The immense Lake Titcaca (3,820 meters above sea level) is accredited with all manner of memorable trivia. Generations of school children have been taught that this is the highest lake with passenger boat services in the world, while its also South America’s largest lake and the largest lake in the world above 2,000 meters at over 170 kilometers in length and 60 kilometers in breadth. Most recently the lake was memorialized by the cultural giants Beavis and Butthead.
H. Bingham Train
We traveled to Lake Titicaca by train from Cuzco. It was a very nice trip with open air carriages and plenty of local flair. We were served a nice meal of local cuisine and drink. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance and reserve upper class. Everything in Peru is relatively cheap so we suggest you splurge for this particular part of your journey. The great thing about the train is there are extremely large windows and an open air carriage where you can enjoy panoramic views of the countryside. There were many small towns and villages along the way and people seemed very friendly and open to tourists. Some towns, including La Raya, had stalls set up right next to the train tracks. We’d stop over, check out the local weaving and products and quaff some Inka Cola.
A quick word about Inka Cola. This is Peru’s answer to Coca-Cola and tastes a lot like cream soda. Apparently its the only soda in the world that outsells Coca-Cola in their home country. A little too sweet for me! Now if they had a diet version…
The countryside reminded us of the great plains in the USA. Lots of open field with cows and crops. A far cry from both the urban atmosphere of Lima and regal colonial feel of Cuzco. The mountains are relatively barren save for interesting graffiti that would put that on the New York subways to shame.
Our first major city when we near Lake Titicaca is the port of Puno. Puno is the base from which to visit the islands dotted across Titicaca. This city was founded in 1668 near the site of a defunct silver mine. Few colonial buildings remain but the small streets are filled with trici-taxis and markets filled with local knick-knacks. Puno’s high altititude gives it extreme weather conditions. Nights are very cold but given the lack of clouds and high altitude, you can get sunburned quite easily.
We stayed at the Hotel Libertador Isla Esteves. It was by far the most progressive in the area with the amenities many of us as used to. The hotel sits on its own private island in the western part of the Lake. Its connected to Puno by a 6 kilometer road.
The unique Islas Flotantes of the Uros people (often referred to the Uros Islands) are Lake Titicaca’s top tourist attraction. Always a small tribe, they began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the aggressive local tribes and Incas. The only way to get to the islands is to organize a boat to take you across Lake Titicaca to the Islas. Along the way you’ll notice the water is a deep crystal blue, the air is thin and fresh and there seems to be a never ending supply of reeds throughout the lake area. You’ll understand where the value of the reeds when you meet the local people.
Today several hundred people still live on these islands and eke out a living with fishing and tourism. The islands contain schools, post offices and huts where people sell souvenirs! Below are some pictures of the locals who were selling mostly weaved products.
The inhabitants of some islands have also built rickety observation platforms from which to survey the surroundings. One of the interesting things about these islands is everything is essentially man made from reeds – even the island themselves! As the underbelly of the island rots, they simply cut and thatch more reeds to the top of the island.
The reeds come in very handy as firewood and even as a snack! I tried one of them and I will tell you it reminded me of sugar cane…without the sugar. Essentially tasted like fiber soaked in water. Mmmm…tasty.
The Uros also have a very elaborate bundled reed boat which reminded us of Chinese Dragon Boats. These boats can carry people for several months before they begin to rot.
This island has been inhabited for thousands of years and is a real, 6 kilometer island with a population of approximately 2,000. The island is well known for its weaving and the social customs. The men wear woolen hats resembling nightcaps – which the men knit themselves. These hats signify social status. For instance, red hats signify married men, red-and-white hats signify bachelors, and different colors denote different social status. The women also weave waistbands for their men.
The island is its own world detached from the rest of civilization. The soil is red and rich and the air is crystal clear. The surroundings reminded me of the Greek Islands – but with a Latin American flair! They have tea made from the same leaves that create cocaine (to accompany my local meal) and solar panels were pretty prevalent throughout the island.