Floating islands and solar panels
At 3800 m (12500 ft) elevation, lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. We were wondering what the term “navigable” referred to. According to Wikipedia, there are a few other lakes that are at higher elevations but they are much smaller and shallower, and so there are no commercial boats on them – hence they are not “navigable”.
The native populations of this area belong to two different tribes – the Quechua and the Aymara. Depending on which language you pick, Lake Titicaca means either “grey puma” or “stone puma”. 60% of the lake belongs to Peru, and 40% belongs to Bolivia. Today, we toured two of the islands on the Peruvian side – the floating islands of Uros and the natural island of Taquile.
The floating islands of Uros are man-made out of mud and bundled reeds called totora. The people of Uros built them as a defense mechanism against the Incas and other tribes. Apparently, the people of Uros initially retreated to the lake on their reed boats, but then decided to build a more permanent settlement.
The floating island we visited this morning was the home of 23 people, all of whom make their living off the tourists who come to visit. Once we disembarked, our tour guide sat us down in a circle and introduced us to the chief of the island, who demonstrated how the floating island was built.
As I looked around at the little straw huts around the island, Nathalia pointed out to me a solar panel right next to one of the huts. The rest of their life may be somewhat primitive, but the people of Uros use solar panels to get electricity – imagine that! They even used it to power a small TV to watch the Euro 2012 final on!
After we learned a bit more about the people of Uros, each one of us got invited by one of the inhabitants to visit their hut. It wasn’t much more than a square room with a bed against one of the walls. I couldn’t imagine how cold it gets at night, or how wet in the rainy season, yet the people of Uros were happy to show us around and enjoyed the looks of astonishment on our faces. We even got to try on their traditional clothing – colorful skirts and jackets made of alpaca wool. Afterwards, we got to ride a reed boat to one of the other small floating islands, where our boat picked us up and we continued on to our next destination – the natural island of Taquile.
Taquile is home to about 2000 people, all of them Quechua. They live on the Incan principle of “do not steal, do not lie and do not be lazy”, and so there is no police on this island. After a short climb, we got to the main plaza on the island, where we enjoyed amazing views of the lake and the other islands, and admired the locals and their colorful traditional clothing.
We ate trout and drank Inca Kola at a small restaurant that was basically a couple of tables in someone’s backyard.
Afterwards, we descended over 500 steps to the other side of the island to the main harbor, where our boat picked us up. We enjoyed great views of the harbor.
The two-and-a-half hours we spent on this beautiful island went by very quickly, as we were all immersed in the tranquility and in the completely different way of living all around us.
When we finally got back to Puno, it was just before dusk. We walked around the main square in town and got dinner at a place that overlooked the plaza and the cathedral of Puno. There isn’t much to do in Puno other than tour Lake Titicaca, but having an early night was all right with us, as tomorrow we have to get up early yet again to head to Arequipa. As much as we’ve enjoyed the Andes, we are both excited to go back to moderate temperatures and lower altitude!