floating islands in the middle of the lake and only coming out at night, it helped protect many from captivity. Not only are the islands made of totora reeds, all the houses and boats here are also made of reed, and every 15 days, new reeds must be piled on top of the old ones to prevent the islands from sinking. When I first heard of boats made of reeds, I imagined some simple raft looking boat. But to my surprise, these boats called balsa are very beautifully made, some even with little pavilions and animal heads in the front. The largest ones are up to 30 meters long! I had the opportunity to visit the Uros group of floating islands as well as one that is about a couple of hours away from the main group.
It is about a half hour boat ride from the port in Puno to the floating islands of Uros.
The teepee marks the entrance to the floating village of Uros.
The islands are built very close to one another, each with several teepees and a watch tower.
These elaborate boats are made with reeds tied around plastic bottles.
There is even a floating hotel here.
This man dug a little hole through the reeds and is fishing like an eskimo :)
A special visit to Asunta’s island. Apparently, if you are one of the Uros people, you can build a floating island anywhere in the lake and people living on these floating islands are exempt from government taxation.
Asunta’s island, built away from the main Uros group of islands.
Asunta and her family welcoming us to her island.
Most of the Uros people are fishermen and hunters. Here is a catfish from the lake.
Asunta here is grinding barley to make bread.
Asunta’s kitchen on the island with damp reeds to make sure the island won’t catch fire.
Uros man showing us how they set nets in the lake to catch fish.
They use this blade attached to the rod to cut reeds for their island.
Here we are shown how the roots of the reeds float in the water.
Our reed boatman just climbed out and stood on top of the roots of the totora reeds in the middle of the lake!
From Asunta’s island we ventured onto Taquile Island which is a hilly island that used to be a prison during the colonial era. Now it is inhabited by about 2,200 Taquile people. There are no modern conveniences on the island and life remained pretty much the same as hundreds of years ago. Taquile is known for its handicrafts and textiles. What is interesting is that the men exclusively do the knitting while the women exclusively do weaving and make the yarn. UNESCO has designated them Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The men of Taquile start knitting at a very young age. When a young man wants to marry, he must knit an extremely fine hat that can stand up on its own and where water cannot pass through and present it to his future father-in-law. If his knitting passes the test, then he will receive consent to the marriage.
Taquile men knit these hats to wear at different stages of their lives.
While the men knit, the women here weave and make yarn. Taquile women have to weave a special belt for their future husbands. The striped one is made from their own long black hair and serves as a padding for the more elaborate belt worn on top of it.
The more elaborate belt has many designs and these are the women’s demands and wishes for her married life. The belt above shows a rich harvest, a house, 3 children as signified by the bird with 3 small chicks, farming, living according to the Taquile traditions, love, etc.
Maritza and her sister showing us how they clean the wool with natural soap made by grinding cactus leaves.
Local women spin yarn as they walk around town.
There are many interesting local Quechua and Aymara communities living along the shores of the lake. Of interest are the Funeral Towers here. We visited the ones in Molloca closer to the hotel. These funeral towers were built in the 1450s where the king or royal was mummified and his wife, consort, some of his children, and servants were sacrificed and buried together with him. After a year of mummification, they would open the small door facing the east, believing that the sun god and their royal are one. Locals will come and make offerings at the small door to their ancestors. Every year, the mummy would be removed from the tower and dressed up and set in the main square for a month long celebration. Then new women and servants would be sacrificed when the mummy was placed back into the tower. This kind of new sacrifice would continue for another 3 years and after that the mummy would be taken out and returned without any new sacrifices.
A ramp would be built and the mummy would be lowered into the tower from the top.
Other than visiting the funeral towers, we also did a short hike to see the sandstone formations at Wilka Uta or Aramu Muru. At this altitude, you really have to pace yourself. My lungs actually hurt and I couldn’t quite catch my breath on the way up the hill.
Trailhead at Aramu Muru
The square “doorway” is 7 meters by 7 meters and the Inca believed that it was the entrance to the spiritual world of mother earth and the other Inca gods. People still come here nowadays to meditate. In high meditative states, the practitioner will approach the indentation where I am standing and put their third eye against the rock and for some, their souls can pass thru to the other side.
Sheets of sandstone coming down the mountain.
My guide, Julio, trying to convince me to come out to the edge for a better view. Err…I don’t think so….
On our way back to the hotel, we were fortunate enough to catch one of the fiestas in the village where locals drink and dance around a eucalyptus tree. They then take turns chopping down the tree at the end of the evening. The women dress in their traditional Cholita dress which includes a bowler hat, voluminous pleated skirts with many layers of petticoats, and a colorful shawl that doubles as a knapsack that is usually used to carry their babies. These outfits came about during the times of the Spanish Inquisition where the indigenous people were forced to adopt the European style of dress. Story has it that the bowler hats were not originally intended for the Cholitas. Once, the shipment of hats were too small, so the trader peddled them to the local women. Tradition is that if the hat is worn straight, it signifies the woman is married. If worn tilted to the side, it means she is single.
I will continue with the Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca in the next post. Stay tuned!
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