05 August 2011

Border run to Bolivia: day two

We had an early start on Friday 29 July for our full-day tour on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake on earth. It’s a huge lake – 165 kilometres long, 60 kilometres wide, with an average water temperature of 9°C and it is 3809 metres above sea level.

A tour bus collected us from our hotel just after 7.00am and by 7:30 we had clambered over the bows of 6 other small boats and were settled in our seats ready to depart. Some brave souls sat on top of the boat but it was freezing, so we stuck to the cabin.

The slow chug out to Uros, the artificial floating reed islands, took about 30 minutes. It was a fascinating, if touristy, place. Walking on the islands was bizarre – there are about 40 islands, all built of layer upon layer of reeds, so the surface was spongy, sort of like walking on a trampoline. Assisted by our island’s headman, our tour guide gave us an explanation and demonstration of how the islands are constructed. The reeds (called totora, just like the New Zealand native tree) are also used to make almost everything else on the islands – the simple huts the islanders live in, small watchtowers originally used for defensive purposes, and their boats. (The people of Uros helped Thor Heyerdahl build the famous boat Kon-Tiki, which he sailed on his expedition from Peru to Polynesia.)

We were invited by the island women to visit their hut homes – our lovely woman was called something like Aelyn. The hut was incredibly simple – a blanket lay on the floor, a few clothes hung from hooks on the wall and that was about it. Aelyn then led us to a display of goods she had made and I was, of course, persuaded to buy a small embroidered rug. It is bright and colourful, apparently took her one month to make, and I am totally enchanted by the textiles in this country.

We spent some time exploring the island then, for a small extra fee, were paddled to another island on one of the reed boats. The island women performed a short action song to farewell us – and finished it with ‘Hasta la vista, baby’ – so funny! It was peaceful and quiet, and so nice to be on the water – something I miss here in land-locked Cusco.

After a short visit to the other floating island, we reboarded our motor boat and began the 2½ hour voyage out to the island of Taquile. A snooze was in order for almost all the passengers, including us! Our boat dropped us off at the northern dock of the island and we hiked for an hour to the main village. Taquile, and the incredibly blue waters of Lake Titicaca that surround it, reminded me of the Mediterranean. It was so beautiful!

We enjoyed a delicious lunch of lake trout at a family restaurant in the village and then listened to our guide tell us some interesting facts about the island – for example: textiles also play a large part in the economy of this island but here the women weave and the men knit. And the knitted hats the men wear each have a meaning: those with all-over patterns are worn by married men, those that are half white and half patterned are worn by single men, and those that have multi-coloured patterns and ear flaps are worn by the headmen. The islanders are all vegetarian, use only natural herbal medicines and are incredibly long-lived – most survive into their nineties and many make it over 100. There are no cars (or dogs) on the island, so all the transportation of supplies, farm produce, etc is either done by donkeys or peoplepower.

After lunch, we visited the main square where we were treated to a colourful dancing display – it was a saint’s day so everyone was celebrating! The square was surrounded by markets stalls but, with difficulty, I managed to resist the temptation to shop – though the wonderfully knitted hats were a great temptation. We then walked down the hill to where our boat was waiting, and set off on the long slow chug back to Puno – though I tried to stay awake to enjoy the sparkling water views, I eventually nodded off for an hour or so.

We got back to Puno at 5.30pm, just as the sun was going down. It had been a magical day on the magnificent Lake Titicaca.

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