Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Dec 13, 2011

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Where I stayed
Marlon's House
What I did
Amantani Island (Isla Amantani) Peru
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Floating Islands

Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, November 4, 2011

Our next adventure brought us to the home of floating islands, aquatic frogs, and deathly altitude. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and the highest (at 12500 feet) commercially navigable lake in the world.  It is home to many endemic species, including the critically endangered Titicaca frog.  This entirely aquatic frog is what brought me to the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca three years ago.  Once abundant, the Titicaca Frog has recently seen drastic declines.  Along with other researchers, I traveled to Bolivia to test for the presence of the disease chytrid Batrachochytrium in water supplies and amphibian populations.  This fungus occurs around the world lending to the decline of a third of the world's amphibian populations.  It infects amphibian skin eventually causing the frog to suffocate and die.  We spent a few days at Lake Titicaca collecting water samples and searching for the Titicaca frog.  Unfortunately the numbers of these frogs have so declines that we were unable to find any adults and were only able to test immature frogs.  The results of this study are still under review; however, researchers around the world continue to study this fungus and its terrifying impact on frog populations.

During that visit to the lake I became fascinated by the people who inhabited the barren, desolate islands.  Although, most of the younger generation speaks Spanish, the native language of the region is Quechua.  Despite the pull from the 21st century throughout the Andes these people have kept many of their traditional practices.  The people are known for their spectacular weavings.  Both men and women work together to produce stunning products for both export and use.  To this day most inhabitants still wear their traditional garb.  Marital status is not shown by a ring like in western culture, but instead by color of clothing.  For example, a married man wears a woven pure red floppy elf hat.  A single man wears a white hat witha red tip and places the floppy tip either on the right or the left to let people know if he is looking for a relationship or not. 

This trip we visited from the Peru side.  We started with a quick visit to the floating islands.  These are manmade structures created hundreds of years ago to avoid attacks form their aggressive Inca neighbors.  The islands are built from sod and huge rafts of bundled totora reeds (which also serve as a source of vitamins for the people), and have to be continually rebuilt.  Today the islands have been hugely impacted by tourism and there has been much concern about exploitation of the locals.  Once on the islands I was impressed that people could actually survive on islands that seemed to be sinking, not floating.  We stepped off the boat not onto solid ground but onto what felt like a waterbed.  In some places each step dropped six inches into the spongy wet reeds.  Traditional boats from the islands are also built from reeds.  They look like the catarafts we use at home in Alaska. 

After a few hours on the floating islands we traveled to Amantani where we stayed the night with a local family.  As far as we could tell there were no hostals or hotels on the island, instead local women meet the incoming tourist boats and invite travelers to stay in their homes.  We stayed with a family of at least eight and were fed traditional food and drink.  One of the daughters guided us around the island and took us to the highest point on the island.  These two peaks, Pachamama (mother earth) and Pachatata (father earth) are worshiped as gods and many traditional ceremonies are conducted on their tops.  Along with most Titicaca islands, Amantani is terraced and families farm different segments for wheat, potatos and vegetables. 

Next we visited Taquile an island 45 kilometers east of Puno (the city on the mainland that we launched our adventures from).   Like Amantani, culture on Taquile has remained largely unchanged by the 21st century.  It is no uncommon to see a woman hauling wheat from her fields using a colorful woven blanket tied around her back.  Men, women, and children walk the hills spinning wool, or weaving hats.  Children’s toys don’t have batteries and shiny and commercialized.  During our visit we were walking down the steep steps of one of the hills when a little boy, not older than six raced by us using a stick to knock a bottle down the steps.  As tradition warrants he had a red floppy elf hat with a white tip showing that he was a single male.  Apparently he was late for work at the candy stand at the dock and he appeared very worried that he was going to miss our departure.  He made it and we rewarded him for his cuteness and effort by purchasing a few candy bars form him.   

After Taquile we headed back to the mainland.  The ride back to Puno took about four hours and we enjoyed the lake form the top of the motor boat playing cribbage and listening to Jesse play his guitar. 
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