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davidx Lake Titicaca - A travel report by David
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Lake Titicaca,  Peru - flag Peru
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davidx's travel reports

Lake Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake

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Lake Titicaca contains part of the border between Peru and Bolivia. It is an odd feeling to rise and rise in order to reach what looks very like the sea. On the Peru side Puno is the main city for reaching the islands, manmade and natural.

On Amantani
On Amantani
Puno has any number of pedal taxis, motor taxis and tourist buses ready to take people between their hotel and the port. When they reach the port, they meet a large number of motor boats ready to take them out to the islands. The Uros islands are the nearest to Puno and they are manmade from the ubiquitous rushes, which also form the raw materials for the houses, the boats and much else. The white part of the stalks is edible – pretty nice in fact and, according to local belief, extraordinarily healthy. Apparently these islands were placed, until relatively recently, near to the very deep centre of the lake and they were towed into their present shallow position to free them from domination by the Shining Path movement. A foreigner has no chance of gauging the status or power of the Shining Path, reports ranging from its being a spent force, which I don’t find credible, to it being in control of the whole of the high Andes and one of the best financed resistance movements in the world, following a link with Colombian FARC. I suspect this extreme portrayal of being a considerable exaggeration but I have no firm basis for such a belief. The other islands that are frequently visited are much further away. Amantani is about another two and a half hours and perhaps it is a little less to Taquile, with trips between the two taking best part of an hour. There are plenty of inhabited islands in the lake which don’t get tourists, so I was told. I presume this is their own choice to preserve their way of life. Certainly the hard life on Amantani and Taquile is relieved to a considerable extent by tourism, many tour companies arranging home stays. The whole community is involved and the head of the village allocates couples, small groups or individuals to different households. Both these islands rise to over 4000 metres and it pays to be well acclimatised to the altitude before trying to reach the tops.

Favourite spots:
Homestead courtyard
Homestead courtyard
My favourite has to be Amantani Island as that’s where we stayed in a homestead. When we reached the island, there was a number of women in national dress who were each allocated guests by the head of the village. Our hostess, Norma, led us to her house, one of the nearer ones to the port in respect to our ages, and we met her father, Rufino, whose extended family farm the area. He has eight offspring but I’m not sure they all live there. There is now provision for nursery and primary schooling on the island, the first being in the local language, Quechua, and the second involving learning Spanish. This will inevitably lead to their wanting to leave the island when they are in their late teens and its difficult to see their way of life continuing. We asked about medical provision, not easy with no Quechua but Rufino’s Spanish enabled us to converse a bit. It would seem that they are entirely dependent on herbal remedies, some no doubt unknown in wealthier countries. [Continued]

What's really great:
All rushes
All rushes
I put the Uros Islands as special because they were so different from anything I’d seen before. The very feel of them underfoot took a bit of getting used to and we were told you can always tell the islanders getting off a boat at Puno by the way they walk. Our whole group had a trip in one of the middle sized reed boats, twenty passengers but apparently we caused no problem to the two men who propelled it manually with things a bit like punt poles. Most boats had well crafted bowsprits and some were double-deckered. The language here is Aymaru, nothing like Quechua according to people who speak both. Kindergartens exist on most islands and there is primary provision on some. However there is now, unlike the natural islands, a clinic for the treatment of minor ailments. On all of them it seems clear what happens when an illness is serious. There are few old people to be seen. As far as I know there is no provision for tourists to stay on these islands.

Taquile - community sales hall
Taquile - community sales hall
Taquile Island used only to be accessible by what I was told to be 540 Inca steps of varying depths [some say more. I didn’t count but it felt like 750!]. Now there is a longer and gentler [everything is relative!] ascent and tourists nearly all go up that way and down by the steps. In the main village, a bit below the top of the steps, is a co-operative market where goods, including high quality knitwear, made on the island are sold, with a number attached, ensuring that payment gets back to the maker.
The marital status of both sexes is shown on Taquile by the colour of the head covering, whilst officials wear black hats. Messing with somebody else’s wife is dodgy for a man as it may well end in a public whipping round the island!
There would seem to be very little wood here and some is imported and carried in large heavy sacks by islanders, who rush past those of us with problems of altitude like the hare with the tortoise.

