Published: May 23rd 2009May 22nd 2009
Our first look of Lake Titicaca
From the lookout point in Copacabana
All went well when returning from Rurrenabaque. Our flight left on time, we arrived on time in La Paz, went back to get our big bags from Wild Rover and caught a taxi to catch a bus to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca. All went well until our taxi was caught in one of the many La Paz protests. We sat for about 15 minutes waiting for the people to clear out of the street, but when it didn’t happen our driver took measures into his own hands. Up onto the sidewalk we went, driving maybe 100 feet on the sidewalk, honking at pedestrians until we finally reached the street again. Go cabbie!
We arrived at the cemetery in La Paz, where we picked our bus up from and paid our fare and got on. We didn’t quite know when the bus was going to leave though because it left when it was full enough. We sat for about a half hour until we left. Finally, we were on our way. About 15 minutes before we reached Copacabana we were told to get off the bus and board a boat to cross this section of the lake. Of course, the boat
Arriving at sunset at the lookout point
Being a Catholic country, there are Catholic symbols everywhere.
cost and extra fee, but hey... that’s Bolivia for you. Every bus station has a departure tax not included in your ticket and you are always being asked to fork over one Boliviano here or there. It’s not a lot of money, but it gets annoying after a while. But... we arrived in Copacabana and checked into our hotel. The next day we would begin exploring Lake Titicaca.
So here’s some background Lake Titicaca information: Lake Titicaca is a lake located on the border of Bolivia and Peru. It sits 12,500 ft above sea level making it one of the highest commercially navigable lakes in the world and is also the largest lake in South America. Lake Titicaca is fed by rainfall and meltwater from glaciers on the sierras that abut the Altiplano. Five major river systems feed into Lake Titicaca and more than 20 other smaller streams empty into Titicaca, and the lake has 41 islands. So I know you want to know about the name because it is obviously quite funny. No, it isn’t Lake Booby Poop! The origin of the name Titicaca is unknown. It has been translated as "Rock Puma", allegedly because of its resemblance
to the shape of a puma hunting a rabbit, combining words from the local languages Quechua and Aymara.
Our first day of exploration was spent at the Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun). It was a major sight for the Incas and pre-Inca civilizations and we were excited to see our first Inca ruins. We caught one of the slowest boats imaginable and spent almost two hours getting to the island, but for $3 we really couldn’t complain! Isla Del Sol is one of the lake's largest islands. In the religion of the Incas, it was believed that the sun god was born here. There are over 180 ruins on the island. Most of these date to the Inca period circa the 15h century AD. Archaeologists have discovered evidence that people lived on the island as far back as the third millennium BCE. We saw many of these ruins. The first was the Sacred Rock, where the Incas would bring virgins to sacrifice to the sun god. We also saw old tables where they would sacrifice llamas and other animals to the sun god. Thankfully we hired a local guide who explained all of this to us. If not,
these would have just looked like piles of rocks! The most impressive ruin was a building called Chicana. It dated back to pre-Inca times and was a series of rocks that used to make up old buildings. Many of the windows faced the lake and the sunrise. We also saw the famous ¨puma rock¨ where some believe the island got its name from. I saw a puma head sideways, but our guide insisted you were suppose to see the rock as the face of a puma growling at you. I didn’t see that though, so I like my version better.
From these ruins, we took a three hour hike to the other side of the island, passing by many of the villages. 5,000 people permanently live on the island in little villages. They have gorgeous views of the lake, though and it was amazing to see these people on this small island. There are a couple larger towns that are set up so tourists could stay on the island, which was our initial plan, but we decided to head back to Copacabana that night.
On our way back our boat stopped at another sacred temple ruin. This ruin
still had the roof on and you were able to walk inside. Those Incas were small because I had to duck to go through the doorways! It was still amazing to see how these building are so in tact after so many years. Many of them reminded me of our Native American ruins, but these are much older and amazing to see.
That afternoon, we boarded a small mini bus to take us to the Peruvian border. It was only about 10 minutes to the border and the crossing was pretty hassle free. Well, minus the health check for swine flu, but as long as we told the guy we were ¨esta bien¨ he didn’t make us go through the health check. Then we boarded a bigger bus to head to Puno, the Peruvian side of the Lake. Many people on our bus were suppose to be heading all the way to Cusco, but there was a blockade on the roads to Cusco and therefore they were stuck in Puno with us!
