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Lake Titicaca and the Isle of Taquile

Written on: Sunday December 9th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Lake Titicaca, Peru

Author: Julie


We woke up at 6 AM to a knock on our door from Daniel. Breakfast was ready to be served. We groggily woke up to a meal of deep fried dough and eggs. We were leaving early this morning for the island of Taquile and had to be at the harbour by 7 PM. We quickly packed our bags, returned the costumes from the night before, wished the family good-bye and gave them 10 soles as a tip when they asked. It had been an interesting experience but I?m not sure if I would repeat it again. They weren?t very open and made us feel like we should stay inside our little cabin the whole time. There was very little interaction; only when required or when they were trying to get something from us. Would I recommend the tour to others, yes most probably but I would just hope they would get a more welcoming family than we did.

The boat left the port on time and we began our two hour ride to the nearby island of Taquile. It is larger than Amantani with a population of 1700 people spread out over 11 communities. They are mostly Quechua speakers with Spanish as their second language. Taquile (Intika in Quechua) was part of the Inca Empire and has a number of Inca ruins. The island was one of the last locations in Peru to capitulate to Spanish domination during the Spanish conquest of Peru. The Spanish forbade traditional dress and the islanders adopted the Spanish peasant dress that they are known for still using today. Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code "ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhella" (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy). The economy is based on fishing, terraced farming horticulture based on potato cultivation, and the approximately 40,000 tourists who visit each year. Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are regarded as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Taquile has a radio station and is equipped with generators, although islanders have elected not to use them in favour of the eco-friendly solution of solar panels. Unlike the Amantani, they fished the lake, they used the waters to irrigate and most homes had electricity, which was apparent in the fact that the homes were larger, more modern with large windows, as well the planted fields were much greener than their neighbours who were still waiting for the rain season to begin.

We disembarked at a small port and the guides pointed us to a path that circled the island. Our itinerary for the morning was to slowly walk the path and see the island. That sounded perfectly fine to us so we meandered our way around, admiring the little houses, the little paved walkways, the kids who were walking and spinning wool, and the random cows and sheep that would pop up. Our first stop was at a village to relax, visit the little museum on their methods of textile weaving and to visit the women?s weaving center. After that little visit, we followed our guide through the streets of village to a small restaurant overlooking the lake on the Peruvian side. It was only 10:30 AM but we were expected to order our lunch for the day. I wasn?t really hungry but knowing that it would be the last time we eat till the evening, Kevin and I shared a plate of steam trout with a salad. It was delicious and just the right size for both of us. At noon, our guides gave us a little speech about the traditional outfits worn on this island and the meaning of the various hats. If a man was wearing a dark red toque he was single, if it was half white and half red he was married and if it was a patterned in bright colors he was married and town leader. For single men, the angle of the toque also meant they were in a relationship but not married or if they were looking for a partner. The women on the other hand identified their relationship status with the color of their skirts; brighter colors meant they were single and darker colours meant they were married. They also wore black shawls with brightly colored pompoms. If the pompoms were huge with bright colors than they were single and looking if they were small it meant they were married. Also part of the married man?s outfit was a woven bag tied around the waist. It contained coca leaves which are used as part of a greeting ritual. If he is saying hello to an unmarried man, then the he would deposit a handful of leaves into the upturned hat of the unmarried man, who took coca leaves and deposited it into the woven bag of the married man. This was down without word or touching. If two married men met, they would exchange leaves into each other?s woven bag. The importance of coca leaves in these cultures is not to be ignored. For over 4000 years, coca leaves have been part of their religious and cultural traditions. It has been found to increase energy levels and to be a nutritious addition to their diet. Once the meal was over, we descended the 540 stairs to our boat, passing women selling their woven handicrafts.

We boarded the boat and returned to Puno by way of a 3 hour ride that included a few motor failures. We?re not exactly sure what the problem was but I?m thinking it was dirty gas since they spent a lot of time cleaning out the gas filter. They were able to fix it with a few gas soaked rags, a sanding of the distributor cap connectors, and the rewiring of the ignition wires. We sat in the back of the boat on comfy padded benches and watched the peninsula of Puno get closer and closer. Our boat was slow and others passed us on the way. At one point, we remembered that we still had a small bottle of wine with us from our visit to wineries of Ica, so Kevin fashioned wine glasses from empty water bottles and we shared the bottle with the others. It was a nice way to cruise the lake, talking with fellow travellers and enjoying our time in the sun. Once inside the bay of Puno, we saw a large fire on the other side of the lake. Kevin thought it might be a boat burning so he alerted one of the crew members who informed him it was an underwater volcano erupting. As you can imagine, Kevin whipped out the camera and took a dozen photos of this rare event. All of us sat there watching the orange flames appear and disappear from the water as we cruised by. We arrived at the main port of Puno 3 ½ hours after leaving the island of Taquile. As we disembarked, one of our tour-mates mentioned to our guide that it would have been cool to have gone closer to the volcano. The guide looked at him with a confused expression and asked ?What volcano??. Turns out it wasn?t an underwater volcano but dried totora reeds that the Uros people were burning. The crew member has been taking the piss out of us, we were so disappointed. I now have dozens of reed fire pictures to delete.