Lake Titicaca Tour – Peru, Bolivia, South America

Heaven, Earth and Below

The Quechua-speaking people, who live on islands in Lake Titicaca, have long been converted to Christianity, but they remain – in a more profound sense – Inca. Their world is still divided into three parts, each with its representative animal – the condor protects the heavens, the puma the earth and the serpent the underworld.

On the highest points of Island Amantini is a temple for Patchapapa (father earth), and on a slightly higher point for Patchamama (mother earth). In between these two temples, women sell things – hats, gloves (alpaca, well made), chocolate, coca mate, donuts, batteries. They charge for use of the bathroom and for advice. No selling opportunity is ever missed. The real religion appears to be capitalism.

The Floating Islands

The Floating Islands aren't really islands, rather a complicated layering of totora reeds. The Uros people build their homes and boats from the reeds. They eat the reeds (think crunchy water). When the mood strikes, they pull up anchor (rocks attached to string and dropped through a hole) and float away. This was ingeniously devised to escape the warlike Incas, but that was a long time ago. Now the islands are a permanent souvenir shop.

We are given a brief history lesson. "My friends," our guide says in the tone of a boy who pulls the wings off things, "the lake is 60% Peru, 40% Bolivia, remember, we won." Then, we are obliged to take an expensive boat trip to another island, which is entirely dedicated to selling trinkets.

Amantani Island
At the port, we are met by our hosts, in traditional dress (ponchos for men, rainbow cummerbunds and flared red skirts for women.) Most of us don't speak Spanish, neither do the hosts, so there's quite a bit of smiling back and forth as we're led to our homestay.

We're told there are no hotels on the island. This is not true. On the bedroom wall are two certificates showing completion of travel classes and two licences for the use of the room. Our family was sweet and eager to please.

In a kitchen that is state-of-the-art, circa 800 B.C., the mother and grandmother prepare three-course meals that are delicious, especially if you crave potatoes.

That night we dress up in traditional wear and party with the locals (mostly the young girls with the women on the tour). Drinks are extra, so is the music. The following morning the host mother and grandmother are up with the sheep building a fire, prepping for breakfast. We are sent off to the third island, Isla Taquile, where lunch is meager and extra, but the child beggars very dear.

A Question
Usually people wear their best clothes on special occasions. Because of tourism, they dress up every night. Is this strengthening their culture, or weakening it?

The Old Woman Who Grinds Corn in the Plaza
On the second floating island, entirely dedicated to selling souvenirs, there's an old woman, whose face is an exquisite road map. She's alone in the center of the plaza grinding corn, unusual. In front of her is a small begging bowl, at which she points. I put a few coins in and take out my camera. Before I snap a picture, she has swept up the money and hidden it.

In opposition to the "abundance theories" I find such comfort in, her bowl is always empty.