Friday, August 8, 2014
Insomnia has its positives and negatives. The negative part is easy to understand and needs no explanation. On the positive side, I get a lot of work done in the middle of the night. I also get to see some spectacular moonrises at 3:30 AM when everyone else is sleeping.
We really did not want to leave Puno. Our hotel room was the nicest one yet. There was a big full bed for Genene and a king for Greg and me. There was a small fireplace in the room and a huge hot tub in the bathroom. It was bliss. However, we had plans to see Lake Titicaca, so we enjoyed the room for the little time we had there.
Greg admires the views of Lake Titicaca and Puno from our window:
Departure time was 7:05 AM, and the boat would pick us up at the hotel’s private pier. The hotel staff carried all our heavy bags and loaded them on the top of the boat. We walked down the pier with our daypacks:
It held 24 passengers inside, and the luggage rode up top. I’m not a very good sailor, and I kept my eye on the horizon at first. I should not have worried. The lake was like glass, and I had no trouble on this day.
Some views from inside the cabin:
We met a very nice family in the seats behind us. Everyone was headed to the same destination, Suasi Island. We struck up a conversation with them and shared sunscreen and candies. Bob and Cynthia and their kids Malia (15) and Jonathan (12) were from California. They have an older daughter who is going to meet them back in Cusco, where there will be a very happy family reunion. Both of the kids were a bit older than Genene, but she soon attached herself to them anyway. Anything to get away from her boring parents! It was good to hear them giggling and comparing notes about school, computer games and other good kid stuff.
Our guide Gilbert explaned that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet above sea level. The lake covers 3,340 square miles and at its deepest is 925 feet. It holds about 3 percent of the world’s fresh water. The lake borders with Bolivia. He gave the presentation in English and in Spanish.
Our first stop was at the famous floating Uros Islands. The people of this area have built and lived upon the floating islands made by reeds since pre-Inca times. We got a presentation from the “President” of the island. Every president serves for a year, and both men and women serve as president. The island we visited was probably smaller than a football field. There were several houses, and about 35 people live there.
I took a few candid shots of the people as we sat and listened to the presentation:
The President explained how the island is built, and Gilbert translated into Spanish and English. The base of the island is a giant sod root ball, which must be acquired from a site 6 miles away. It’s hauled into place by motor boat. The sod ball floats like a cork because it is comprised of 80% roots and organic matter, 10% soil and 10% gases.
The sod must be cut into manageable sizes for the journey: 30 feet long by 15 feet wide by 6 feet thick.
Once in place, the sod segments are tied together with rope. In olden days the rope would have been made from reeds or other organic material. Now it is made from nylon. Because the root is still alive, it will grow and bind back together within six months. Reeds are planted to help bind the root ball together.
The President dug a small hole with his hands to show us the soft, wet rootball under the reeds:
At the end of the presentation, the President asked us what else would be “needed” on this island. We shouted out various answers: food? water? money? schools? No, no, no, no. None of these was the correct answer. Finally, one of the men said, “Anchor?” Of course! A man-made floating reed island needs an anchor or it will float away. The President and our guide demonstrated how the island is anchored to the lake floor, and the anchor ropes are weighed down with rocks so that the boats can pass over:
The people speak Aymara (not Quechua). Most are Catholic, although the Seventh Day Adventists coverted at least one island and built a school there. There are between 55 and 70 floating islands. Their numbers are actually on the upswing, mostly due to income potential from tourism. An island will last about 30 years, after which the residents set it on fire and build another in its place.
The white-stalk end of the reed is edible, and we all got a taste. They were very moist and refreshing and about the consistency of celery with a slight cucumber taste.
The reeds are also broken open and used as cold compresses.
They are also used for handwashing.
Best of all, when you are finished, just toss it down on the ground. It’s part of the island.
The president showed the various reed boats that are used for fishing and transportation.
They loved to joke about the one called the “Mercedes Benz.”
The real Mercedes Benz reed boats are made with 2,000 plastic water bottles inside, the ultimate in recycling.
The president showed us his duck gun and success from the morning hunt:
After the demonstration, we were split into groups and taken into different huts. Our hostess immediately began showing us her work, simple tapestries. I found something I liked and asked her the cost. She took her fingernail and scratched the number onto her other hand. I bargained a bit, and it was mine. I’m not sure what I am going to do with all the things I have bought on this trip.
We are inside the hut getting the sales pitch:
Our guide asked if we wanted to take a ride in one of the reed boats. Of course, everyone did. For the price of 10 soles ($3.50) each, we piled into the reed boat, and an old man sent us gliding along in the reeds and shallow waters of Lake Titicaca, using a long pole for propulsion.
Our reed boat “driver” had an interesting, rugged face:
The ferry met us in the middle of the water and picked us up, and so we were off again.
We motored along for another hour or so until we got to the island of Taquile. The people came down to meet us at the gate and give a traditional greeting:
The people of Taquile Island are known for their textiles. The intricate weaving and knitting is done by both men and women, and they maintain the cooperative lifestyle of their ancestors. The island is still run today by the ancient Inca moral code: “Ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla.” (“Don’t be lazy. Don’t steal. Don’t lie.”) Not a bad code for any society.
We got a demonstration on their weaving techniques. Married people wear a marriage belt (see below), which attaches two different types of weaving. The hard belt (black and white) is made by the men, while the fine weaving of the softer belt is made by the women. The belt also serves a useful function. The people must carry a lot of heavy items long distances, and the belt serves as a back support. It is cinched low and tight across the lumbar.
They showed us other native plants used in their daily living. Genene particularly loved the smell of the Andean mint, which is rubbed between your hands to release the oils and then sniffed to clear the head and help with sinus problems, altitude sickness, etc.
We got a music show. These men and boys will never make American Idol, but the performance was musical, heartfelt, entertaining and interesting.
They showed us their garden tools. They called this the “Andean tractor.” It looks like a hand plow to me.
This is a sod buster.
The ladies continued to weave.
Of course, they wanted to sell us their wares, which were carefully laid out:
I wanted one of the calendars, but I saw only one, and the price was too high. For once, I paid attention and got lucky. A lady wandered up late and began unwrapping her wares. I went directly to her and found a Taquile calendar. Her price was reasonable, and it was mine! More stuff!
Greg wanted a chullo, the traditional Peruvian wool hat you see with the ear flaps. In the end, he wouldn’t pay the price for it. Probably a wise choice anyway. How often do you get to wear a big woolen cap in Houston?
This lady flashed me a winning smile just before we left:
After the second stop, we had another 90 minutes or so to get to the hotel on the island. I think everyone on the boat except the skipper went to sleep.
We arrived at Suasi Island about 12:45 PM and docked. Suasi Island is a private 106-acre island on Lake Titicaca. There is only one hotel on the island, the Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel. It has only 45 rooms and is designed and built with local materials, such as stone, adobe and tiles. Terraced gardens overlook the lake. It is a beautiful, serene place.
We were met by the hotel guide and told the walk to our hotel would take about 10 minutes, and the trail went straight up the hill. That was a wake-up. They used four-wheelers and trailers to haul all our gear up, so at least our load was light. We were all huffing and puffing.
Lunch was barbeque and buffet. We all had the alpaca, and it was tender and delicious.
After lunch, the kids found the game room and were soon laughing away as they played foosball and pool. Genene needs some pool lessons from her Uncle Alan, who used to be quite the shark in his day. She would not take any advice from us, as usual.
We took a quick rest and then met the guide for a walk to the top of the island for sunset.
Before dinner, we sat in the main lobby area and shared riddles and jokes with Bob, Cynthia, Malia and Jonathan. One of the great things about traveling is making new friends. Dinner was buffet-style at the hotel. Genene still does not like the quinoa, but we found plenty of things to love on the table anyway.
The hotel is an ecolodge, which means it has a low environmental impact. The hotel was solar powered, and there was no heat in the rooms. There were fireplaces in the common areas. Everyone in the hotel charged their iPhones and electronics at one big charging station in the lobby. There were not-very-bright lights in the rooms, but the solar powered electricity went completely off after a certain hour. We had a candle in our room for light in the middle of the night. It was rustic and charming and cold! We had heavy, fine bed linens, and they tucked a hot water bottle into the bed. It was too cold to sit around in the room but toasty warm in the bed, so after dinner we all climbed under the covers and turned out the lights at 9:00 PM. It had been a long day filled with a lot of travel. Getting to Lake Titicaca and the islands was not easy. However, I am pleased that we included them in our itinerary. I found the people of the Uros floating islands and Taquile Island fascinating, like a living museum. It was worth the effort to visit this beautiful place.