Peru: Lake Titicaca

We woke up in Puno today, on lake Titicaca – the highest lake in the
world.  Our hotel sits right on the lake and from our window we saw
the lake, the reeds, and the mountains on the Bolivian side.  We
embarked on a motor boat for a trip to some of the islands.  The first
one, Uros, was not one but a colony of man-made islands lined up in a
huge 0.  The islands themselves, the houses, and the boats were all
made of reeds.  Once upon a time, the islands had to be anchored in place
because the wind used to move them across the lake to different
locations.  The inhabitants of these reed islands are mostly fishermen
but in the last 10 years tourism became their second biggest industry.
Stocky women in brightly colored skirts with several layers of
petticoats, just as brightly colored embroidered jackets,
local variations on top hats, and colorful pompoms in their black
braids, greeted us at the peer.  We were invited to visit one of the reed huts – a one room dwelling in which half of the floor was taken by a mattress covered with a decorative blanket, the brightly-colored women’s clothes hanging on the walls, and, to make it all so more surreal, a tiny TV set in a corner.  We took a reed boat shaped like a Viking vessel complete with an animal head and a tail on either end.
The whole place looked like a set from a Hollywood movie, except it
was very real!  As we were leaving, we saw the locals converging in
their boats onto one of the islands for a community meeting with a
mayor.
The next island was Taquile.  If the first island was the stuff of
science fiction, this one was as close as you can get to going back in
time.  The inhabitants of this island have maintained the same
lifestyle from, it seems, prehistoric times.  They live in unadorned mud-n-brick houses with tiny windows growing basic crops and raising sheep.  As simple as their houses are, the people stand
out like bright spots against the brown background.  The women wear
the same bright skirts with multiple petticoats as the Uros women, but
instead of the bright jackets they wear black shawls adorned with
multi-colored pompoms.  Unmarried women have big pompoms, and the
married womens´ pompoms shrink.  The men wear hats they have to knit
themselves, otherwise no woman is going to marry them.  Married men
wear red hats with blue design, and single men’s hats are red and
white.  Now here is the significance of these hats: if a man is not
interested in finding a mate, his pompom is in the back, if he is
looking, the pompom moves to the left, if he has a permanent
girlfriend, the pompom is flipped to the right.  That is cheaper than
buying a diamond ring, huh?
The island itself, austere as it is, has an understated beauty owing
to its architecturally minimalist topography.  Terraced fields line
the hills descending into the lake, 525 stone steps lead to the top of
the mountain and into the main square, there are stone walls
separating the farmhouses, and the mountains behind them.
Ascending those 525 steps was a bit of a challenge, at least for me,
the altitude is definitely making an impact.  I was huffing and
puffing and had to stop to catch my breath every ten steps.  We all
have some degree of a headache and are very thirsty.  Yesterday at
dinner we all sported blue lips and bluish nails.  Some of us feel
some nausea once in a while, but overall the pills are working.
Tomorrow we are heading to Cuzco which is some 1000 feet lower, so we
should start breathing easier.  Until then,

Hasta la vista

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