Peru – Lake Titicaca

March 15, 2008

(March 10, 11, 12,13). Running between Cusco and Puno is an elegant train called the Andean Express.

During its ten-hour journey, we climbed as high as 4,300m, saw great expanses of the alti plano and enjoyed an excellent three-course lunch and afternoon tea.Puno, at 3,800m, is the largest town on the lake and not exactly blessed with charming hotels.  Ours, Posada del Inca, is clean and barely acceptable. 

Lake Titicaca, all 170k x 65k of it, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, is the main reason for the visit. By volume of water it is the largest lake in South America.  Its temperature ranges from 9 or 10 (Celsius) in winter to 14 now in summer.

blog-6990-275x183.jpgA main attraction is the forty floating islands on Titicaca, a Uros community of more than 2,000 people whose heritage goes back to the time of the Incas from whom these people were fleeing. Now the Uros are largely supported by tourism but one can still be awed by their resilience. 

blog-6971-275x183.jpgIt can get close to freezing on the water and moisture is ever present.The islands are made from reeds cut with two meters of their root, tied together and staked to to the lake bottom.

These same reeds are used to build their homes, which are furnished with a bed, a seat a table and often a TV.

Although the population has been slightly growing (luckily they freshen the gene pool every now and then with some Puno spice), one wonders what the effect of TV will be on the next generation’s desire to tough it out. In the bed, a bit narrower than a double,  mom and dad sleep next to each other with the boys sleeping next to dad and the girls next to mom.Grandparents are shuttled off to their own island. 

Obviously they think that three generations in one bed is a bit much.

The Oros sell or trade their fish to get staples. Their electricity comes from solar panels. One wonders what the effect of television will have on them.  They cook outside, unless it is raining, and then they cook in a reed hut.Their reed boats, one per island, take 30 people about two months to build and lasts a year. Don’t ask about the sanitary facilities. We didn’t.blog-7017-150x246.jpg  Larger islands in the lake are home to other indigenous communities which engage in agriculture – raising corn, quinoa, wheat and potatoes as well as sheep and cattle. Handicrafts are also big.We visited Taquile, one of the larger island, and home to about 3,000 people and 24 restaurants.  Obviously tourism has begun to play a big part in island life.

Our overnight destination was Suasi, an island with a special microclimate, which now offers accommodations at Casa Andina, an eco-friendly non-centrally heated lodge. Electricity and hot water come from solar panels and generators.

blog-7026-275x183.jpgFireplaces provide much-needed warmth. The bedrooms are surprisingly elegant for such a lodge and the food very, very good.  A one-night stay is recommended.

blog-7030-250x167.jpgThe 106 acres are lined with hiking trails, and three canoes provide an opportunity to explore further.

The grounds and even trail-sides are planted with fuchsia, dahlias, daisies, snapdragons, roses, calla lilies, geraniums, and lupin, which must all be perennial in this strange climate where frost is rare but then so are warm, sunny days.

Here on the lake and at similar altitudes, most hotels have stations with coca tea available at all times. It is supposed to help with the altitude. Some people even chew just the dried leaves.  On Taquile, the men carry a bag full of the dried leaves and exchange a few with each other every time they meet.

Because of the altitude and its effects, there seemed to be an oxygen bottle near at hand almost everywhere.  We think we may have experienced a mild reaction, even though we had conditioned ourselves in the Atacama Desert and Machu Picchu(see separate listings) . Our symptom was a lack of appetite which was a boon to our expanding figures, but not exactly our idea of a vacation. 

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