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Published: June 25th 2017
Geo: -15.84, -70.05
The next few days would see us visiting the highest navigable lake in the world. In addition to making teenage boys (and Bonnie D) giggle like small girls, Lake Titicaca sits at 11,463 feet altitude and straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia- the Andean peoples refer to the lake as The Sacred Lake and legends say that the first Inca rose from its depths and went out to found the Inca Empire. Not to pop Bonnie's balloon, but the best story for how the lake got it's name would suggest that it's because of it's shape- the word Titicaca comes from the Quechua and Aymara languages; Titi means puma, and caca means rock, and from a certain height (and with a cheek-full of cocoa leaves), it sort of looks like a puma chasing a rabbit.
Our journey to the lake was on the tail end of a pilgrimage for many Bolivians and it was another example of the customized version of Catholicism we had seen here. It was Easter Sunday and the Virgin of Copacabana (Copacabana is the largest Bolivian city on the shores of the lake) does represent the initial acceptance of the catholic religion in Bolivia,
but the lake, and Sun Island in particular, is also a focal point for many indigenous religions. In the Chapel of Candles, all believers go to light a candle to the Virgin and some days are devoted to the "Bendicion de las Movilidades", where people go to bless their cars. On the other hand, the figure of the Virgin Mary has become united with that of the Pachamama for many of the indigenous people- Pachamama is a goddess also known as the earth/time mother. In Inca mythology, Mama Pacha or Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting. She causes earthquakes and is typically in the form of a dragon.
And just to stretch the boundaries of Catholicism a little further, a huge variety of talismans are sold in the shadow of the church and no pilgrimage is complete without a visit to the Isla del Sol- during the Inca period, the Island of the Sun was a sanctuary with a temple dedicated to the Sun God. We made the journey to Sun Island but that had more to do with DH hearing that there was a Fountain of Youth on the island (the look of the
stream feeding the fountain was convincing evidence that drinking from it was much more likely to shorten a life than extend it). Having seen the lake from the Bolivian side, it was now time to see it from the Peruvian side.
Despite having their vehicles blessed, drivers from Bolivia are not allowed work in Peru (and vice versa) there is a significant transition of human cargo from buses, cars, trucks, etc. at the small border post at one edge of the lake. After one stamp in the passport (and about ten stamps on other random pieces of paper sitting on the border officials desk- stamping must be one of those addictive habits), we popped out the other door hoping there would be someone there to take us to Puno, a city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca.
Puno gets a bit of a bad rep for not being the most attractive of cities but we found that, in the central area, it had considerable charm. The seedier side is obvious as much of the city economy relies on the black market, fueled by cheap goods smuggled in from Bolivia. Since we had just come from Bolivia we didn't need
any more contraband, and the big reason we stopped in was to boat over to the floating Uros Islands. These strange 'islands' are made, and re-made, from the totora reeds which provide home, sustenance and transportation for the island residents. The totora is a cattail type rush growing native in the lake. Its dense roots support the top reed layer of the island, which rots and must be topped up with more reeds. The islands change in size, get replaced, and more are created as the need arises (the islands are anchored to keep them from floating over to Bolivia).
The surface of the islands is uneven, thin, and it does feel like walking on a waterbed (to match her big, puffy hair-dos back in the 80's, DH had one of those waterbeds when I met her, and was now experiencing glassy-eyed flashbacks as we bobbed up and down). We debated staying on one of the floating islands overnight but the area set aside for accommodation was a bit like a floating souvenir stand, and apparently it gets really cold and damp at night (the Uros claim to have "black blood" and are consequently immune to the cold- I
suspect they probably stay warm due to the 5-10 petticoats each of the women are wearing at the same time).
After weeks of being out of breath, we were winding up our time at the higher altitudes and were getting ready for lower, oxygen-rich, altitudes.
Tot: 1.545s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 13; qc: 49; dbt: 0.0258s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb