Peru VI-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas              Puno and Lake Titicaca                                                                     

Monday, December 11, 2017

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Motorboat loaded with reeds on Lake Titicaca near Puno, Peru.

Now 10 days into our 30 day Peruvian trip, we first boarded a smaller, cramped van near Chivay before transfering to a larger, more comfortable bus at the transfer point higher up in the Andes. Our destination was to be Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,000 feet above sea level. As we had already been climbing in elevation since arriving in Peru, altitude sickness did not inflict any kind of misery upon us. The next several days continued our Peruvian educational tour. It was fascinating and relaxing, a welcome respite after our difficult Colca Canyon hike. 

The morning after arrival in Puno we were tranported to the marina whereupon we boarded an enclosed motorboat and set out to the Uros floating Totora reed islands. 

Floating islands?

Yes. Really...


Uros Islanders greeting visiting tourists to their floating island.    

These floating islands are constructed of reeds, the heavy, grass-like plants that grow in wetlands. Often used for thatching, the Uros Islands are actually built up on multiple layers of this grass like plant. Surprisingly enough, this construction. forms a buoyant layered surface upon which the islanders build their reed houses. The islands do need to be continually replenished with new reed layers to support living upon them. Everyone works together to assure that the islands are maintained and stay floating. Many or most of the men fish or work on the mainland, while the women typically stay on the Uros (of which there are many islands) where they maintain the homes, tend to the children and weave and make items to sell to tourists. 

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Stepping off our boat onto the island, we found it to be a bit squishing underfoot. I would liken it to walking on an air mattress or possibly a waterbed (not that I have ever personally walked on a waterbed). So, while mostly sturdy underfoot, there was a definite floating sensation. I had no fear of falling through or sinking into the lake. 

On this particular island we were shown one of the homes. As can be seen from the photos, they are small and inside is a bed (made of reeds). I assume cooking is done outside or in a structure that is better suited to having a fire inside. Otherwise there were weavings and garments hanging on the walls, which added color and distinction to its’ simple construction. 


Young girl sitting inside a Uros family home.

Here we saw how these pre-Incan people live and learned about their ancient customs and traditions as well as the history of the floating islands including their construction and upkeep. Apparently these islands were begun several centuries ago and have multiplied ever since. Eating the tender roots of a reed was another experience as we enjoyed a performance by some of the island women and two little girls.


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Topping off our stop on the floating islands we took a short ride in a reed boat over to another reed island. There is some belief that these reed boats are the same or similar to those that may have sailed across the Pacific Ocean and possibly having reached South America. 

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Before departing these fascinating islands and the inhabitants, both Tom and I bought weavings by one of the local women. These purchases do help support them in their simple yet creative lives.

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Approaching Amantani Island, note all the terraces

But our day had hardly begun as we reboarded our boat and then sailed much further out onto Lake Titicaca with Amantani Island (a REAL island) our next destination. While onboard Tom and I met two lovely ladies, Kristie and Karen from Reno, Nevada, and as luck would have it, we shared much time together over the next several days, including staying overnight with an Amantani Island family. 

A beautiful day lie ahead of us as we sailed out over the clear blue waters, matched in beauty by the brilliant blue sky with billowy white clouds ringing the horizon. As we approached the island, it was obvious that agriculture was the prodominant way of life as evidenced by the nearly total terracing upon the island. 

The small harbor with several fishing boats then led steeply up to where a number of local islanders greeted our arrival. Dressed in traditional attire, the men mostly in black with white shirts, some with colorful vests, topped off the look with traditional fedoras, while the women dressed in brightly colored skirts and beautifully embroidered blouses. 

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The island is divided into districts, but farming on the ancient terraces is their primary livelihood. Everywhere one looked, all was orderly, tidy and incredibly picturesque. Fields are tended as they have been for centuries, by hand and use of mules, oxen or horses. The neatly stacked stone walls wrap around the fields that continue upward to the very top of the island.

Our hosts, Elias & Eusebia, have a comfortable, modest home up the hillside of the island. It was a bit of a hike on a paved path. We were fortunate to share this home with Kristie and Karen. The ladies were roomed upstairs while Tom and I occupied a 4 bed room next to the kitchen. A shared (flushing) bathroom was also on the ground level. 

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Other visitors to the island respectively were hosted by other islanders. Our interaction with our family was made a bit easier because our guide, Johnny, was their nephew. The man and wife spoke mostly Quechua and Spanish but no English. Johnny, who speaks the local tongue and English, came by to eat with us which helped us converse with the family. In his absence, Kristie, with a limited Spanish vocabulary was able to help us comprehend enough that we all enjoyed our stay on Amantani Island.

However, before the night had come, and still early afternoon, the ladies and I wandered further up the hillsides for a bit of exploration. The views out to the lake were breathtaking, enhanced by the terraced landscape and the blue skies. Goats and sheep grazing on the terraces and a few people out and about added to the idyllic scene. 



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Near sunset, we and nearly all the islanders, participated in a ritual where everyone walked to either of two Inca sites at the top of the island. Along the way we passed by terraced fields, some cultivated and ready for planting, others already planted, and everywhere people were streaming up to the sites where we were to enjoy the setting sun and marvel at the beauty that abounded all around us. Along the way up to and then down locals presented many of their handwoven sweaters, gloves, hats, and other clothing as well as handmade crafts. The chill of the night quickly descended upon us as the day waned. Our host Elias had woven hats that he presented to us prior to our trek up to the island’s heights. Before leaving the island, we both bought the hats which I wore several times on the rest of our trip. My shaved noggin and ears were thankful for the warm covering.

