Taquile Island, in Lake Titicaca, Peru

Our first look at Taquile Island. You can see from the terraces that this is heavily farmed. It is early spring here, so planting is just starting.

Taquile (Spanish: Isla de Taquile; Quechua: Intika) is an island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca 45 km offshore from the city of Puno. About 2,200 people live on the island, which is 5.5 by 1.6 kilometres (3.4 by 1.0 mile) in size, with an area of 5.72 km2 (2.21 sq mi). The highest point of the island is 4,050 metres (13,287 feet) above sea level, so climbing to the top left me breathless! The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, speak Puno Quechua and Spanish. There are no cars and I didn’t even see a bicycle! Though, since the ground is so uneven and there are so many stairs, a bike might not be very helpful.

I took a boat on the all day excursion around Lake Titicaca. Mine is the farthest from the end. Notice how you have to walk over three other boats to get to the small dock.

In 2005, “Taquile and Its Textile Art” were honored by being proclaimed “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. It is the men who do the knitting, however. In fact, in order to marry, a man must make his own hat to prove he can weave and support his family.

The blue water looks clean, but pollution has been a real issue.

Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, some of the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, beginning in early boyhood. Women spin wool and use vegetables and minerals to dye the wool to be used by the community, however. Women are also the weavers of the Chumpis, the wide belts with woven designs worn by everyone in the community of Taquile. In preparation for marriage, a woman will weave a belt for her new husband that includes images of all the things they want for their lives together.

And now we start climbing to the top of the island. This is the highest I’ve ever been, and the air is THIN. I really wanted to grow a third lung. I made it to the top, but had to stop and catch my breath several times, hence the photos!

Taquileans are also known for having created an innovative, community-controlled sustainable tourism model, offering home stays, transportation, lodging for groups, cultural activities, local guides and restaurants. I’d like to stay a week here and see if I enjoyed the peace or went crazy! Ever since tourism started coming to Taquile in the seventies, the Taquileans slowly lost control over the mass day-tourism operated by non-Taquileans. Taquile community have their own Travel Agency Munay Taquile has been established to regain local control over tourism.

Lots of sheep as well as plants.

Taquileños run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla, (Quechua for “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”). The island is divided into six sectors for crop rotation purposes. The economy is based on fishing, terraced farming (mostly potatos), and tourist-generated income from the approximately 40,000 tourists who visit each year.

….and chickens.

The majority of the inhabitants of Taquile are Catholic. They adapted this religion, harmonizing Andean religion with the syncretic Christian culture. The mother earth (Pachamama), the principal Andean deity, directly controls harvesting and fertility; the island is home to four Apus, Andean mountaintop deities. People make several offerings to these deities each year, and they offer three coca leaves prior to each activity or trip. God is present throughout the year in the festivities. The two Catholic churches are in Centre and Huayllano; a Seventh-day Adventist church is located in Huayrapata.

Yeah, still climbing….see that guy in front of me, hidden behind the large sack? He passed me, carrying a load I’d have had trouble with a sea level. And the man had to be old enough to be my father. These folks are in good shape and have actually developed lungs that can take in much more oxygen. Many have barrel chests to accommodate the extra lung capacity. Color me jealous!

Taquile has a radio station and is equipped with generators. Islanders have elected to use solar panels to generate energy.

Flowers and trees on the Island include Kolle, the tree used to roof the houses and for firewood, the Cantuta flower (the national flower of Peru), the Chukjo (used as detergent), and Muña, used as natural medicines.

I thought this arch meant I was near the top. Not so.
These plots are worked by hand. There are not tractors, cars or motorbikes.

This arch wasn’t at the top, either. Still going up!
Finally! The town square!
You can tell by the red and white hat that this is a single man, heading off to hoe his garden. He was the only single man I saw.
…and the view from the top is almost worth the climb.
The church.
Want to know how far you are from home?
The sign says Men’s Weaving–Unisex. Yes, the men are the weavers here.
Inside, you can buy just about anything you want made of alpaca. We quickly learned that EVERYTHING is marked “Baby Alpaca” which is the highest quality wool. But you have to be careful. Some places mix synthetic fibers to make what the guides call “Maybe Alpaca.” But I honestly think the quality here was very high.
An example of the men’s colorful hat and wide belt.
Main Plaza
Married women wear black.
I wanted a photo of the boy, but he was very shy.

We follow our host to lunch..but wait! More climbing?

Lovely views from the spine of the island.
This leads to the port on the other side of the island. Our boat will meet us at the bottom after lunch. But we are warned there are about 350 steps down. NOW, you warm me?!?

Here’s our host for lunch. We’ll be eating in his back yard. You can tell he’s married by the fancy, colorful hat.
This photo is from the gate of our host’s property. What a site!

