Lake Titicaca

Posted by on Jan 21, 2013 in Peru, Play-by-plays, South America | 0 comments

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Lake Titicaca was a nice respite between the more adventure-packed cities of Arequipa and La Paz. Plus, at 3800m, it was helpful to further acclimate ourselves to the high altitudes of the Bolivian antiplano. Puno (Peru) and Copacabana (Bolivia) are the main tourist towns on the lake, and we decided to just stay a couple days in Puno, including a home stay on one of the lake’s islands. Copacabana is a requisite stop on the way to La Paz and the nicest thing I’ll say about the town is that it’s a dump.

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Puno is like another other city in Peru, with the Plaza de Armas and its church being the center point of the city. The first night we splurged on some alpaca steak at Balcones de Puno, a restaurant that also has nightly dancing/music shows and then on a couple beers at Rock and Reggae bar, which as the name suggests, plays some sweet tunes–everything from Abba to Lonely Island to actual rock and reggae.

The next morning we left on our excursion of the islands. First stop was one of the Uros Islands (pictured at the start of the post), which get probably the most tourists. These islands are made entirely of totora reeds and are floating on the lake. The people of Uros initially settled on these floating structures to escape the Incas centuries ago. Everything on the islands is made of the totora reed –houses, boats, etc–and needs to be constantly tuned up since the reeds rot in the water. The main islands are over commercialized, one even boasts an ATM, and tourists are constantly barraged with souvenirs and the like. So it’s a nice visit, but I was glad to only spend 45 minutes there and more on the more quaint islands.

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Lunch was on Taquile Island, whose population of about 2000 people has kept pretty much to themselves for centuries. They have a very strong sense of community and are well known for their knitted handicrafts. The men wear hats that they knit themselves(!!!) in colors according to whether they are single or married. Men being men, it is obviously easy to switch those hat colors. So the women weave thick embroidered waistbands (cummerbund like) for their fiancés, which it is apparently poor form to not wear, so I guess those function more so like chastity belts while the hats can be interchanged. The women themselves wear colorful outfits when single (to attract attention duh) and switch to more demure black once married…funeral color to denote end of life? (Sorry married readers).

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Final stop and homestay was on Amantani Island, where we were assigned our “family” and shown to our lodging for the night. It was simple, but still boasted a functioning light bulb! Can’t say the same for the facilities. The locals tend to be quite short (you will see us with host Señora below), so the height of the toilet is adjusted accordingly, which is …ummm..interesting. Was that tmi? Moving on…we checked out the town’s main plaza, and then went back for a candlelit dinner prepared for us by the family. The hearty potato and quinoa soup was perfect on the cold and rainy evening. And we night capped with mate de munya (spelling?), an herbal tea which similarly to mate de coca, helps with altitude.

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After breakfast the next morning, the whole tour group hiked up to the Temple of Pachamama (not an easy uphill hike) for an annual ceremony, where the locals pay their respects to Mother Earth. They dress up, play instruments, dance. Yus even got to contribute to the celebration, when one of the local men borrowed his Swiss army knife to unscrew the wine bottle.

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After an al fresco (mucho fresco) lunch, we went back to the boat and returned to Puno. That night was probably the most ridiculous rain/hail storm I’ve ever encountered, where it was unclear if Mother Earth was punishing the locals for a poor sacrifice or bestowing upon them the gift of water. Off to La Paz tomorrow for more rain, cold, and adventures at altitude!

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