May 4, 2018 – Puno, Peru
This morning was another early start. We left the hotel at 7. Our ride to the port where we boarded our boat for the Lake Titicaca experience was those little bicycle passenger cabs. It was fun, and also a bit scary given the heavy traffic.
Our boat, the Calipso, would hold 32 passengers, but there were only the 9 of us plus the 2 guides. Since the 1st two stops were a National Geographic activity, we had a National Geographic Guide as well as Cheo. The boarding process was interesting. We had to climb over 2 boats to get to our boat. We were in the middle of a row of boats and there were a couple of rows of boats both in front of and behind our boat. The captain used a pole to push aside boats to get us clear of them and into open water where he started the engine, and we got underway.
One of the birds we saw was the Titicaca Grebe. They mostly inhabit Lake Titicaca although there are a few on nearby lakes. Their total range is in Peru and Bolivia or about 26,718 square miles. It is on the endangered list as there are only about 1,600 now, and they are decreasing in numbers. They may soon be put on the “critically endangered” list. They are killed by gill net fishermen rather than having a natural predator. It is one of the few flightless birds, and while it can’t fly, it can swim like a champ. It feeds mostly on pupfish.
As we were going to our 1st stop we passed through the reed fields. Some of these had hogs grazing (or should I say rooting) on them!
The 1st stop was at the floating reed island of Uros Titino. There are 3 families who live there. The women do beautiful embroidery. We were shown how they build their islands from blocks of reed roots. The blocks have a 2’-3’ of tightly wrapped roots. Once they have cut the blocks, they tie them together and then start putting about 3’ of reeds on the blocks. They put new reeds on top of the old ones about every 2 weeks in the dry season and about every week during the rainy season. Every 3 or 4 years, they start over and build a completely new island. This island is anchored so that it won’t float. This is necessary because 40% of Lake Titicaca belongs to Bolivia. They don’t want to float into another country. Walking on the floating island is like walking on a waterbed. Each step that you took, the reeds gave a little. Electricity is provided by solar panels. The whole island was no more than 200’ in circumference. It supported 3 houses and a common area where they spend time on their daily tasks such as embroidery. Two of the couples were older – hard to guess their ages – and a younger couple who had a 5 year old daughter who was off to school while we were there.
We even got to dress in some of their clothes which was fun. These clothes are very warm which is good because the climate here is on the cool side. They never wear any shoes, but the decaying reeds provide some warmth.
We rode in on old fashioned reed boat which 2 of the men poled like a gondola. This was definitely for the tourists because they had motor boats tied up to the island to use for trips to Puno to purchase supplies.
This is a way of life that is going to pass away. Young people are going to elementary school on one of the bigger floating islands. Many are going on to high school in Puno. Some are even going on to college. There are fewer and fewer who are willing to live this very simple life. For those that are interested in maintaining this life style, they make use of an annual gathering of floating islanders. Here the people from the various islands spend time visiting with each other. This is where young people have a chance to meet others who are interested in continuing to live in this simple way of life.
Our next stop was Taquile Island which is not a reed island. It is an actual land island located in Lake Titicaca. Once again, the people who live here have a simple way of life. There are about 1,500 people living here in 6 different communities. They have an elementary and secondary school. Those who go on to college go to Puno.
This island has agriculture and sheep raising which provides for their needs. The men are the knitters, and the women are the weavers. It is said that this island has the best weavers in the world. There was a long, steep climb to the top of the island where we met with the knitters and weavers and learned about their life and their crafts. Thank goodness, it was the last of the steep climbs. After about a week and a half at the high altitudes, I was getting less and less able to make those steep climbs. Lake Titicaca is 12,600’ above sea level.
The fine textiles that come out of Taquile are renowned the world over and are even protected as a UNESCO world heritage subject. However unlike the often tragically traditional view of knitting and textile work as the demesne of women, it is the men of Taquile Island who do much of the delicate thread work. The craftwork is divided between weaving and knitting; women do the weaving, while knitting is man’s work. The tradition begins when they are young. Boys on the island begin learning their trade at the tender age of 8. Chief among these crafts are the iconic chuyo hats that many of the locals wear. Women can also be found making yarn and other tasks surrounding the creation of the items. The weaving is absolutely beautiful. The women use back strap looms and a llama bone as the beater. The looms are small – about 18”-24” wide. One bar of the loom is tied to a tree or some other stationary object. The other end is attached to the weaver by a strap. The weaver leans back to create the tension needed to hold the loom steady. It was fascinating to watch them work.