You’d think it was the ocean, right? We Lake Titicaca is about the size of Puerto Rico.
The tree in the back yard grew tumbo, a common Peruvian fruit I’d never heard of before I came here.
A nice canopy, good food and a view of the lake. What else could you as for?
These sisters from Canada were a hoot!
Quinoa soup is a common first course here–tasty and grown locally. This was also has some squash. I love it.
Here’s something you’ll see served often in Peruvian restaurants–trout. No, it’s not native to the area. In fact, this Smithsonian article explains how it got here: “The North American lake trout came to South America with the blessing of Uncle Sam in the 1930s. Peruvian and Bolivian officials at the time saw the lake as an economic opportunity, and they reached out to the U.S. government for help. The United States responded by sending M.C. James from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Fish Culture to Lake Titicaca.
James studied the area during the winter of 1935-36, a very short period, and then made a very consequential recommendation. He suggested—for reasons not clear today—stocking the lake with North American fish.
There were a small group from Japan, though they did speak some English. One of the women had these crazy nails!
After dinner we were served munia tea–a type of local mint. Though this was the first time I saw it, I heard a lot about this plant later. It discourages insects, so was used to help preserve both stored food and bodies!

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

You can see almost the entire island that we are going to by boat. The residents are waiting for us in their very colorful costumes.

As part of my day excursion on Lake Titicaca, Peru, I was honored to see the Floating Islands, a completely new concept to me. To this day, the Uros people maintain and live on these man-made islands, depending on the lake for their survival, and are a large tourist destination. Dragon Boat racing, an old tradition in Puno, the nearest city, is a very popular activity for tourists.

This is what they call their “fancy” taxi–the Mercedes Benz. It’s used mostly for tourists. They have small canoes for their own use.

The “Floating Islands” are small man-made islands constructed by the Uros (or Uru) people from layers of cut totora reeds, a thick buoyant reed that grows abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. The Uros harvest the reeds that naturally grow on the lake’s banks to make the islands by continuously adding reeds to the surface.

There were only about 8 huts on this island and you can see that they have small solar panels. Huts today are square, but traditionally,they were round.

According to legend, the Uru people originated in the Amazon and migrated to the area of Lake Titicaca in the pre-Colombian era, where they were oppressed by the local population and were unable to secure land of their own. They built the reed islands, which could be moved into deep water or to different parts of the lake as necessary, for greater safety from their hostile neighbors on land.

They have large rolls of reeds–couches–for us to sit on as they describe their daily life.

Historically, most of the Uros islands were located near the middle of the lake, about 14 km (9 mi) from the shore; however, in 1986, after a major storm devastated the islands, many Uros rebuilt closer to shore. As of 2011, about 1,200 Uros lived on an archipelago of 60 artificial islands, clustering in the western corner of the lake near Puno, Titicaca’s major Peruvian port town. The islands have become one of Peru’s tourist attractions, allowing the Uros to supplement their hunting and fishing by conveying visitors to the islands by motorboat and selling handicrafts.

This is the chief–he’s voted into his position, but since these are typically small, family based islands with just a few inhabitants, in practice, the chief will be the leading male of the clan.

Additional information, according to Wikipedia: “The Uru’s islands are located at 3810 meters above sea level, and just five kilometers west from Puno port. Around 2,000 descendants of the Uru were counted in the 1997 census, although only a few hundred still live on and maintain the islands; most have moved to the mainland. The Uru also bury their dead on the mainland in special cemeteries.

Food is cooked with fires placed on piles of stones. To relieve themselves, tiny ‘outhouse’ islands are near the main islands. The ground root absorbs the waste.”

Everyone stayed busy, even during the tourist presentation. They women worked on embroidery. None of the inhabitants wore shoes, though it gets quite cold at night at this altitiude. The ground was very spongy, like walking in a barn of loose hay. And you could feel that you were on the water. You needed “sea legs” to walk around!

