Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Eight - Lake Titicaca

When I think of Peru I think of three things: Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, and Lake Titicaca. I have always had a mild, underground fascination with the lake even though I knew very little about it. I basically knew two things. The first thing is that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. That seemed cool to me for some obscure reason. The second thing is the name. I know of no one who can hear the name Titicaca without being transformed, even briefly, into Beavis and Butthead. Our guide said that there was a joke that Peru got the Titi side of the lake and Bolivia got the caca side. My lack of true knowledge of the lake meant that anything I learned would be a bonus.

We started early in the morning. I looked out the hotel window and saw the sun rising over the lake and the reeds. We joined the group down by the boat dock to board out boat that would take us out to the Uros Islands and Taquile Island. Two of the tour group did not make it as the altitude was doing a number on them. A doctor would visit them twice by the end of the day.

The boat left the dock and we made our way to the floating islands of the Uros. The Uros tribe live on large reed rafts made of Totora Reeds. They harvest the root block from the bottom of the lake. The root block floats like a cork. The squares of root block are attached together to make a large island. They then layer cut reeds in a criss-cross manner in multiple layers until the raft is close to six feet thick. Each island is occupied by one extended family. The Uros live their entire life on the islands living on the reeds and fishing. They trade fish and crafts for other need supplies with the mainland. The islands last about 50 years before they need to be replaced.

We arrived at one of the islands and got out of the boat. Walking on the islands felt like walking on a mattress - a little springy and bouncy. We sat down and the chief explained the history of the islands. The chief did not speak Spanish and our tour guide translated. As we sat and listened, a bird slowly made its way toward a bowl of fish that the chief was using to show the type of fish that they ate. He slowly crept up to the bowl, snatched a fish and was shushed away by the chief's wife. Turns out the Heron was a family pet.

After the demonstration it was time for dress up. The women were all taken into huts where they were dressed as native Uros. The men were given shirts, vests, and hats to wear. The women skirts, blouses, jackets and funny little hats. We all had a fun time laughing at how we all looked. We got our pictures taken. ( Ours was included in out Christmas card that year.) The Uros women then brought our their crafts so we could do some more shopping. The wife purchase a few things that are now decorating our family room. A few of us took a boat ride on one of the reed boats. As departing gifts, we were each given a small reed boat. I really enjoyed the Uros Islands. This was the high point of the day.

The boat then headed out to the island of Taquile. After what seemed to be a long time we arrived and we followed a path up the island past terraces. In the hazy distance you could see the mountains of Bolivia. The path lead to a house where we had lunch. While the house seemed primitive, I noticed they had a small solar panel charging a car battery so that they would have light and possibly radio at night. Taquile Island was a little disappointing in that we saw very little of it. We saw some houses but we didn't see any village. The people are known for their weaving and cloth but we had very little chance to see very much of that. This was probably the only disappointing part of this vacation.

After lunch we went back to the boat and mostly slept on the way back to Puno. A few of us went into Puno with our guide to do some more shopping before calling it a night.

Here ends Chapter Eight. Pictures can be found here. Coming up in the Last chapter: The return Home and the things I learned.

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