Lake Titicaca is one of the most fascinating lakes as well as being the highest navigable lake on the planet. The major attraction in Lake Titicaca consists of a group of islands, commonly known as the reed islands, hand-made from a native species of reed (totora) that grows in the shallow waters of the lake. These islands are made and inhabited by the Uros people, who settled in the middle of the lake in order to avoid confrontations with the powerful Incas. Over the years the Uros people have inter-married with Aymara Indians. But the way they live does not seem to have changed much over the years.
My trip started at Puno, the capital of the Peruvian altiplano and the folkloric centre of Peru. I spent one night in Puno where I had my first glimpse of Lake Titicaca, its immenseness and surreal appeal. No wonder the Uros were so drawn to it that they constructed their homes there. What struck me the most was that I could not see the faraway shores and you get the illusion that this is an ocean and you can see the horizon faraway.
The next day we boarded a little motorboat and visited one of the reed islands. The Island was as solid as any natural Island and there was a constant buzz of activity around us. Beautiful ladies dressed in traditional dresses were weaving, drying reeds and going about normal activities of cooking and cleaning their reed huts, while we climbed on top of their reed look-out tower. We saw some of the men fishing from their reed boats and transporting fresh reeds as the dried reed making up the island is constantly replenished.
Located between Bolivia and Peru, Lake Titicaca situated at a very high altitude, at over 3800 meters above sea level
Lake Titicaca is a sacred place for the Inca civilization, as the Incan mythology says that the first Inca king, Manco Capac, was born here. According to the Incan mythology, this is the place where the world was created from, when the god Viracocha came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars and the first people.
Coca tea is made from the ancient plant coca, native to Peru and Bolivia and used by mine workers and field labor to combat hunger, thirst, and fatigue. For travelers, unaccustomed to the drastic altitude changes, it eases nausea, fever, and headaches. Unfortunately, people have found another use for coca leaves that has proved lethal to many (for those who are puzzled, cocaine is made from coca leaves).
There are several companies who will do home stays. I was on an overland trip through South America with Dragoman. I would recommend Dragoman if a you have time for a long trip ( several weeks). Otherwise, shorter trips can be organised by several other travel agents who specialise in Peru or Bolivia.
Our final destination was the island of Amantani (which is a natural island and not a reed island) 4 hours by boat from Puno, where we had the opportunity to live with an Aymara Indian family for two days and one night.
Our tour guide took us to a house fifteen minutes from where the boat dropped us and it was on top of a little hill with a magnificent view of the lake. We were introduced to the family : the grandmother, who looked ancient although she had a strong build and looked very healthy ; the parents who seemed very gentle people, and the eldest child a girl of twelve, who learnt spanish at school and became our link to the family. Between my broken Spanish and her Spanish she learnt at school we managed to have some interesting conversations, supplemented greatly by sigh language. There were several younger siblings but it was really difficult to tell whether they were all from this family or from neighbouring families.
We were invited to sit on a wooden bench in the cramped dark smoky kitchen, where the mother was boiling water for coca tea over an open flame. It was the same scene in the evening when dinner was being prepared.
My room was upstairs in the attique and I had to get up there using a ladder from outside. The room was basic but clean. After dinner a few of us went for a little walk with our flash lights as there was no electricity, roads or cars on the island, just footpaths. One of us looked up at the sky and what we saw was really the most beautiful sky we had seen anywhere else (except a few years later when camping in the Great Australian Outback, when I saw as beautiful a sky as that in Amantani). We stopped and sat on a rock and just watched totally mesmerised as we felt so much part of this huge universe. There was not a square inch of sky that was empty !
The next day we visited the village and in an open space, there were native women sat around their sales display of alpaca woven hats, scarves, sweaters and winter jackets while their children ran around and played. In the distance we could hear some Indian Pan pipe band playing tunes that sounded vaguely familiar.
After lunch with the family, our guide came to pick us up and I left, feeling that I was leaving a bit of me with that family, while taking away with me a memory that will never fade away of a place on our planet where people know how to live in perfect harmony with nature, where there is no greed, neither hunger and only happiness. Can the rest of us ever go back to this way of living to save the planet ?