I have just returned from perhaps one of the most serenely beautiful places on earth I have ever been to. Lake Titicaca is a lake of 8,372 squared kilometres spanning the borders of Peru and Bolivia. This vast lake not only boasts the title of the highest navigable lake on earth at 3,812 meters, but is also home to the floating islands of Uros, the island of Amantaní, and that of Tanquille, all of which I explored.
The floating Islands of Uros were my first stop. These are a collection of islands a twenty minute boat ride from the city of Puno, made entirely out of reeds. They are anchored to the riverbed so as not to float around, however when residents decide they would like to move and live in a different area of the lake, they simply pull the anchors up and float until satisfied. It’s a simple life where the women spend their days making cloths to sell to both locals and tourists alike, and the men fish and shoot birds from the sky to eat with the cooked reeds. With a staggeringly low pollution rate of only 0.2%, the fish from the lake are arguably some of the healthiest on the planet. After a couple of hours exploring the tiny island and seeing how the locals live, it was time to jump back on the boat.
Two hours sailing into the middle of Lake Titicaca brought us to my favourite of the islands we visited, Amantaní. On this island I was fortunate enough to stay with a local family in a homestay. I was welcomed into the home of Madeline and her family consisting of her husband and 4 year-old son. Their house was basic without any electricity or running water (there is none on the entire island) but incredibly beautiful. They took pride in the woven fabrics that decorated the entire place, and even more in the delicious food they cooked for us. They spoke only Spanish and no English at all, which was perfect, it was like a 3 day Spanish lesson which I gladly welcomed. The island is miles from anywhere, so they eat a purely organic diet of quinoa, potatoes, vegetables and fish. With so few ingredients, what Madeline could do with the power of a few herbs and spices was just incredible, I would go as far as to say the lunch of quinoa and vegetable soup she cooked us was one of the best I have had in Peru.
Fuelled with a sizeable lunch, we headed to the mountain we would climb for sunset. Standing at 4,200 meters and in the middle of a lake exposed to all the elements, it made for a very cold climb indeed! However, the sheer beauty of the surroundings meant I barely noticed the plummeting temperature. For miles all you could see was farmland, flower gardens, and stonework comparable only to that of the incas in Cusco. Arches framed the path to the top at every corner, and occasionally locals would ride past on horseback carrying sacks of potatoes. As we reached the summit, we were rewarded with a view so beautiful it is difficult to articulate into words. Clear skies enabled a view of the entire lake as far as Bolivia, and the lack of wind meant the lake was a sheet of glass reflecting the setting sun, interrupted only by the odd island and mountain in the distance. The top of the mountain of Amantaní is traditionally where locals worship the sun once a year in a big fiesta, and legend has it if you walk around the fire pit three times in the direction of the sun and make a wish, it will come true. Naturally we tried it, for sake of tradition!
After watching the sunset and taking in the view, I was suddenly certain I would freeze before I reached the bottom, and so myself and a few Canadians I met on the hike up took refuge in the home of a local who invited us in for homemade hot chocolate. It was very much needed. However, the subsequent walk back to the house I was staying in proved rather difficult as, being the top geography student I am, I had used a donkey as a point of reference. Yes, a donkey. Unbelievably, donkeys move, and I therefore learnt the hard way that they are not a good point of reference! I eventually found my way back to the house and enjoyed a delicious dinner courtesy of Madeline, and got a very early night in the comfortable bed she had kindly given me for the night, under about 11 blankets.
The next morning, I awoke early to the smell of fresh pancakes and coffee, and the freshest of days after a heavy storm overnight. Heaven. After saying goodbye and thanking Madeline, we set off early on the boat three hours north to the island of Tanquille.
Tanquille is bigger than the other islands, yet much more sporadic. Few people live here so their houses are spread far, far apart, yet there is an incredible sense of community and locals walk for miles just to spend time at one another’s houses. There are no animals because the locals think they require too much food and maintenance, and there aren’t even pet dogs because the island is so safe. One interesting thing sets this island apart from the others, the fact that it is the men who do the weaving of the cloths, and the women who do the manual labour such as farming. It’s the only place in south America where this is the case… maybe men can knit afterall!
The people of these islands live a simple yet beautiful life, at one with nature. They do not worry about technology, or rushing through life. They do not compare their career to others because everyone does the same thing, and they are content with very little. It’s a beautiful thing if you think about it, to exist only on an island and not worry about the little things that so many of us stress about in the western world. My time at Lake Titicaca could not have come at a better time. After Finishing teaching in Arequipa, it was a welcome chance to destress and disconnect.