Visiting the islands of Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

After returning from our trek to Machu Picchu, we needed a couple days in Cuzco to relax and rest our sore bodies. Our knees were particularly achy from a bit more downhill treading then we are used to. We enjoyed a few meals with our friends we had met on our
trek before we all left Cuzco and went our separate ways. Our next adventure began with a bus ride to Puno, a small town in southern Peru that is the jumping off point for visits to islands in the famous Lake Titicaca. Try to say that name without giggling! Lake Titicaca is huge, with 60% of it in Peru and 40% in Bolivia. It is the highest navigable lake in the world (elevation is 12,600 feet) and the largest lake in the world above 6600 ft. After having been in high altitude places for a while, we were no longer feeling too many of the effects of high altitude sickness although we are always shocked by how quickly
we are out of breath after the shortest inclines! After dinner on our first night in Puno we stumbled into a massive parade marching its way down the main tourist street. Tons of Peruvians were bundled up and lining the sidewalks. We watched for a while as many groups of young people dressed in wild, colorful costumes danced down the street with
musical instruments accompanying them. We asked many people what was the purpose of the parade and after several conversations, we figured out that it was in celebration of the anniversary of the university there. What year anniversary we never found out! Quite entertaining though.
We then set out for a 2-day tour of a few of the famous islands on the lake. Our favorite was definitely the Islas Flotantes (Floating Islands). These are about 40 small islands built by the Uros people centuries ago when they attempted to isolate themselves from the Collas and Incas. The islands are made of many layers of buoyant tortora reeds that grow at the bottom of the lake but then detach and surface. The homes, boats, tourist souvenirs...all made from these reeds! Deboarding our boat to step onto one of the islands, the first thing we noticed was the soft, spongy, wet surface on which we would walk. Among the small homes and crazy boats that we saw (we got to ride on one as
well), many of the islands also have built-in fishing holes. We got to watch trout swimming round and round in circles, all the while wishing we could grab a pole and do a bit of fishing ourselves. What a wild place!
Later that afternoon we went further out into the lake to the island of Amantani. It is the 2nd largest island in the lake and is the home to about 4,000 indigenous people who speak Spanish and Quechua. It is incredibly quiet and peaceful considering there are no
cars, TVs, or radios from what we could hear! Each family has a mall home and a plot of land for cultivating food (potatoes, quinoa, carrots, etc.). We saw sheep and donkeys but no chicken. The most exciting part of our visit to this island was that we were going to
spend the night with a family from the island! Our family consisted of Dionisia, the mama, 2 of her 5 kids (Diana Milagro, 5 years old and an older son about 12 years old), and Dionisia's parents who looked absolutely ancient. The home was very small but we were given our own room up a rickety wooden ladder. We ate our meals in this room and spent most of our time there when in the home. We hoped to be able to eat our meals with the family but honestly, I am not sure where they even eat. There was no dining table or a dining room from what we could see. I think they just sit outside in the front area and eat. We learned that Dionisia is not married and the father of the children left her for another woman 2 years ago. Very sad. We had a ball with Diana Milagro when we first arrived. Being a curious little 5-year old who has had many tourists in her home during the past years, she joined us in our room to see what fun we could be. She and I had many laughs
making silly faces at one another and playing hide-and-seek. Kids are just the best!!! I miss my kiddos from my occupational therapy job.

Aside from eating a few meals with our family, we got to take a long hike up to the top of the island with the other tourists to get a great view of the lake as well as learn a bit more about the island and its people. The 4 means of income for the islanders are agriculture, stones (from their quarry) that are sold to people in Puno, fishing (most fish
are sold to another nearby island that has more restaurants), and tourism. We also learned that the islanders are very serious about respecting mother earth and thus they have two temples at the top of the island (Pacho Mama and Pacho Tata) where they make sacrifices of coca leaves, cigarettes, etc. to show their respect.
Later that night, we had a bit of a cultural party where we got to dress up in the traditional clothing of the islanders (James in a festive pancho and beanie and myself in a lot of layers of skirt and top...see our crazy pictures!) and do a bit of dancing. There wasn't much skill required for the dance (and this was a good thing for many of the not so rhythmical fellas!), just a lot of holding hands and moving your feet. We danced with Dionysia and got to buy her a Sprite to show our appreciation!
The next morning we headed to another less exciting island, the island of Taquile. It is smaller in population, only 2000, and also relies much on agriculture for life. They have solar panels for electricity so TVs and lights are more prevalent. The interesting things we learned about this island is that the men weave their own wool beanies that look like night caps that signify their marital status. If the beanie is less intricately designed, the man is single and if more design, they are married. No wedding rings on this island. Married women also spend 30 years weaving the life story of their marriage years onto a thick belt that eventually the husband wears with pride! Very cool.
Later that night we returned to Puno. James had a bit of a scary eye experience that evening that required a late night visit to the pharmacy on the corner to see if they could provide him with some relief. Not knowing what was going on other than his eye felt
scratchy and terribly uncomfortable, we decided to purchase some antibiotic eye drops and hope for the best. Fortunately the drops seemed to help and a few hours later he was on the road to recovery! 
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