The last stop of the day was at the G Adventures supported agricultural cooperative Luquina Chico Community. We had lunch in the home of one of the farmers who lives on this peninsula. He had caught rainbow trout that morning so our lunch was fresh trout. This community now provides home stays for those who want to experience this simpler way of life. If you choose to stay here, you help with whatever chores are being done that day. It might be plowing with a hand plow, fishing, planting seeds, shearing sheep, milking cows, etc. This project started out with just the one family but has now grown to include everyone in the community. Formerly, only G Adventures guests could stay here, but it was become so successful with the addition of more families that the home stays are now open to anyone.
On the way back to port, we passed through the villages which the bigger boats visit for 1 hour or so. There are 3 or 4 of them. They are built for tourists, and no one actually lives in them.
When we arrived back in Puno, there was a bus to take us back to the hotel. I did find a gym bag on the way to the bus. My $5 back pack has given up the ghost so I needed something to get home with. I paid a whole $10 for it.
This evening we went to the Balcones de Puno, a restaurant, where there was a folklorico music and dance show. We saw some very talented young people who are keeping the culture alive. The dancing was beautiful and spirited. The costumes were fantastic. This was supposed to be the farewell dinner for the group, but we all decided that since we all were going to be in Lima tomorrow night that we’d have another one. Cheo is through when he gets us to the hotel in Lima, but he agreed to come to dinner with us so we will have a 2d farewell dinner.
I’m making an early evening of it. I’m really tired. We all are glad that tomorrow we will be going to a lower elevation where we won’t be panting with every step that we take.
Unfortunately, our time ran out, and we did get to visit Sillustani, a pre-Incan cemetery. I have included information about this site below. We were all very disappointed about this.
Puno is a city in southeastern Peru located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. It is the capital city of the Puno Region and the Puno Province with a population of approximately 149,064 (2014 estimate). The city was established in 1668 by Viceroy Pedro Antonio Fernandez de Castro as capital of the province of Paucarcolla with the name San Juan Bautista de Puno. The name was later changed to San Carlos de Puno in honor of King Charles II of Spain. Puno has several churches dating from the colonial period which were built to service the Spanish population and evangelize the natives.
Puno is an important agricultural and livestock region. Important livestock are llamas and alpacas which graze on its immense plateaus and plains. Much of the city economy relies on the black market which is fueled by cheap goods smuggled in from Bolivia.
Puno is situated between the shores of Lake Titicaca and the mountains surrounding the city. There is less than two miles of flat land between the shores and the foothills, which has caused the growing city to continue to expand upwards onto the hillsides. As a result, the town's less developed and poorest areas, which are high on the hillsides, often have very steep streets, which are generally unpaved and cannot be accessed by automobile. Up one of these streets is the Kuntur Wasi viewpoint, which has a large metal sculpture of a condor. There are some 700 steps to climb to reach the sculpture, but the view across the city and Lake Titicaca beyond is breathtaking.
Puno's access to Lake Titicaca is surrounded by 41 floating islands. To this day, the Uros people maintain and live on these man-made islands. They depend on the lake for their survival and are a large tourist destination. Dragon Boat racing, an old tradition in Puno, is a very popular activity for tourists to watch.
Puno is the first major hub in the constant migration of indigenous peoples of the Andes to the larger cities of Peru. It is the largest city in the Southern Altiplano and is the recipient of new residents from surrounding smaller agricultural communities of people seeking better opportunities for education and employment. As such, Puno is served by several small Institutes of Technology Education and other technical or junior college-type facilities. Additionally, it is home to what is commonly referred to as the "UNA" or the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano, which was founded in 1856.
Puno features a subtropical highland climate. As Puno is located at such a high elevation, it experiences more extreme weather conditions than would be expected for its tropical latitude. The average annual temperature is about 47 degrees, and the weather never gets overly warm. During the winter months from June to August, night-time temperatures usually drop well below 32 degrees. At this high altitude, the rays of the sun are very strong. Most of the annual precipitation falls during the southern hemisphere summer while the winter months are very dry.
Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest (12,600’ above sea level) navigable lake in the world and is located in the Andes on the border of Bolivia (40% of the lake) and Peru (60%). By volume of water and by surface area, it is the largest lake in South America. It covers, 3,210 square miles. Lake Maracaibo has a larger surface area, but it is a tidal bay, not a lake. Lake Titicaca is often called the "highest navigable lake" in the world, with a surface elevation of 12,507’. Although this refers to navigation by large boats, it is generally considered to mean commercial craft. For many years the largest vessel afloat on the lake was the 2,200-ton SS Ollanta. Today the largest vessel is most likely the similarly sized, but broader, train barge/float Manco Capac, operated by PeruRail. Numerous smaller bodies of water around the world are at higher elevations.
Since 2000 Lake Titicaca has experienced constantly receding water levels. Between April and November 2009 alone the water level dropped by 32” reaching the lowest level since 1949. This drop is caused by shortened rainy seasons and the melting of glaciers feeding the tributaries of the lake. Water pollution is also an increasing concern because cities in the Titicaca watershed continue to grow outpacing solid waste and sewage treatment infrastructure. According to the Global Nature Fund, Titicaca's biodiversity is threatened by water pollution and the introduction of new species by humans. In 2012, the GNF nominated the lake "Threatened Lake of the Year".
Titicaca is the ancestral land of the Quechuas, Aymaras, Uros, Pacajes, and Puquinas. Lake Titicaca was the foundation of the most influential pre-Hispanic cultures of the Andean Region. Many independent kingdoms grew out of this fertile area beginning in the 9th century, though interestingly most of these kingdoms were ultimately rivals, until the middle of the 15th century, when the Incas conquered the region, which they considered important because of its wool and meat production.
Neither the protohistoric nor prehistoric name for Lake Titicaca is currently known. Given the various Native American groups that occupied the Lake Titicaca region, it is likely that it lacked a single, commonly accepted name in prehistoric times and at the time the Spaniards arrived.
The terms titi and caca can be translated in multiple ways. In Aymara, titi can be translated as either puma, lead or a heavy metal. The word caca (kaka) can be translated as white or gray hairs of the head and the term k’ak’a can be translated as either crack or fissure or, alternatively, comb of a bird. According to Weston La Barre, the Aymara considered in 1948 that the proper name of the lake is titiq’aq’a, which means gray discolored, lead-colored puma. This phrase refers to the sacred carved rock found on the Island of the Sun. In addition to names including the term titi and/or caca, Lake Titicaca was also known as Chuquivitu in the sixteenth century. This name can be loosely translated as lance point. This name survives in modern usage in which the large lake is occasionally referred to as Lago Chucuito. Stanish argues that the logical explanation for the origin of the name Titicaca is a corruption of the term thakhsi cala, which is the fifteenth- to sixteenth-century name of the sacred rock on the Island of the Sun. Given the lack of a common name for Lake Titicaca in the sixteenth century, it is argued that the Spaniards used the name of the site of the most important indigenous shrine in the region, thakhsi cala on the Island of the Sun, as the name for the lake. In time and with usage, this name developed into Titicaca. Locally, the lake goes by several names. The small lake to the south is called Huiñamarca. The large lake also is occasionally referred to as Lago Mayor and the small lake as Lago Menor. In addition, the southeast quarter of the lake is separate from the main body (connected only by the Strait of Tiquina), and the Bolivians call it Lago Huiñaymarca (also Wiñay Marka, which in Aymara means The Eternal City) and the larger part Lago Chucuito. In Peru, these smaller and larger parts are referred to as Lago Pequeño and Lago Grande, respectively.
Lake Titicaca has a borderline Subtropical highland/Alpine climate with cool to cold temperatures for most of the year. The average annual precipitation is 24” mostly falling in summer thunderstorms. Winters are dry with very cold nights and mornings and warm afternoons.
The Titicaca Reserve was created in 1978, with the purpose of preserving the native flora and fauna and the beauty of the area’s countryside. There are 60 species of birds, 14 species of fish and 18 species of amphibians in the Reserve; one of the most famous of which is the giant frog of Titicaca, which can weigh up to 6.6 pounds.
The lake has had a number of steamships, each of which was built in the United Kingdom in "knock down" form with bolts and nuts, disassembled into many hundreds of pieces, transported to the lake, and then riveted together and launched.
In 1862 Thames Ironworks on the River Thames built the iron-hulled sister ships SS Yavari and SS Yapura. The ships were designed as combined cargo, passenger and gunboats for the Peruvian Navy. After several years' delay in delivery from the Pacific coast to the lake, Yavari was launched in 1870 and Yapura in 1873. During the last days of the War of the Pacific Chile sent a warship by railroad to Titicaca Lake in order to disrupt trade.