Rufino below his house
Rufino below his house
We stayed at the Hotel Italia at Puno before and after our visit to the islands. It is a good enough place to stay but I should advise eating out – there are plenty of places around.
Frankly, I’ve no idea whether accommodation on the islands can be arranged other than through tour companies. There are no telephone lines on the islands so you would be dependent on mail – allow ages! If you can find a way through this barrier I’m sure you would get a royal welcome. Rufino’s address, as he gave it to us is [Rufino Guispe Pacompia,] Amantani, Occo, Suyo, Puno, Peru

At the dance
At the dance
If there are any, they are certainly not for visitors. However there is a dance every Sunday in the village hall, at which the visitors are dressed, on top of their other clothes. Women wear traditional dress and men are bedecked with ponchos and Andean hats. It was hot but, as there was no heating in the room, that was just as well.

Double decker boat - still rushes!
Double decker boat - still rushes!
Apart from Puno there were none apparent but I’m sure the islanders don’t go without alcohol. There is drink on sale at the store and drinks were on sale at the Sunday evening dance. The major festivals for the islanders don’t sound particularly sober affairs – to say the least!

Norma doing the cooking
Norma doing the cooking
Food on the islands was simple, healthy and delicious. We were fed at the homestead of course, where Norma cooked the food in a clay oven heated by a wood fire, which was then extinguished – presumably because of a wood shortage. Peru is the home of the potato and they claim to have going on 600 different types. Whereas we were only given a few of them, they included bright yellow and mauve flesh [not together!] and weird shapes. Quinoa soup was also qite delicious with several vegetables added. I have read a rather disparaging account of coca tea on this site but that made on the island bore about as much resemblance to that in bags in hotels as an anaconda does to a grass snake.

Other recommendations:
At Sillustani
At Sillustani
I take the opportunity to mention Sillustani, not far from Puno as you travel towards Cusco. It contains both pre-Inca and Inca burial places and large tombs. The views from the top are out of the world.

[Continuation on Amantani]
My earlier comment about medicine was not meant to imply that herbal or other more dodgy remedies are sufficient. My comment on the dearth of old people on the Uros Islands applied here too.
The intention was that we should all meet up at the village centre [the football pitch to be precise] to walk to the top of the mountain for sunset. I have to admit that I was suffering from the altitude and I found every step upwards involved major effort. There was no way I was going further than the football pitch..
One of the main problems on the island is water, as it only rains during some three months of the year. It was just starting as we were there and we were happy to go into the store during the worst of a ‘shower’.

Published on Tuesday October 18th, 2005

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Wed, Oct 19 2005 - 04:52 PM rating by miguelmarchi

I am taking notes from your perfect reports to write mine about Montevideo!

Wed, Oct 19 2005 - 04:06 PM rating by downundergal

Great report. I had a chuckle because when we there we lost 2 of our members of our boat and gained 2 more that were left on the day previously. What about the mein on Taquile they get to knit & the women work? Not my choice of lifestyle.

Tue, Oct 18 2005 - 05:20 PM rating by eirekay

David, this almost makes me wish I had chosen Lake Titicaca rather then the Jungle on my trip. Lovely report w/ great photos!

Tue, Oct 18 2005 - 03:07 PM rating by gloriajames

Hiya David
Another fascinating Report. I find Sillustani very mysterious and so is the pic. Btw.. as mentioned by Jorge, is that you in the group shot ??? Keep enthralling us with your reports!

Tue, Oct 18 2005 - 12:09 PM rating by jesusferro

David, I have a dilema, I do not know which one of your last two reports is the best. Both I like, so to both I give 5 points!

Tue, Oct 18 2005 - 08:48 AM rating by esfahani

Good one! Thanks a lot! - I have been there twice, Amantai and Taquile as well - I love that country! ***** Ralph

Tue, Oct 18 2005 - 08:35 AM rating by jorgesanchez

What a fantastic report!!
Useful, well written and beautiful.
btw: Are you featured in the pic "At the dance"?

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