A few days ago, I was able to jet over to Lake Titicaca. And by jet, I mean take a Peruvian bus – which was not a highlight. On the overnight ride to the lake, I was lucky enough to get a seat next to a broken window. Sleeping on a bus with the cool mountain air howling in your face is quite soothing. However, on the way back I was even more fortunate because this time my seat was conveniently located on top of a heat vent! While my organs slowly roasted, there was a kind salesman who stood in the aisle and presented a lengthy sales pitch for an Inca-inspired herbal weight loss supplement. If I never get on a bus in South America again, I will have lived a good life.
Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. At 12,507 feet elevation, it is considered the highest “navigable” lake in the world.
UROS – THE FLOATING ISLANDS
About 20 minutes off-shore, there are a bunch of man-made, floating reed islands. It’s crazy that people created these and actually live on them. They were first created by the Quechan people (Peruvian natives) when the Incas started expanding their empire. These Quechans weren’t really interested in bonding with the Incas when they showed up at Lake Titicaca so they took some reeds and made islands to live on. Each island has a watchtower to look out for Incas, pirates, etc. There is no electricity because that would obviously be a huge fire hazard. The residents of the floating islands now mainly survive off the income they receive from curious “Westerners.”
MY NEW FAMILY FOR A NIGHT
I was able to do a homestay with a family on the Amantani island in the home pictured above. My mom-for-a-night was so sweet and really made me feel at home and also, miss my own Mom. She spoke only Quechan so there was a bit of a language barrier but we smiled at each other a lot. She made three meals for me which were all super tasty. There are no cars on the island and no grocery stores – so everything she made was from veggies she grew herself. That’s her above leading me to the village square. I got a bedroom with electricity which translates to a single lightbulb with about a 20 watt voltage:
Since there was no light pollution, the stars were UNREAL. I wish I had a picture of them but they’re really hard to photograph. I wanted to stay up late and just star gaze but my island Mom was pretty strict about bed time.
ISLAND MORAL CODE & STANCE ON MARRIAGE
The society on the islands of Lake Titicaca is based on one basic principle:
Ama sua, ama llulla, ama ghilla
Which means “Do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy.”
I really like the simplicity. Short & sweet & to the point.
The islanders also have an interesting take on marriage. First of all, the islands get together for three different celebrations a year and these are the only times you can meet a potential suitor. This really takes the pressure off for the rest of the year. When you decide you want to marry someone, you first have to live together for three years. If it goes well, you tie the knot. If not, adios. Personally, I think this built-in trial run is brilliant. Finally, there is only one day on which you can get married a year. So everyone whose getting married does so on the same day and celebrates together. This really drives down costs and embraces a “the more, the merrier” attitude. Big fan of this concept.
THE HOT CHOCOLATE
was the best I’ve ever had in my life. I need to go back if only to drink this heaven in a mug again.
MEN WHO KNIT
The island of Taquile is famous for having men who knit. I even saw two men knitting away in the main plaza but couldn’t sneak a decent picture without being rude. Women make the yarn and weave, and the Taquilen men knit. I can’t picture my dad or brother knitting so I found this to be quite the phenomenon.
There are so many cute kids on the islands. The pack of boys above go around singing songs and asking gullible tourists for “money, money please.” I couldn’t say no so I gave them each 1 sol (Peruvian dollar). Little did I know what a riot this would cause. They became quite rambunctious and gathered more of their friends and kept pointing me out. A local store owner then clued me in that under no circumstances whatsoever are you supposed to give the local children money. Definitely felt like the idiot Gringa.
Overall, the islands of Lake Titicaca embrace the simple life. They live off the land and have a very close-knit community. They don’t use Facebook or have iPhones. A lot of the “stressors” I’m used to back in the States (traffic, deadlines, weak WiFi signal, Comcast bills, etc.) simply don’t exist here. But they also don’t have many of the comforts (running water, a non-hut bathroom, dishwashers, etc.) which I’ve taken for granted my whole life. As my grandma would say, it’s not better or worse, just different. I’m really happy I was able to visit such a beautiful place, sleep in a mud house, be a part of a local family for a night, and see how differently other people live. I also hope they start exporting their hot chocolate ASAP.