Lake Titicaca & the islands

23 10 2007

Lake Titicaca, pronounced by some as “Lake Titijaja” (kind of) was honestly not the spot I was most looking forward to. I had read, heard, and thought, that the lake and its islands were giant tourist traps. A little tacky, I had read, a little too much. I expected to like the boat ride, because I almost always like boat rides. But I was surprised to have liked the lake, and especially the Uros Islands.

We embarked on a crowded boat (seating around 30-40 people?), sat at the front, with a view of the captain, and our new friend Sandra, from Australia. We were allowed to go to the top of the boat as well, but it was too chilly at least on the outgoing part of the trip. After about 45 minutes of slow boat travel, we were nearing the reed islands–the Uros, and other reed islands. These islands are literally made from the tortora reeds surrounding the area. Thus, the slow-going boat ride at the beginning of the trip. The reeds provide the island, the building supplies for homes, the souvenirs, and are even edible. Not that tasty, but not bad taste either, really. The islands were originally created so the Uros people could escape Inkan invaders coming into the area. Clever. As the reeds disintegrate, they add more reeds to the top of the islands.

As we sat on a reed “bench”, listening to the history of the islands, I snapped photos around, in front of, and behind me. There was some funny bird making all kinds of squawking noise from the door of its reed bird-house. Other tourists and island natives climbed the reed towers. Some got on the reed boats, others walked around, and several of the Uros people set up their “tiendas”, where they sat and waited for the tourists to be done listening to the talk, so we could buy.

One lady was winking at me, while sitting at her spot, embroidering. I smiled at her, and waved. She was smart. Pretty soon she came and sat next to Jo Ann, and non-verbally engaged both Jo Ann and me (I was sitting to Jo Ann’s left) in her work. Later we found out her name is Celia. When we were free to explore, Jim went to climb up one of the reed towers, while Jo Ann and I went to look at Celia’s handiwork. We talked with her, asking her about her work, and finally each of us bought a pillowcase. I had a hard time choosing between an embroidered picture of a lady cooking fish, or an embroidered picture of the interesting birds and the reeds. I asked her if the lady in the first one was her, and she said yes. Then I asked her which pillowcase she liked better, the one of her cooking, or the one of the bird and reeds. She said the first one, so that’s the one I bought.

Jo Ann and I climbed the reed tower, for a view of the island. Jim and New Zealand were trying to find guinea pigs. Then we also got our turn on a reed boat, and Jim and I got to help row. It was a tourist trap… even the boat ride. Three kids accompanied us on the boat, with their father. Two of them rowed until we helped them, then they let the tourists do most of it. But then the older kid broke out into song, singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. Cute. Several of us began singing with them. Then the kids sang in their native language, and afterwards, asked for money for the singing. Yes, a tourist trap. And yet, somehow I wasn’t highly offended. We laughed about it. But perhaps I wasn’t so offended because in the short time that I had been on that island, I wanted to know more.. more of the people, more about Celia, I wanted to watch her work, I wanted to hear stories and find out how it is to live on that reed island for years. And I wouldn’t mind learning how to make one of those reed boats either.

After the reed islands, we got back on our boat and motored out to Taquile Island, about two or more hours from Puno. Taquile has beauty, no doubt. Architecture, culture, animals, a hike up the hill to the top of the island, a weaving cultural center, and even a restaurant or two. Good food. On the way back down the island to the boat, we walked down 500 + steps to the harbor. Along the way, along the whole island, we were faced with more vendors asking us to buy little things. And more smiles. And more sheep, cows, but no llamas. (Sadly. Although two little boys did tell me that there are llamas on the island.) Now that I’m writing about Taquile, I am realizing how much I did like Taquile as well, though Uros was clearly my favorite.

Again, beyond seeing new sites, and having new experiences in a different country, one of the joys of that day was getting to know other travelers. Sandra, New Zealand couples, the couple who lives in Nicaragua, the Californians, the captain of our boat, Sandra’s Peruvian guide…

Have I mentioned that I love traveling?