Bolivia/Peru: Lake Titicaca (Puma Lake Rock)
Our next destination was Lake Titicaca, the supposedly highest navigable lake in the world. It sits at 3810 meters and is shared by Bolivia and Peru. We started out on the Bolivian side, in the town of Copacabana. Our hostel (pat on the back, cheapest yet at $1.85pp) was near the church and it was Sunday morning so the first thing we encountered was the blessing of the cars. People come from all over to have their cars blessed. They have them cleaned inside and out, then decorated with flowers and ribbons and things, and then line up in front of the church for the priest to come out and bless the car. This is followed by champagne and then I presume a lifetime of reckless driving, since the car has been blessed afterall. The other thing the church in this town is notorious for is the blessing of miniature items with the idea that in the next 12 months you will gain that item. So, people come with miniature houses if they want to buy a house, shops if they are trying to open a store, llamas if they want to increase their livestock, etc. All along the streets you can buy all kinds of miniature goods. The only thing I could think of that I wanted that day was a bigger bladder….I couldn`t find a mini one to buy so I guess I`ll have to stick with the one I`ve got.
The purpose of stopping in Copacabana is to go out to Isla del Sol, the home and birthplace of the Inca creation. We went out on Monday morning and walked the island from north to south. On the island is the sacred Titicaca…which in Quechua means Puma Rock. In the Inca culture, the puma is considered mightiest of beasts and there is a rock that looks like the head of a puma (sort of, if you look at it squinty and cock-eyed and use some imagination). The Incas believe that this rock is the birthplace of the sun and every year on the summer solstice, people flock from all over the Andes to worship said rock. It was interesting to be in the place where such a dominant culture began. The rest of the island is sparsely inhabited and we spent a wonderfully quiet evening dining while the sun went down over the majestic lake.
Tuesday we took the boat back to Copacabana and continued on an uneventful border crossing into Peru. Back to where my trip began, whohoo!! I must say that I`m happy to be back to the currency Soles, because I`m much better at dividing by 3 than by 8, as you have to do in Bolivia. I must have missed that week back in grade school, because I sure did struggle with the 8`s. I`d just look at Laurie the accountant and say “what?” Puno was our destination, a city on the western side of the lake. Today we took a trip out to various islands on the lake.
First stop was the floating islands of Uros. They are floating because they are constructed entirely out of totora, or reeds. They are anchored down, but still technically float. We visited Jachatata, one of the 40 islands in the community. I found the islands, their structure, and the inhabitants fascinating. I found the way in which we visited them and the way our tour was structured, horrific. As we cruised in the stretch of water between islands, the women would all come out running, waving frantically for our boat to come to their island. As we`d pass, they`d go back to their tasks and wait for the next tour boat. When we finally stopped at an island, the women scurried to set up their souvenir stalls and basically become an exhibit. It wasn`t a process I was pleased to be a part of. That aside however, we spent a very interesting hour learning about how the islands are built and the way of life out there. The islands are built by layer upon layer of reed, which they much continuously build up to replace the bottom layers that give away to the water. This particular island had 6 families on it and they live from fishing, hunting and the selling of their handcrafts (to suckers like me!) It was a strange feeling to walk upon the spongy reed bed and not sink. My favorite part was watching the young boy who was frantically getting ready for school and stood at the edge of the island screaming “profesora” and waving his arms for his teacher to come and get him. The teacher rows 1hour each day out from the mainland and picks up all her pupils.
The next destination was the island of Taquile. Up until today I could firmly say that I wasn`t a big fan of islands, but that changed in just a few hours on Taquile. The colorful clotheslines depict the colorful culture of this island, where women weave and men knit and all collectively raise sheep and farm the land. Their traditional clothing was the most interesting. Single women wear colored skirts and tops and long black shawls over their heads with bright colored tassels. Married women wear black skirts, red tops and plain shawls. With the men, it is the sashes that designate their marital status with a long elf like stocking cap to top it off. The island was full of deep paths with stone walls and brightly painted doors on modest little homes. The women and girls were all incredibly shy and would only speak in a whisper and would blush when we spoke to them. And they all spoke very little Spanish; most would just stare at me and look to our guide to translate. It was an amazing island and I would spend more time out there. Why couldn`t the PC have placed me there?
A friend recently questioned why “you gringos are so obsessed with the poverty of Latin America” when I told him I was loving Bolivia but shocked by the poverty and lack of what we`d consider basic necessities. It´s true. There are many mysterious things in our social thinking and one is our (or at least some of us) desire to see how others live. Perhaps we need the constant reassurance that our lives are in fact quite good. Regardless of what it is that drives me, I really did truly love Bolivia! It is such a rich place; not in physical wealth, but definitely in the beauty of the people and the amazing natural setting in which it`s found!