Thursday, July 17, 2008

2008 Peru Trip Day 14 (Lake Titicaca)

Thursday, July 17, 2008
Sonesta Posada del Inca Hotel
Yavari boat behind the hotel
Up much later today! At 6:30 AM. We had the buffet breakfast, and saw birds and guinea pigs running around the hotel’s backyard. Brynne and I went out to see more guinea pigs up close, from the gazebo out near the water. There were also reed tents built to shade lawn chairs out in the back of the hotel. After breakfast, we met Mayro, our guide who was waiting in the hotel lobby. He took us out the back of the hotel and down to the dock where the Yavari is tied up, and beyond to our private boat. We went through a gauntlet of guinea pigs and saw more birds. This boat was enclosed, with sofa-like seating. The sun was bright in this rarefied air, and sparkled on the water.
We headed out through a channel between tall totora reeds.
Totora reeds
Saw many White-tufted Grebes with the white patch on their cheeks. Later as we got farther out, we did see the endangered Titicaca Grebe, which is flightless.
We chugged along, passed a checkpoint of sorts with a lookout tower, and headed out to the Uros Islands.
Lookout tower
These are man-made floating islands. Wow! There are so many of them, over 40.
Floating island
The Uros Islands came about when the Uros people fled to the lake area to avoid the aggressive Colla tribe. They initially built reed boats and lived on them on the lake. Later they made the boats bigger, and built a hut on the boat to live in. Eventually they made the floating islands to live on, which could be moved to safer locations. The Uros people intermarried with the Aymara-speaking people who lived on the shores of the lake, and adopted their language. Legend says that the full-blooded Uros Indians had black blood that protected them from the frigid temperatures on the water and also from drowning. The Incas considered the Uros so poor and simple that they taxed them very little, yet the Uros have outlasted the Incas.
Winay Totora island
We landed on the island of Winay Totora, where the women lined up to help us off the boat and shake our hands saying "Kamisaraki”.
Pulling in our boat
Welcome committee
We couldn’t remember the answer to the greeting, but smiled broadly. A young man had pulled us in and tied the boat. He then came over to help our guide demonstrate how the islands were made. We sat on a semicircular roll of bound reeds. The totora reeds have a thick base of roots intertwined in the clay of marshy ground.
Totora reed with root base
When the water level rises, whole mats of these reeds rise to the surface along with 3-4 feet of the root system. The roots are cut into large blocks (10 x 15 m/33 x 49 feet) called quilis (?). Each family is allotted one block, so that this island of eight families is based on eight blocks. They had plenty of room. The blocks are tied together and then anchored. These islands are anchored along a “river” in the lake, along its shores of totora reed marshes. Yet from above water, it just looks like they are floating in the immense lake.
Layers of reeds are laid across the multi-block island, alternating directions.
Demonstrating alternation of layers of reeds
As the reeds decompose, new layers are simply added on top. The new reeds on top seemed so fresh, that you could eat them! As it was, the base of a freshly-pulled reed was peeled and we were given a bite of the white part. This supposedly contains fluoride and calcium, and is used for medicinal purposes. Mayro said to notice that the teeth of the people are yellow. I could find no reference to totora reeds containing fluoride, but it does contain iodine. That would cause yellow staining.
Add houses and people and you have a floating island home
The islands themselves last 25-30 years and then get rebuilt using the same name. On occasion, if there are disagreements among the inhabitants of one island, one could become literally cut off. We saw an island with two houses on it, likely cut off. It seems everything is made from reeds. The houses and their roofs (now supplemented with plastic tarps to make the roof last longer), the boats, and souvenirs! The lookout towers are made with eucalyptus poles which had to be traded for. Some of the islands had very fancy lookout towers, with reed sculpturing to make them look like a flamingo or fish. Cooking was done over clay stoves which used a dried reed fire set on stones in an isolated area. The biggest danger for the Uros is fires, as the reeds burn easily. Although they still cook by fire, they no longer use candles in their homes. Thanks to former President Fujimori, each family has a solar panel that provides energy for lighting.
We were shown inside one house, and found the people had extended the wiring to power radios, televisions, and computers.
Inside a house
Three mattresses covered most of the floor, there was a small chest of drawers, and clothing was piled between beds. The walls were covered with weavings, photos, educational posters, and school backpacks.
Some of the women put traditional dress items on Brynne, Jan and me, with an ample skirt tied around our waists, a bolero jacket put over our shoulders, and big tassels thrown around our necks.
Brynne and Tamiko with traditional dress items
Brynne, a local, Tamiko
Brynne and Jan
Usually the tassels decorate the ends of the women’s pigtails, but we didn’t have any. They gave Brynne and me the bowler hats worn by the married women, and Jan wore the virgin’s hat. Which reminds me that at hotels, they were never sure who went into which room. The two people with the same last name (Brynne and I) were in the double room, and the two with the different last names (Jan B. and R. Kirby) were in the matrimonial room. Oh, those Americans!