If you’d like more information, I found this great article from Atlas Obscura, The Uros People of Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca has small fish, a stable of the Uros’ diet. There are also Canadian Trout released into the water.
The Uros also shoot birds, such as duck, and eat eggs. The reeds themselves are edible, and contain high levels of calcium and other minerals.
This is the “mat” or block of floating turf that makes up the base of the island–it’s mostly the roots of the reeds, tied together.
When the Uros first lived on the island, they constructed boats with a small round house on them. Later, they constructed the islands to give them more room.
This is hard to see, but in the center of the island is a large hole. It’s usually covered by a pot. The hole goes all the way through the bottom of the island and served as a well. Here, the chief is throwing a long pole into the well to show us how deep it is. They did not appear to filter their water in anyway, though it is possible that they boiled or sun treated the water.
So colorful and friendly.
This is a map of Lake Titicaca. We visited the Winay uta, a small family group from the Uros tribe.
You can’t just make a big fire on a flammable island! The kitchen is just a large flat rock with this clay “stove” placed on top. A small fire is built in the base of the stove and pots fit on top for cooking.
Several of us were invited into the house. Though all the conversation was in Spanish, I understood most of it. The tiny house has a large bed, but no other furniture. Most of what you see on the side of the house is for sale.
The owner of the house explained that she and her husband lived here, but there was another, small hut for the children.
The tribe sells crafts for cash, but catches fish, birds and eggs for food and barter.
Their handicrafts are lovely.
You can see behind the hut that we are near the edge of the lake. The island is anchored, just like a boat, to the shore. Otherwise, the chief told us, they’d end up in Bolivia!
Golden in color, many of the islands measure about 15 by 15 meters (50 by 50 ft), and the largest are approximately half the size of a football field. Each island contains several thatched houses, typically belonging to members of a single extended family. Some of the islands have watchtowers and other buildings, also constructed of reeds.
This is the edge of our island, but the next one is just beside it. That island group has a very fancy tourist boat. When a family group grows too large, or their are disagreements between the group, they simply extend the island, cut it in half and go their separate ways.
To show us how they lived, the chief, with translation help from our guide, used these small scale items to show us how to build a floating mat, cover it with reeds, then build houses and live on the island.
This is the traditional shape of homes. It is tiny and people slept sitting with their legs under them to keep warm. The natives claimed their only health complaint was rheumatism–due to cold, wet weather.

Now let’s board the tourist boat! for 20soles, I got a 20 minute boat ride and met some lovely people from Mexico and Bolivia!
A view from the top of the boat, to the adjacent island.
The ladies even sang to us as we sailed off. Their last words were “Hasta la Vista, Baby!”
This is the Seventh Day Adventist Primary school. I am surprised at how many churches I saw of this denomination in Peru. I’ve rarely seem them in other parts of the world.
Here are some of the “dragon” boats.
Aren’t they colorful?
The tourist boat took us to another island, where we could get some refreshments. This is our boat, docked along side.

Coffee? Tea? Coca leaves?
This island DID have a water filtration system. I wasn’t able to inspect it closely, but it did seem to have at least a course filter and a sedimentation section.

Puno, Peru

This is taken from my hotel room on the 10th floor. Puno is situated between the shores of Lake Titicaca and the mountains surrounding the city. There is less than two miles of flat land between the shores and the foothills, which has caused the growing city to continue to expand upwards onto the hillsides.

Puno is the first city I really had trouble breathing in. But the problem wasn’t air pollution. It’s the altitude. It’s located at 3,830 m (12,556 ft). I woke up at least three times in the night just because I needed more air. Just standing up made me breathless.

Another shot from my hotel window.

Puno is in southeastern Peru, located on the shore of Lake Titicaca. It is the capital city of the Puno Region and Province with a population of approximately 149,064 (2014 estimate). The city was established in 1668 as San Juan Bautista de Puno. Puno has several churches dating back from the colonial period, built to service the Spanish population and evangelize the natives. While most of the area are professed Christians, the pre-conquest ideas about the cosmos still run strong.

But honestly, I can’t tell you much about the city because I only spent the night there. The day was devoted to an excursion on the lake.

Sunrise over Lake Titicaca, from the restaurant on the 17th floor.
Sorry about the glare from the window.

According to Wikipedia: “Puno is located at such a high elevation, it experiences more extreme weather conditions than would be expected for its tropical latitude. The average annual temperature is about 8.4 °C and the weather never gets overly warm. During the winter months from June to August, night-time temperatures usually drop well below 0 °C. At this high altitude, the rays of the sun are very strong. Most of the annual precipitation falls during the southern hemisphere summer, with the winter months being very dry.”

We got into Puno the night before, so I didn’t get to see much of the city. Early the next morning, we got on a boat for an all day excursion around the lake.
We had an excellent guide. He showed us that the lake, surrounded by mountains, was seen by the natives as being shaped like a puma. How did they know that?
Lake Titicaca (Spanish: Lago Titicaca, Quechua: Titiqaqa Qucha) is a large, deep lake in the Andes on the border of Bolivia and Peru. By both volume of water and surface area, it is the largest lake in South America. It’s about the size of Puerto Rico. Notice the city of Puno in the distant shore.
It is often called the “highest navigable lake” in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters (12,507 ft).
Reeds and other aquatic vegetation is widespread in Lake Titicaca and the native population build almost everything from them including clothes, boats, houses and mats.
Five major river systems feed into Lake Titicaca. In order of volume, these are Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez. More than twenty other smaller streams empty into Titicaca. Despite this, the lake has only a relatively small river running out of it. It’s virtually landlocked and most moisture is lost by evaporation. Since 2000, it’s also clear that the lake level is falling.
The lake has 41 islands, some of which are densely populated.
The lake has an average surface temperature of 10 to 14 °C (50 to 57 °F).
Canadian trout were released into the lake, as well as other high altitude bodies of water. You can dine on trout at almost any area restaurant, especially trout ceveche.
It was a very comfy boat.
This is an area school. It’s only accessible by boat.
This is another school.

