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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Yesterday, I took what turned out to be a private tour of the city–just me and a young guide named Stephanie. She was pretty nervous so this must have been one of her first tours. Her English was better than my Spanish, and we managed to communicate.
I also found a short video of the area:
We also visited the Monastery of Santa Catalina, but I’ll post those separately.