|Lake Titicaca is shared by both
Peru and Bolivia and the countries are both in constant debate as to who owns
the better half. Bolivians, occupying the southwestern part of the lake, often
like to joke that they have the "titi". While the Peruvians (northeastern side)
have been left with the "caca". (I actually found the best "titi'" in Cuzco : ]
). While the Bolivians may have a point with their tranquil Isla Del Sol,
Peruvians can certainly claim that the grass is neither greener nor the water
any bluer on the other side as they also boast several destinations of equal
The city of Puno lies on the western half of the lake and is
Titicaca's biggest port. At 3,830 m. (12,650 ft.), both the cold weather and
altitude can make things a little uncomfortable for the traveler in Puno.
Still, the city is a popular destination as it is the gateway to several
popular sites; the Incan ruins of Sillustani, the Uros floating islands and the
Islands of Taquile and Amantani.
Above: On the floating Uros
Islands - constructed of reed.
Above: Locals sporting their renowned hats on Taquile
|Lake Titicaca is the largest lake
in South America and the world's largest lake over 2,000 m. At 8,300 sq. km, it
is the 20th largest lake in the world and the 9th largest lake in the western
hemisphere. It is not however, contrary to popular belief (and much to the
disappointment to yours truly), the highest navigable lake in the world. The
Andes in fact has many navigable lakes higher than this such as Lake Junin -
just north of Titicaca.
When I first arrived in Puno via a seven hour bus ride from Cuzco, it
seemed as though the Bolivian prophecy was true. The city did not seem too
appealing at first and neither did the nearby Juliaca which our bus had stopped
in. After settling into a hostel though, I soon found Puno to be quite a
pleasant and vibrant place. The pedestrian mall on Lima Street, which runs from
the cities Plaza de Armas, is filled with restaurants, shops and color. Puno is
also an excellent place to catch some traditional Andean music, aptly named
música del viento (music of the wind) for it's use of pipes and flutes -
as almost every restaurant in town parades a local band.
|I had also found myself a new
traveling partner in a Spanish woman named Christina who I had met on the bus.
We booked ourselves a tour for 30 sols (about $8) on a boat to both the Uros
and Taquile Island. Generally, I despise guided tours however this seemed a
reasonable enough of a bargain.
The first stop were the Uros Islands.
The most incredible thing about the Uros is that these islands aren't really
islands at all - they are floating! The Uros inhabitants use the abundant
totora reeds to construct everything from houses to boats to baskets to the
islands themselves! As the islands are made of layers of reeds, walking on them
is a very unusual, if not squishy experience. Unfortunately the true
blooded Uros people, who supposedly had black colored blood to withstand
Titicaca's extreme temperatures, have long since departed due to intermarriage
with Aymara and Quechua speaking Indians. The current inhabitants still live on
the islands though, earning a living from fishing and tourism.
Above: christina and
I on a dragon headed reed boat.
Above: one of the Chullpas
(funeral towers) at Sillustani, lies on a peninsula in the middle of Lake
|The next stop was Taquile Island.
This was a little harder to get to as it was located some ways offshore and
required a three hour boat ride to get to. The first thing you notice about the
inhabitants of Taquile Island are the cute wooly hats the men wear. The fact is
that these hats actually symbolize the male's marriage status. Red means
married while red and white means single. I was wondering what my brown leather
head might symbolize....
While the city of Puno, founded in 1668 as a Spanish silver mine
lacks Cuzco immediate captivation; it is by no means a dull place. I spent
three nights in Puno: two on my way from Cuzco to Bolivia and another on the
return trip. Not only does the city have several key attractions but it is also
a certain destination for anyone traveling between Peru and Bolivia. For this
reason, it is a bustling and vibrant place full of color, culture and many
excellent restaurants. One of these was the Ollantay Pizzeria where I was able
to jam (ok pose for a picture with) on the charango with an excellent local
band, Jach'a Inti. I had some good times with the nightlife in Puno as
well, having met some locals in a bar who showed me the local discotheque - the
salsa influenced Dominos.
|The Incas believed that their
capital city Cuzco was the center of Tahuantinsuyu, or the four corners
of the world. To the north, close to the Ecuadorian border, was
Chinchaysuyu. The eastern Amazonian Basin was Antisuyu and west
of Cuzco lay Contisuyu. The southern corner of the world was
Collaysu - aka Lake Titicaca. Collaysu was named after the Colla tribe
who controlled the Lake Titicaca region before merging with their rival
neighbors the Lupaca to join the Incan Empire.
The Aymara speaking Colla left several
famous burial sights - huge lofty stone funerary towers, or Chullapas. The most
famous and well preserved of these are located on a peninsula on the Lake Umayo
- about an hours drive west of Lake Titicaca. This site is known as Sillustani
and the ruins, along with the accompanying background lake. Sillustani wound up
being the last major thing I did on my trip before catching the plane from
Juliaca to Lima - where I spent one last night with Jenny and back before
Above: Jamming on the charango with
Jach'a Inti in Puno