The village of Maca, Peru

Approaching the village of Maca. Pretty sure most of the town fits in the frame.

Between the visit to the Colca Canyon condors and a late lunch in Chivay, we made a half hour stop at the village of Maca, Peru. It’s small. There’s not much to see there, except their rather impressive old church.

The town square includes several painted sculptures.

I found this Washington Post article about the area:

After the Spanish conquered the Colca Valley in the 16th century and grouped its scattered residents into 24 towns (17 of which survive today), the outside world left it alone for another 400 years. The region came to international attention only thanks to a National Geographic expedition led by Robert Shippee and George Johnson, whose 1934 article about it was headlined “A Forgotten Valley of Peru.”

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the area got a major road connecting it to Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city, 100 miles away. Previously there had been little contact with the rest of the country, with goods transported by mule or slow truck. Today, it’s a stunning four-hour drive from the city, past bare volcanic plateaus and snow-capped peaks. At 13,800 feet, a cafe serves fresh coca tea for altitude sickness. Most of the area is a preserve for vicunas, graceful, long-necked animals related to llamas, which graze on the parched grass near the road. The land becomes greener as you descend into Chivay, the regional capital in the south of the valley.

It’s hard to imagine that the valley once needed such large churches, or so many of them. The roughly 70,000 people who lived here at the time of the Spanish conquest could have filled them, but the structures clearly demonstrated power as much as religion. Initially covered with murals, they grew almost oppressively Baroque as the empire became richer. In the restored church in Maca, for instance, a massive gold altar glints with mirrors. To Inca farmers, the churches must have looked like spaceships.”

This is apparently a scene from a local dance where the wife carries her husband. No idea why he’s wearing a mask.

Depiction from another local dance

This is clearly the center of town–the restored church.
Inside, there is an amazing amount of what appears to be real gold. Also mirrors. There isn’t much electric light, so I suppose the mirrors help with illumination. Or let you fix your hair and make up.

Just in front of the church’s door, you can see the mountains surround village.
…but tourism is the draw here.

You can even buy—or rent for a photo–this traditional costume.
For a sole, you take a photo with a baby alpaca.
And there’s that volcano, again.

Flamingos in Peru!

There are many types of flamingos, some even in Africa, but the odds are that these are James’s flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) and/or the Andean flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus) both found in the High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

I posted earlier about seeing condors, but I also managed to see flamingos, in the high Altiplano of the Peruvian Andes. This was simply a 10 minute bus stop to stretch our legs and get a long distance look at these unusual waterfowl as we drove between Chivay (Colca Canyon) and Puno (Lake Titicaca).  I wish I’d had a longer lens, but I really have to limit how much weight I carry–particularly fragile items like camera lens.  So, bird photos are just not what I do best.

Flamingo comes from Portuguese or Spanish flamengo, “flame-colored” and these birds get that pink coloration from the crustaceans they eat. (I once volunteered at a zoo and we had to add red coloring to the flamingo’s food to keep them “in the pink.” Yes, I’ve led an odd and various life.)
According to Wikipedia: “Flamingos filter-feed on brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Their bills are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat, and are uniquely used upside-down. The filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures called lamellae which line the mandibles, and the large rough-surfaced tongue. The pink or reddish color of flamingos comes from carotenoids in their diet of animal and plant plankton. These carotenoids are broken down into pigments by liver enzymes. The source of this varies by species, and affects the saturation of color. Flamingos whose sole diet is blue-green algae are darker in color compared to those who get it second hand (e.g. from animals that have digested blue-green algae).”

The Andean flamingo is one of the rarest flamingos in the world. It lives in the Andes mountains of South America. It is closely related to James’s flamingo, though I didn’t get close enough to even try to tell them apart. The Chilean flamingo, Andean flamingo and James’s flamingo all live in colonies, including shared nesting areas.
I had always thought of these birds as tropical, but as you can see by the coats these folks are wearing, they aren’t. This is fairly high up–perhaps 9-10,000ft. It’s breezy, cool and quite dry. The lake was large, but shallow, just perfect for these birds. There were several hundred all eating. We weren’t allowed to get very close to them, which is best for the birds.
Here’s what the photos don’t show: 1) There were hundreds of birds, perhaps a couple thousand. 2) This is right off the highway and the amount of trash I had to walk through was enough to make me embarrassed to be a human.
There were other types of birds as well, but I couldn’t identify them.