Visiting the islands of Lake Titikaka

Puno Travel Blog

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Sunset over Lake Titikaka from Amantani

Another nice early start to get the pickup to go to the harbour. As always, it seems, we were first to be picked up (this may have something to do with us tending to stay a little bit out of the centre of each of the towns).


As our group of about 25 boarded the boat, we were asked our nationalities. As expected, a nice cosmopolitan bunch including France, Italy, Holland, Spain, Japan, Korea (South obviously), Canada, England, Ireland and Peru.

The island folk of Urus


Our first stop, after about an hour of the boat idling along was the floating islands of Urus. This is a collection of islands which are built on grass sod, on which layer upon layer of reeds are places. Every week another layer is added. People have lived like this for thousands of years and it looks like very little has changed. The one exception is the beautiful reed boats which are now only used to ferry tourists between the islands. This is understandable though, as they take 7 people a month to build and last for a year and a half. It is a rather strange sensation walking on a mat of reeds about 1 metre thick above about 20m of water.


These people open their homes to tourists as they have realised that in order to survive, tourism provides a useful source of income. As you can imagine, living on water, rheumatism takes its toll on people anywhere over about 45.

Could you live like this?
Much of the money earned by tourism is used to fun healthcare.


The tour itself, for 2 days, is extremely cheap. As a result, they expect you to spend some cash on the goods produced by the island people. I think it is a nice way of doing it as if the tour had been expensive, many people would have spent far less on the actual people living there.  You actually feel good about giving the families some money for the things that they have made as you are shown the goods by the people who made them.


On the crossing between 2 of the islands in the reed boat, the oarsman chatted a bit about the history and again asked where people were from. Impressively, he knew a few phrases in German, French, Japanese and was clearly conversant in English. He also speaks Spanish, Quechua and another local language. Quechua is the language that was used by the Incas and is prevalent in many parts of South America still, but particularly in the mountain regions of southern Peru.

Silly hats are cool


From there is was on to the island of Amantani, where we would be spending an evening with a local family. The island is the biggest on the Peruvian side of the lake (with Isla del Sol being the largest, but Bolivian).


The journey was freezing as we were sitting outside. Even though there was bright sunshine for most of the way, a cold wind blowing off the 9 degree water had us wrapped up like we were in the arctic circle.


Amantani has about 2,000 inhabitants spread across 3 villages (north, east and west).

Mama P
We were on the east side of the island. We were made to split into groups of 2 or 3 and then allocated to the families who had come to meet the boat at the little jetty. Kat and I were placed with a family (Eduardo and Pesaro – a bit shaky on her name here, from hereon “P”). P was about 5 foot tall, coming up to the lower part of Kat and my chests. And almost as wide as she was tall. A real little pocket battleship, with a huge, beaming smile.


The women on the island dress beautifully and are unusual in that, instead of a hat, they wear a long shawl draped over their forehead, that trails behind them like a cape. Their shirts, skirts and shawls are all ornately decorated.


There was clearly not going to be much in the way of talking as they spoke Quechua and Spanish and we spoke only a little Spanish.

Elves, you can find them everywhere
P prepared us a “little” lunch of soup (of vegetables and quinua – a local cereal grain), which was delicious and then a second course of rice, potatoes and a type of meat which I assume was guinea pig (“cuy” here). Looks like chicken, tastes a bit more wild though and is a bit squeaky when you bite into it.


P found our names quite funny as 2 of their neighbours have the “same” names as us, i.e. Antonio and Catalina.


Following lunch was a walk up the mountain. There are 2 peaks on Amantani which are used as sacred sites for worship. The south peak is for Pachamama (mother earth) who is responsible for earth, air and water, and is a frequent face in local art and embroidery. The north, which we climbed, is for Pachatata (earth father), responsible for the sun. The summit is at 4,130m, so a climb of about 200m in 1,5km. Actually very tiring at this altitude, but more good practice.

La Familia - guess who the Godfather is....
The sunset over lake Titikaka (which means Puma Stone) was stunning.


We made our way back down the rough path in the dark, thankfully with the aid of a flashlight that I had brought along.


Time for more food. This time, instead of eating alone, we are with the family. Huddled in the kitchen (about 4m x 2.5m) were us, Eduardo & P, their son and 2 daughters. At one end was the cooking fire and the other, the door. We had another soup to start, this time noodles and vegetables, followed by rice and a stew of beans and many different types of root vegetables. Both were delicious, despite us almost crying from the smoke in the tiny room.


The cool thing out here is that, whereas in towns you get tea (mate – pronounced “mah-tey”) made from tea bags, here you get mate made from the plants themselves. Muna (the “n” has a line on top (that I can’t find) so pronounced “ny”, hence “Moon-ya”) is picked fresh from the field next to the house and dropped in boiling water for our mate. Delicious.


During the walk we had been told that there would be a little party that evening and we could attend, but it was voluntary. This really turned out to be the highlight of the day as we got dressed up in traditional clothing and taken to their communal hall. I think I got off lightly, only having to wear a poncho and silly hat (I do that on a slow day anyway), while Kat had to put on 2 layers of skirts, an embroidered shirt, a wide garter-like belt and a long shawl – all as worn by the local women.


On to the local community hall where a couple of the local guys were playing some traditional music for us, on drum, pan flute and small guitar. (On an aside, if I never hear pan flute music again it will be too soon – it’s everywhere here, you can’t get away from it.)


We bought our family a couple of beers (Cuscena) which went down well. And then it was time for dancing. Once dance really takes it out of you and Eduardo and P had Kat and I on the dance floor quite a bit. A good laugh. The dancing involves quite a bit of spinning, which certainly helps the feeling of light headedness already in place from the altitude.


When the band finished we headed back home for a good nights rest. This was certainly a day that we will remember. A bit twilight zone at times, but also humbling and satisfying. We felt a little like the tv show – Anthony Bourdain, No Limits where he goes to stay with different families in little villages in Asia. You are not quite sure what everything means, but it is still a lot of fun.

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Sunset over Lake Titikaka from Ama…
Sunset over Lake Titikaka from Am…
The island folk of Urus
The island folk of Urus
Could you live like this?
Could you live like this?
Silly hats are cool
Silly hats are cool
Mama P
Mama P
Elves, you can find them everywhere
Elves, you can find them everywhere
La Familia - guess who the Godfath…
La Familia - guess who the Godfat…
photo by: lrecht