In 1892 William Denny and Brothers in Dumbarton, Scotland built SS Cova which was launched on the lake in 1893. In 1905 Earle’s Shipbuilding built SS Inca. By now a railway served the lake so the ship was delivered in kit form by rail. Inca was the lake's largest ship thus far. In the 1920s Earle's supplied a new bottom for the ship, which also was delivered in kit form. Trade continued to grow, so in 1930 Earle's built SS Ollanta. Her parts were landed at the Pacific Ocean port of Mollendo and brought by rail to the lake port of Puno. She was considerably larger than the Inca, so first a new slipway had to be built to build her. She was launched in November 1931.
In 1975 Yavari and Yapura were returned to the Peruvian Navy which converted Yapura into a hospital ship. The Navy discarded Yavari, but in 1987 charitable interests bought her and started restoring her. She is now moored at Puno Bay and provides static tourist accommodation while her restoration continues. Coya was beached in 1984 but restored as a floating restaurant in 2001. Inca survived until 1994 when she was broken up. Ollanta is no longer in scheduled service but PeruRail has been leasing her for tourist charter operations.
The "Floating Islands" are small manmade islands constructed by the Uros (or Uru) people from layers of cut totora, a thick buoyant reed that grows abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The Uros harvest the reeds that naturally grow on the lake's banks to make the islands by continuously adding reeds to the surface.
According to legend, the Uru people originated in the Amazon and migrated to the area of Lake Titicaca in the pre-Columbian era, where they were oppressed by the local population and were unable to secure land of their own. They built the reed islands, which could be moved into deep water or to different parts of the lake as necessary, for greater safety from their hostile neighbors on land.
Golden in color, many of the islands measure about 50’ by 50’, and the largest are approximately half the size of a football field. Each island contains several thatched houses, typically belonging to members of a single extended family. Some of the islands have watchtowers and other buildings, also constructed of reeds.
Historically, most of the Uros islands were located near the middle of the lake, about 9 miles from the shore. However, in 1986, after a major storm devastated the islands, many Uros rebuilt closer to shore. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands, clustering in the western corner of the lake near Puno, Titicaca's major Peruvian port town. The islands have become one of Peru's tourist attractions which allows the Uros to supplement their hunting and fishing by conveying visitors to the islands by motorboat and selling handicrafts.
Taquile is a hilly island located 28 miles east of Puno. It is narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish Colony and into the 20th century. In 1970 it became property of the Taquile people, who have inhabited the island since then (current population around 2,200). The Taquiean Island is approximately 3 by 1 miles in size. The highest point of the island is 13,287’ above sea level and the main village is at 12,960’. Pre-Inca ruins are found on the highest part of the island, and agricultural terraces on hillsides. From the hillsides of Taquile you have a view over the white snow tops of the Bolivian mountains. The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, are southern Quechua speakers.
Life on Taquile is still largely unchanged by mainland modernities. There are no cars on the island and no hotels and a few small stores sell basic goods. Most families use candles or flashlights powered by batteries or hand-cranks. Small solar panels have recently been installed on some homes. On clear nights, Taquile is a perfect place for star gazing and you can also experience much lightning in the horizon due to electric activity in the area.
Culture is very much alive on Taquile, which can be seen in the traditional clothes everyone wears. Taquile is especially known for its handicraft tradition which is regarded as among the highest quality handicrafts not only in Peru but in the world. "Taquile and Its Textile Art" were honored by being proclaimed "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, starting at age eight. The women exclusively make yarn and weave.
Taquileans are also known for having created an innovative, community-controlled tourism model, offering home stays, transportation, and restaurants to tourists. Ever since tourism started coming to Taquile in the seventies the Taquleans have slowly lost control over the mass day-tourism operated by non-Taquileans. The Taquileans have thus developed alternative tourism models, including lodging for groups, cultural activities and local guides, who have recently completed a 2-year training program. Furthermore, the local Travel Agency Munay Taquile has been established to regain control over tourism.
The people in Taquile run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy). The island is divided into six sectors or suyus for crop rotation purposes. The economy is based on fishing, terraced farming, horticulture based on potato cultivation and tourist-generated income from the approximately 40,000 tourists who visit each year.