South America Part V - Lake Titicaca

Leaving Cuzco we climbed even higher to altitudes well over 4,000 meters. We took a bus to Puno with a stop at the highest point. We can assure that it was very cold at this point, but even here the indigenous had set up their tables to sell their knitted and woven garments. Puno’s altitude is 3830 meters or 12,450’. By the time we reached our hotels we were all panting. Each stair to be climbed to reach our rooms was agony. Why had the old bodies let us down so?

On our first full day there, we set out on a local lake boat to see the famous floating islands with the other tourists. At such a high altitude the air is crystal clear making the water seem bluer and all the colors more vivid. Sunscreen and hats are the order of the day for sure.

Originally the Uros people, a small tribe, began their floating existence centuries ago in order to isolate themselves from the Inca and the Colla. The islands are built with layer upon layer of the totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake. They are anchored to the bottom using ropes woven of the reed as well. The reed rots away on the bottom and must be replaced by additional layers of new reed atop. It is quite a strange experience to walk along on the soft and bouncy ground. By 10 AM the sun was high and it was very warm. It was hard to believe that the temperatures at night are close to freezing.

The people of the islands make their livings with fishing and selling to tourists. We bought some small clay whistles for Jessie and Cody here. The mode of transportation is the boats made of the reeds as well. They are similar to the boats of Huanchaco on the coast but are much larger with figuristic heads and tails. Photo #2 shows the method of propulsion for the boats. Tourists pay to ride on them. As it turned out the riders on the reed boat arrived at the next island prior to those of us on the main boat...maintenance problems again.

On the second island there was a school for all the children of the islands. Jane wandered close to the school and was cheered on in by the children near the door. They were wonderfully friendly singing in English “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. The teacher asked me to say some simple things to them in English, which I did. If they did not understand they kindly shook their heads and smiled anyway. Before I left one of the young boys gave me a picture that he was drawing of the islands and the boats. The teacher wrote the name of the boy on the back along with a very nice message. When I showed the picture to the rest of the group, I learned that one of the children had just sold a picture like it to one of the tourists. That’s OK, you have to make a living somehow.

We had hoped to see more of Lake Titicaca than we did spending only two days in the area. The Carlman’s had other friends in La Paz and we wanted to be sure to meet up with them before they left on a trip out of the area.

It is possible to get an international bus across the border and on to La Paz in one day. By that time we were high up on the antiplano of Bolivia with La Paz at an altitude of 3632 meters. We were able to meet Gerhard and Lulu Kyllman and were treated by them to a lovely dinner at a Bavarian restaurant. Again we had our best insights to the country through the people who live there.