After a long drive through the mountains of Colca Canyon, we arrived at Puno on the edge of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca spans from Peru to Boliva and is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,812 meters. Another hour’s drive from Puno, we arrive at our home for the next few days: Titilaka Lodge. Titilaka, a Relais & Chateaux property, is an all inclusive lodge on the shores of the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. All the 18 suites here have a lake view and are in a contemporary design with touches of the Inca heritage. It is a wonderful hotel filled with mod cons to come back to after exploring the neighboring villages and floating islands.
The highlight of Lake Titicaca is the floating islands of Uros made of totora reeds. Uros is a group of 44 or so artificial islands built by people who predate the Inca. The islands were made this way so that they can easily be “floated” to another location as a defense mechanism. The indigenous people used to be captured as slaves, so by living on these floating islands in the middle of the lake and only coming out at night, it helped protect many from captivity. Not only are the islands made of totora reeds, all the houses and boats here are also made of reed, and every 15 days, new reeds must be piled on top of the old ones to prevent the islands from sinking. When I first heard of boats made of reeds, I imagined some simple raft looking boat. But to my surprise, these boats called balsa are very beautifully made, some even with little pavilions and animal heads in the front. The largest ones are up to 30 meters long! I had the opportunity to visit the Uros group of floating islands as well as one that is about a couple of hours away from the main group.
From Asunta’s island we ventured onto Taquile Island which is a hilly island that used to be a prison during the colonial era. Now it is inhabited by about 2,200 Taquile people. There are no modern conveniences on the island and life remained pretty much the same as hundreds of years ago. Taquile is known for its handicrafts and textiles. What is interesting is that the men exclusively do the knitting while the women exclusively do weaving and make the yarn. UNESCO has designated them Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
There are many interesting local Quechua and Aymara communities living along the shores of the lake. Of interest are the Funeral Towers here. We visited the ones in Molloca closer to the hotel. These funeral towers were built in the 1450s where the king or royal was mummified and his wife, consort, some of his children, and servants were sacrificed and buried together with him. After a year of mummification, they would open the small door facing the east, believing that the sun god and their royal are one. Locals will come and make offerings at the small door to their ancestors. Every year, the mummy would be removed from the tower and dressed up and set in the main square for a month long celebration. Then new women and servants would be sacrificed when the mummy was placed back into the tower. This kind of new sacrifice would continue for another 3 years and after that the mummy would be taken out and returned without any new sacrifices.
Other than visiting the funeral towers, we also did a short hike to see the sandstone formations at Wilka Uta or Aramu Muru. At this altitude, you really have to pace yourself. My lungs actually hurt and I couldn’t quite catch my breath on the way up the hill.
On our way back to the hotel, we were fortunate enough to catch one of the fiestas in the village where locals drink and dance around a eucalyptus tree. They then take turns chopping down the tree at the end of the evening. The women dress in their traditional Cholita dress which includes a bowler hat, voluminous pleated skirts with many layers of petticoats, and a colorful shawl that doubles as a knapsack that is usually used to carry their babies. These outfits came about during the times of the Spanish Inquisition where the indigenous people were forced to adopt the European style of dress. Story has it that the bowler hats were not originally intended for the Cholitas. Once, the shipment of hats were too small, so the trader peddled them to the local women. Tradition is that if the hat is worn straight, it signifies the woman is married. If worn tilted to the side, it means she is single.
I will continue with the Bolivia side of Lake Titicaca in the next post. Stay tuned!
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