On the back of the island, they had their souvenir stands set up. But also small enclosures for domesticated ducks, ibis, and guinea pigs.
Animal enclosures
There was an area in the water surrounded by netting for the trout farm. They even had a flower garden, but had to protect it from the sun with a reed canopy.
Flower garden
Tourists are discouraged from giving money or items to the indigenous people, and they ask that you purchase souvenirs or pay for a ride in the reed boat so that the people have earned the money.
Local kids
They all share in the profits. Although the weavings were thought to be made by the inhabitants of these islands, it was questionable if other items were. We did buy a toy reed boat, as we were looking for a souvenir for a 13-year old boy! My traditional skirt was over my fanny pack, so I had to reach up under my skirt to get money to pay for the souvenir!
Totora reed canoe
We ended up taking the reed boat ride for 15 Soles each. We climbed up on a platform which gave us a great view all around.
Going for a reed boat ride
All the inhabitants of the island gathered to sing a song to us, and Kirby tried to knuckle punch with the smallest child there. Then as we left, they sang a song in Spanish, then two songs in English (“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”)!
Kirby tries a fist bump
Two fellows had to row us and it looked like a hard job.
Our rowers
These catamaran-like boats probably aren’t really streamlined! Although one rower would sometimes lean back in a lounging position. They also were in no hurry, as we made our way to one of the biggest islands, the Santa Maria. We passed several other boats with tourists.
Reed boat
Ours had what could have been puma heads, and other boats had other shapes on the front of their boats. Some looked like dragons, but there doesn’t seem to be any dragon references in Peru. Others were decorated with colorful weavings. Even saw a woman rower. The locals seemed to all have non-reed boats with motors! (Some with oars!)
Local's newer boat
Our tourist boat met us at the island of Santa Maria. Some of the islands had two tourist boats tied up at them. Mayro got out to show us around this island, where women were sorting fish and laying them out to dry.
Sorting and drying fish
One woman was building an oven, so some of the fish must get smoked. We saw a bowl of clay on the ground, that Mayro thought was for the people’s diet, much like the tapirs and macaws.
Oh, yes, bathrooms! The Uros people believe in the medicinal value of urine, and it seems urinating into the lake is okay. But for any other business, they have a separate outhouse island for just that purpose. You have to take a boat to go to the outhouse, which has lime sprinkled on it, so that it and the totora root system can take care of things. The bathroom on the boat had a window on the door to look out to see where you have been! Fortunately the boat’s second mate, always moved from his seat behind the bathroom to the other side when you were using the toilet. He also took a big plastic can and filled it with water from over the side, and when you were done, you used the water to flush the toilet. Now this toilet was only for number 1 and not number 2.
Back on the tourist boat, we had two and a half hours to get to Taquile Island, which was out beyond two points of land that put the Uros Islands in a bay of the lake. Once out in the greater part of the lake, you could see the snow-capped mountains of the Royal Mountains in Bolivia. Part of Lake Titicaca is in Bolivia, but we weren’t anywhere close. Our little old Dodge or Chevy car engine from the 60’s or 70’s wasn’t going to get us to Bolivia.
Mayro entertained us with stories during our journey. He was always laughing. But he may have confused things a little. For one, he told us that Thor Heyerdahl came to this area to have the Kon-tiki built, and then he sailed from Lima to the Polynesian Islands to show that it could be done. We were a little confused, thinking that sailing from Lima to the Polynesian Islands did not prove that Polynesians could have sailed to South America. But, it does seem Heyerdahl was proving that South Americans did sail to the Polynesian Islands using the Humboldt Current in pre-Columbian times and settled there. Although the present-day Polynesians did not descend from South Americans, it seems there was a race of “long-eared” people who were killed off by the “short-eared” people. The “long-eared” people could have been descended from South Americans. And Heyerdahl did have the Kon-Tiki built in Peru, but on the coast. It was a raft of balsa logs with a mahogany mast. Bamboo was also used. He sailed the Kon-Tiki successfully in 1947. The Kon-Tiki name is the old name of the creator god, Viracocha.
However, when Heyerdahl built the Ra from papyrus to sail from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean on the Canary Current to Barbados, it took on water after the crew made some adjustments and had to be abandoned. He then came to Lake Titicaca to have Ra II made from the totora reeds. This ship successfully made the trip from Morocco to Barbados. Heyerdahl was mainly trying to prove the seaworthiness of such boats, rather than that the Egyptians traveled to the New World.
Taquile Island is one of the natural islands (of maybe a dozen) in Lake Titicaca. It was used as a prison by the Spanish, and only became totally the property of the Taquile people in 1970. The people speak Quechuan, while Aymara is spoken on the other islands. The island has been inhabited for 10,000 years, and was part of the Inca empire as seen by the agricultural terracing. There is no electricity, no cars, and no dogs. (Although there are generators, solar panels are favored as an energy source.) The people of Taquile continue to wear traditional dress as a daily habit, and make their own textiles. The women wear layered skirts (up to 16) with a black shawl. The men wear embroidered woven waistbands (fajas) and wool stocking caps. The caps indicate marital status (red for married, and red and white for bachelors), and leaders wear black. The men do most of the knitting, while the women do the weaving.