We checked into our hostel late that night and booked an all day tour to the Peruvian islands the next day. So it was early to
rise, as we left the hostel about 6:45am for our tour. It was an hour and half by boat to the first set of islands called the Uros Islands. The Uros people live on a group of 42 or so artificial islands made of floating reeds (totora, a reed that abounds in the shallows of the lake). Their original purpose was defensive, and they could be moved if a threat arose, especially from those Incas who liked to conquer everyone in their day! The islands were absolutely amazing. You sunk into them as you walked on the reeds and it was amazing how they were constructed. When it is rainy season on the lake, these chunks of reeds float on the island and they use big chunks of floating dirt and pile the reeds criss crossed on top to create the island. Then they make their houses, kitchens and boats out of the reeds. The people were so nice and some of the best people we have met in a long time. They welcomed us to their island and gave us amazing insight to their daily life. I know it is all pretty set up for tourists, but I still
Do you see the puma facing you? Cause I didn´t!
really enjoyed it. We were encouraged to buy some handy crafts from them because tourism is their only source of income. They barter for the rest of their supplies. We could also take a ride on one of their reed boats for a cost, but I decided to hang back on the island. While I was there walking around a lady came over and asked me to sit next to her. Their native language is not Spanish, but she spoke Spanish and asked where I was from and my name. I was thankfully able to understand those questions and therefore we were able to have a short conversation where I told her that her island was beautiful. The kids on the islands are also some of the cutest kids I have seen since SE Asia. They are all red in their cheeks and so sassy and happy to be the center of the show for us gringos. They were awesome and I wanted to take them all home with me! But, we had to say goodbye and head to the next island on the Peruvian side of the lake.
After another two hours by boat, we arrived at Taquile
The sacred table where they sacrificed animals
Island. It is a hilly island located 35 kilometers east of Puno. It is narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish Colony and into the 20th century. In 1970 it became property of the Taquile people, who have inhabited the island since then. About 3,000 people live on the island and many have the same traditions their people have always had. Much of the island is influenced by its Spanish routes and the traditional outfits look a lot like bull fighters in Spain. The Taquile men also wear these hats that are woven and brightly colored. You can tell if a man is single or married depending on the color of his hat. Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code "ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla" (Quechua for do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy). We arrived on the island and hiked a half hour up to hill to a local house. There they woman of the house made us lunch. Since there are no refrigerators on the island, the food has to be fresh. She prepared us a wheat soup, trout and local mint
tea. Everything was yummy, yes, even the trout- it was so fresh it didn’t taste fishy at all! We enjoyed lunch and some local dancing. Some of the locals came out and showed us two dances they do during their festivals. One was for a good harvest and the other was a fun dance where many men ask women to dance. After lunch, we went to the town square and then walked down to the other side of the island to catch the boat three hours back to Puno. It was a LONG day!
We arrived back at the hostel and I heard someone calling out my name. It was my friend Ivo from Australia. We had studied together in Canberra and when I saw him in January he had told me about his trip through Central and South America. He started traveling in New Orleans for Mardi gras and then continued south. We had been in touch, but weren’t sure if we were going to meet up and then he was there! He knew we were there and where we were staying so he left his previous city early to meet up with us. It was great to
be able to see him again and we all went to dinner together that night. He had been in Peru for a while so he was able to pick a cheap enough restaurant. I had alpaca that night and didn’t really like it. Our llama in Chile was better than my alpaca steak. It tasted like lamb and I don’t really like lamb, so I think that’s enough alpaca for me!
So that was it for our Lake Titicaca adventure. The next morning we went to the bus station with Ivo and we went our separate ways. He was heading to Cusco and we were heading six hours the opposite direction to Arequipa. We said goodbye in the bus terminal and took a photo. Then we all bought our very first Inca Kola. Inca Kola outsells Coca Cola here in Peru and we had to try it. The boys have given up soda for the whole time we have been in South America, but they made an exception and said they could drink Inca Kola because when else would they have it? Well, too bad Inca Kola taste like sugary bubble gum and is not that good. I think
it even gave me a stomach ache!
Lake Titicaca was gorgeous and amazing to see so many different cultures inhabiting the lake. It was also great to be able to see both the Bolivian and Peruvian side of the lake. We were sad to say bye to Bolivia since it had been an amazing three weeks there and one of the best surprises of the trip. We never really had plans to head to Bolivia before we arrived in South America and so far, it has been our favorite country here by far. We loved it!
There are more photos below