Lake Titicaca: A Personal Experience

The morning we left for Titicaca, we started on a bus to Puno Bay to board the launch for a cruise on the lake and to Amantani Island for overnight. The bus was full of young and serious backpackers, plus Emily with her duffle bag containing her bare essentials and I with my red carry-on luggage with all my belongings. When we arrived, I saw the launch.

Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruExcept it wasn’t "the" launch. Ours was docked four launches away and to board it we had to walk over the first three! Emily tiptoed with her duffle bag while I stood with my red luggage feeling like the Queen of Sheba without an entourage! Fortunately, one of the guys noticed my dilemma. He grabbed my suitcase with one hand, and jumped from launch to launch. Once all aboard, the excursion began.

Several days before our trip, the Peruvian newspaper, El Comercio, had published an article about contamination in the lake that was turning parts of it green and made it look like a golf course. I wondered whether it was worth going. I was afraid of being disappointed, but I went anyway and took these pictures right after we were pulling off the dock.

Sewage water is one of the contributors to the pollution of the lake and what we saw were tiny water lentils that feed off the waste. They are in itself a double edged-sword, as they not only constitute a health hazard but their removal, at a rate of 800,000 tons a year, is a costly expense. I think these lentils mainly concentrate in Puno Bay. I didn’t notice them as we went further out. Let’s hope a solution is found soon because as Mr. Alberto Giesecke, of Peru’s Environment Ministry, said in an interview with El Comercio, "Without sewage treatment facilities, this lake is doomed."
Uros Islands

Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruLake Titicaca, Puno, Peru

Have you ever thought of buying an island but couldn’t afford it? Build one then! The floating Islands of Uros are built using one component, the totora that grows abundantly in the lake. The bottom layer consists of a pack of totora roots that is the floating device that supports the island. A layer of totora reeds are placed next and the houses are built on top. The reeds are so manageable that they are used to build homes, to manufacture furniture, construct different artifactsLake Titicaca, Puno, Peru and vehicles of transportation, such as this particular raft, that took a month to build, and took us for a ride.

We also learned that as the totora reeds deteriorate, they form an organic matter used as fertilizer and cultivation. The base of the totora reed can also be peeled and eaten.

These floating islands are anchored to the bottom of the lake to keep them in place. I noticed that the lake wasn’t that deep where we were at, as our Captain was actually reaching the bottom with a long pole and pushing the raft.

Amantani Island

I don’t know why I thought that Amantani was flat. Wrong again!
Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruThe arch in this picture points the entrance to the village. Halfway up, I took this picture of the lake below to show how far up we had gone, but were still not near the entrance.

As there are no hotels on the island, accommodations are provided in private homes. We had been assigned bedrooms at different homes. In our case, we were four, and the house had two guest rooms. On arrival, our hosts and hostesses were waiting for us to guide us to their homes. Our host and the four of us proceeded up the hill. The men climbed at ready pace while we stopped along the way. We finally arrived at the house.

Once inside, we walked upstairs to our bedrooms. Ours was the one on the left and the guys’ room on the right (we never knew what was behind the door in the middle). It was a spotless room that looked to us like a 5-star hotel room.

Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruAmantani has a population of about 800 families. Ours was a family of five: a husband, wife, their daughter, son and grandson. It’s not surprising that being a relatively small community; they all know each other and help each other. Our host told us that his neighbors helped him build his house. The community is dedicated to livestock and agriculture. They eat what they grow, one of them being quinoa (a grain highly regarded for its nutritional value), and that was what we were served for lunch.

The dining and kitchen areas are in a one-story structure adjacent to the building where our bedrooms were. PHOTO The dining area was furnished with a rectangular table that can comfortably accommodate six. To the right of it was the cooking area. I am almost positive that they cooked over coals and if I am correct, they did have a very good exhaust system, as there was no evidence of smoke.

Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruThey had reserved the table for us, while they ate in the cooking area. The building to the left of him, is their living quarters. The corridor between the two buildings, leads to the restroom facility which brings me to the next subject. It is a well designed home, but lacks two features: There is no running water or electricity.

Two activities were planned for the remaining of the day. It was Sunday, May 31, and the village was celebrating Pentecost that afternoon atop the mountain. In the evening, there was a "fiesta" at the meeting hall.

After lunch, we started up the mountain to Pentecost. Maybe we had completed about one fourth of the journey when we came across the stadium and Emily said that she was not going any further. She was going to wait right there. Across from it, I saw an arch. I suggested that rather than staying there maybe we should walk up to the arch and take a look. Reluctantly, she agreed. There we found a French couple and a Dutch family.

It was 4:15 p.m. and we took bets on the time the sun would set. It started at 5:30 p.m. (Nobody won.) We all stuck around until the sun disappeared behind the horizon. As soon as it did, we all said good bye and each of us started on our way back home.

Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruEmily and I made it safely to the stadium and continued part of the way until we weren’t sure of where to go. You see, the paths are inconspicuous and not well defined, especially when it is getting dark. There were no landmarks to go by. I mean, there was no way that we could tell the difference between one stone and the other! No panic, though. It wasn’t THAT dark yet. We continued on until, all of a sudden, a young man appeared. Calmly, I asked him if he could help us. At that point I realized that I didn’t know the name of the family and couldn’t tell him anymore than we wanted to go to an adobe house located sort of like "over there". I explained that we were staying with a man and his wife, daughter, son and grandson. He said, "Oh yes I know them. I’ll take you". On the way we found our host who was looking for us and the four of us walked down to the house.

Taquile Island

We left Amantani right after breakfast.

Lake Titicaca, Puno, PeruAs the launch was approaching Taquille, our guide enthusiastically announced that we should get ready for an exciting hike. There were 550 steps waiting for us to climb, at the end of which, we were going to be rewarded with lunch. After lunch we would descend another 550 steps to the other side where our launch would pick us up. Emily said that she wasn’t going. She was staying with the launch. I think pejerrey-fish was on the menu and as I don’t care much for it, I decided to do the same.
Another couple, a Korean father and son that were suffering from soroche, joined us. While waiting for the group, we delighted ourselves with the view, the tranquility of the lake and the realization that we were standing in the middle of one of the natural wonders of the world.

The group returned from lunch and we boarded the launch for the 3-hour cruise to Puno, but not until some guys jumped into the lake and went for a swim. We spent the night in Puno and returned to Lima the next day.