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I highly recommend a trip to Lake Titicaca. Not only is it absolutely beautiful, but you will also learn so much about the indigenous way of life and gain a new perspective of Peru! The best way to see the Lake is on a 2 day tour. These can be arranged in the big cities such as Copablanca and Puno or you can arrange them prior to arriving with companies such as Gadventures and Intrepid. I chose to do a trip combining the Lares trek with a trip to Lake Titicaca with Gadventures and it was a well organised, interesting and informative trip with fun and engaged guides.
Floating Islands of Uros
Our trip first took us to the floating island village of Uros. Life here is fascinating. The islands are literally floating on the lake made out of blocks of peat and layered with river reeds. If you jump up and down, water actually seeps up over your feet and you can feel the island wobble! Each island has a few huts and is shared by several members of extended family. Neighbours are reached with boats also made of river reeds and if conditions become unfavourable, the island can be moved at any given point and re-anchored else where! So no problems with nightmare neighbours! Cooking is done in big clay pots over an open fire which is obviously a considerable fire hazard given the make up of the island. They chew reeds which have some nutrition and fluid in them as well as catch fish and eat duck eggs and ducks that they shoot with home-made rifles. They then exchange some of their wares at rural markets on other islands and mainland in order to get vegetables and supplies for cooking. I also wondered where they went to the toilet – turns out the answer is in the lake – nice! Glad we didn’t go swimming…
The friendly local island inhabitants took great pleasure in dressing us up in their colourful clothes and then taking us for a boat ride in their reed boat which was great fun, if a little touristy. You will also be encouraged to buy their hand made jewellery and tapestries but if you’re feeling a little skint you will also find bracelets and necklaces which are very cheap.
Our next stop was Taquile Island. After a VERY steep half hour walk top to the village which had us all incredibly breathless due to the altitude, we went for lunch at a local restaurant. The food was great and here, after admiring the beautiful views of the lake from above, we were given a talk about island life. These are some of the fascinating facts I learnt:
- People are not truly considered part of the society until they are married! Therefore they are not welcome at local celebrations and ceremonies until they tie the knot!
- Whilst many will meet their future partners at school, others will host secret parties and typical flirting involves the men throwing a stone at the ground near the girl they like and then flashing a torchlight at them in the dark! Mind you, might beat some of the chat up lines I’ve had in the past..!
- Once married, the women will wear red and black to show they are taken. Unmarried women will wear bright coloured skirts but also hide their faces with a black shawl. Unmarried men must wear white and red hats.
- Once a couple get together, they will stay living with one of their sets of parents for a few years. In this time if they change their minds they can move on to a different partner unless the girl get’s pregnant. Sex before marriage is not frowned upon in this culture but if the girl gets pregnant they must marry.
- Once married there will be no divorce. Though it is legal, the society would shun the couple involved.
- Prior to marriage, the girls will grow their hair as long as possible. They use fermented urine as a conditioner! They believe it stops hair going grey in old age! Personally I’ll stick to herbal essences!
- Once married, the women will cut their long hair off. This is to give to their husbands to make a belt which the husbands will wear every day for the rest of their lives. The husbands make the main belt and the wives will make the more decorative woven fabric to cover it.
- The most unusual fact for me was that during the wedding ceremony, only the guests can celebrate not the couple. It goes on for 3 days and they must just observe. They will not be allowed to join in the dancing and drinking!
Home stay at Luquina
Our final stop was Luquina for our homestays. Sadly the storms had rolled in so afternoon activities of playing football with the children and learning the local dances were on hold but we got to the houses where we would be staying before it started to pour down and could watch the thunder and lighting from our rooms which were actually really nice albeit freezing cold! We appreciated the many blankets they provided! Each homestay will accommodate 2-3 people. We joined the family for dinner and communicated with a mixture of very poor Spanish, the odd English word (the children had learnt a little at school) and a whole lot of miming, pointing and showing photos! But we learned that Blanca had 4 children 3 of whom we met but the eldest was in Puno studying at university. The younger children 7, 9 and 13 all hoped to go to uni one day as well. School was close by for the little ones but the secondary school was 6km away so it was a long day for the older children! We were well looked after with some good warming soup followed by a potato and rice stew after which we played with their 5 month old puppy.
In the morning we were joined for breakfast by the 2 year old twins from next door who were great fun to play with and enjoyed lots of cuddles (mostly as they were afraid of Tarzan the dog!) We were then invited to join Blanca with her farming duties (though I misunderstood and thought she was asking if I had sheep at home?! “No, no sheep” Oops!) It soon became apparent when I was catching sheep with my bare hands and herding them to the appropriate fields. I wish I’d realised what we were about to do so I didn’t take my camera and water bottle – far too much sheep poo! But it was a fun experience. We also helped with the pigs, cows and helped them organised the fish the men had caught that morning. After this we had some free time where we had opted to hire some kayaks which gave us a great opportunity to explore the lake a bit more before heading back to our homesteads for our last lunch and then some dancing (we got dressed up again!) Then it was a fond farewell to our families before we headed back to Puno.
I highly recommend doing atleast one homestay. Though it can be daunting staying with a family when you don’t know much of the local lingo, it is a fantastic experience of real life on Lake Titicaca and not one to be missed. It’s also a massive help to the local communities and through this program they have been able to expand their farms and now have proper bathroom facilities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Have you visited Lake Titicaca or are you planning a trip there? As usual, I’d love to hear from you, please comment below! If you’d like more tips for travelling South America, you may enjoy this article too : 20 Top Tips for Travel in South America