After the sunset ritual we returned to have dinner and then we were readied for a fiesta at the community center. By readied, I mean, the ladies were outfitted in traditional attire replete with skirts, colorful embroidered blouses, sashes, head scarves and shawls. Kristie and Karen were dressed my Eusebia as we all were amused and laughed during the whole procedures. But, Tom and I were not ignored either. We were donned in our new knit hats and then were draped in traditional heavy serapes. 

Tom, Kristie, Karen, Don in costumes, Amantani Island

Do we look Peruvian? Tom, Karen, Kristie and me.

Then in our jovial moods we hiked up to the community center where the visiting tourists and the locals had gathered for an evening of dancing and fun. A band was on hand playing Peruvian tunes and nearly everyone joined in with the merriment. In no time, dressed in the heavy wool, I was soon overheated which necessitated stepping outside into the cold night air to cool down. 

The islanders live a simple life, having continued the traditions that have sustained them for many centuries. It is noteable that there are no cars on this island. It is not a large island, but walking is how the islanders transport themselves, and by all accounts, they are in very good physical condition.  

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At 12,000 feet the weather was especially cooler at night. Make that COLD. Our beds were layered with at least 5 heavy wool blankets as there is no central heating in the rooms. For me, who prefers a cool sleeping environment, I soon began peeling back blanket layers until I achieved the correct warmth / coolness mix for my comfort. 

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Snuggled up in my bed the next morning, Tom’s vantage point out a window revealed a pretty sunrise. Upon his telling me this, I jumped up, dressed quickly in the chilly air and headed out to see and savor the beginning of another tremendous day.

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Daybreak painted the sky with a mix of color backdropped by the light blue sky while on land long shadows reached across the paths and over the fields. A farmer with his laden donkey headed up the hill, a few other early risers were up and about, roosters crowed, lambs bleated, birds chirped, all with their own greetings for this new day. And I stood absorbing the moment, looking out over the sea, the beauty of the sunrise, the brightening sky, the colors, the sights and sounds. 

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This was a glorious start to another day of adventure.

After we had breakfasted and said our goodbyes, we again boarded our boat taking a short sail across to the island of Taquile to catch a glimpse of the traditions upheld by those islanders. 

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Arriving on Taquile Island we began a steep walk up to the town square. All of the strenuous hikes up hills really do keep the islanders in great shape.

 Upon reaching the town square, an ancient church sat at one side and beyond that it opened to a large plaza. A two story indoor market was open to view and buy the weavings, knit work and embroidered items that the local people brought there to sell. Curiously, these people have no local currency. Amongst themselves they exchange coca leaves which are carried in knitted bags that are worn as a part of their clothing. They also do not shake hands. Local customs in foreign lands may seem peculiar to us, but this is their way of life. 

In the market, the locals bring their goods to be sold. Each item is tagged with a small colored piece of paper upon which is written a non-negotiable price and an identity number of the person who made the item. On tables and racks buyers can look over what interests them and then check them out where several bookkeepers methodically and systematically record the sale, the price, the seller. At least once a week the seller will come in to collect their money from any items that have been sold. All of the accurate accounting assures that the seller receives all that they are due. The money earned from these sales are used to purchase other staples and goods not available on the island.

All of the goods for sale are handmade, are of high quality, with exceptional knitting, weaving and embroidering. 


We also learned more about the clothes that the Taquile islanders wear. Men must weave their own hats as part of a courtship ritual. The tighter the knitting, the more erect the hat will stand upon the suitor’s head. Reportedly, the more rigid the hat, the better chances the man has of persuading the girl’s parents that he will be a good husband.

Other articles of clothing are also important and parts of the traditions, including the sashes worn by the men and the coca leaf bags.

Here you can see the fine details in this young man’s sash.

As an observer, it appeared to me that the islanders on Amantani and Taquile were always well dressed. 

Being rather small, it was an easy stroll to our lunch stop on the other side of the island. As on Amantani island and the mainland, the ever present terraces were a part of the landscape here as well. 

Along the way a small market with vendors selling souvenirs to chickens was lively and crowded. Flowering vines and views down the hillside to the sea made for a very pleasant walk to where we were to have lunch.

 A walkway bordered by flowers led us to an open terrace overlooking Lake Titicaca. In the distance, it was pointed out, lies Boliva which shares the lake with Peru. On this terrace we enjoyed another delicious meal starting with quinoa soup and a fish entree. Inca Kola, a Peruvian soft drink was my choice of beverage.

While waiting to be served our lunch we were treated to some demonstrations of knitting and weaving. One, a young man, showed us his skill in knitting one of the tightly constructed hats worn by the men. 

Likewise, a young woman layed out her loom and demonstrated her weaving skills with a soon to be competed beautifully detailed scarf. It was amazing to watch her so quickly and expertly thread the strands together to create such a detailed article of clothing. Both the man and woman are truly artisans in their crafts.

Having enjoyed our discoveries on Taquile Island and with a few treasures purchased at the market, the time to depart had arrived. Before boarding our boat, a few of us, me included took a moment to dip our toes in the chilly waters of Lake Titicaca.

A slow ride back to Puno over the calm waters allowed us to digest not only our lunches but all that we had learned out on beautiful Lake Titicaca. 

Ahead of us the next day was the long bus ride to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, many old inca ruins and the gateway to the famous Machu Picchu.

u © Donald E. Kline 2012