Saw laundry laid out to dry on rocks by the shore.
When we reached Taquile, we then had to climb the hill! There are 538 steps to the village center, but we went about half way up, and took a detour to a restaurant. Passed Merino sheep which were brought from Australia to provide the wool for the textiles on the island, along with alpacas. Mayro had the locals bring a table out from a covered arbor to an open area where we had a breathtaking view of the lake.
Lunchtime panorama
We were served a wonderful lunch of quinoa soup and trout. There was a spicy salsa criolla (made with chopped Spanish onions, chili peppers, and lime juice) to eat with bread or the trout. Some of us had seconds of the soup.
Lunch table
We were then rejuvenated enough to continue the climb to the town square, a large dusty plaza, again with a view on the beautiful blue waters of Lake Titicaca.
Town square
We passed by an arch (not Incan),
men knitting, and lots of tourists.
Kirby & Jan, Tamiko, Brynne
We had been cautioned not to give the kids candy, but some of them were asking for “caramelos”. We went in the cooperative store, where all the textiles were marked with the name of the maker. There was a large variety of items, but mostly there were stocking caps and waistbands.
Brynne and I started down the steps to the boat. We had climbed another 138 m/ 453 feet to the 3950 m/12,959 feet elevation of the town. So now we had to go back down on the stone-paved path that was none too smooth. The others caught up to us.
Our tourist boat
Eventually we stepped back in the boat, which required some planning, as the boat was rocking up and down about 5-6 feet. You waited until the boat rose up closest to the dock and stepped down, bringing your other foot quickly before it got caught on the rapidly rising dock side. Getting off had been much easier as you just waited until the boat rose to the dock and stepped up. Now for our three-hour boat ride back to Puno. Good time for a snooze.
We had some excitement as we neared Puno, because the boat crew spotted the Coast Guard. We quickly had to don life jackets. The Coast Guard boat was tied up with another boat on one side, but they waved us around to the other. A couple uniformed guys came on our boat, checked out some papers, answered a cell phone call, and then we were on our way.
Brynne with life jacket
Arrived back at the hotel just before 6:00 when we were to meet Maricela with our plane boarding passes. She was late, so I sent Brynne to check our e-mail, to find out Kent did get us on a flight a day earlier. So when Maricela and Hugo arrived, after we got the drill for the next day, I asked if they could get in touch with Anahi about changing our hotel. Maricela had two cell phones, and explained it was easier to have multiple cell phones to keep in touch with various travel agencies that used different cell phone companies. Hugo contacted Veronika, and let me talk to her, and she made arrangements right away, and called back to confirm them. So we were all set for our early return home. Maricela had asked us how we liked our guide Enrique. Who? We think Maricela thought Mayro was being too familiar with us by giving us his Quechuan name rather than his Spanish name…
We had the hotel call us a taxi and by 7:30 PM we were on our way to downtown Puno. We were dropped off in the main plaza and charged 7 Soles. The driver gave us his card with a number to call for our return. As we walked down Avenida de Lima, we shopped for souvenirs. Kirby was looking for his Pucara toritos, and Brynne needed just a few small things. Brynne was getting roped in by young men standing outside Giorgio’s Restaurant, where we were going anyway, but we were still shopping. Then Brynne and I went in to get a table while Jan and Kirby kept shopping. We were still waiting for them to clean a table when Jan and Kirby arrived. We were put in a back waiting area, with displays of hats, ceramics, and musical instruments. Finally we were shown to a table in the front of the restaurant. Brynne tried to get the fettucini alfredo with regular ham instead of the alpaca ham, but despite several people trying to understand English, she ended up with no ham.
As we waited for dinner to be served, Kirby ran out to check more souvenir shops. And he ran out again to make his purchase of a pair of Pucara toritos. The young man at the door had his head whirling watching Kirby come and go.
There was also a young girl in somewhat traditional dress (the skirt was very short!) who seemed to take turns being hostess with the young men.
She later came around to ask if we wanted to hear a live band, after we had been asked if we want to hear Andean music. Well, we had heard a band before, so said “No”. She seemed a bit taken aback, but why was she asking? A live band did come in to entertain, and they were the same band as the night before in the Pizzeria. We enjoyed their music, nevertheless, and they were probably the best band we had heard in Peru. But we were not going to buy another music CD!
Hostess and band
After dinner we did final souvenir shopping on our way back to the main square. At the square, a taxi kept flashing his lights at us. We thought maybe it was our taxi driver from the trip in, but when we got in the taxi we realized it wasn’t. Then when we asked the fare, it was 8 Soles. When we tried for five like the night before, we were told that it was very late, how about 7 Soles? Some of us were out of the taxi, before it was agreed we would pay the 7 Soles. Back at the hotel, we had to re-pack again.
This rarefied air was giving us dry noses and throats.
Next: Day 15 Sillustani.

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