Taquile Island, in Lake Titicaca, Peru

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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.
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-are-north-american-trout-doing-lake-titicaca-180957472/
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!

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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

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