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Birthplace of Empire

29
June
2012
 

According to legend the sun god had his two children, a boy and a girl, spring from the waters of Lake Titicaca to create Cusco and from that the entire Inca Empire. If so the children would probably have been happy to leave the lake since at an elevation of 12,500 feet and a depth of over 900 feet, the water is a tad chilly.

 Legend also has it that at the end of the Inca Empire the vast gold treasures including a gold chain weighing over 4,000 pounds were tossed into the lake to deny them to the Spanish. The legend had enough credence that Jacques Cousteau explored the lake in miniature submarines looking for the treasure. While he did not find the gold he did discover the Titicaca Water Frog which has a length of 21 inches and apparently never needs to surface.

Today the lake shares its shoreline with both Peru and Bolivia with Puno being the largest Peruvian city. From Puno you can cruise on a lake large enough to have waves and a naval presence. On the lake are 30 islands created by nature and over 40 floating islands created by man.

 Some islands like Suasi are occupied by a luxury Ecolodge which we use in our programs but others are inhabited by subsistence farmers with no vehicles or electricity. The most famous group of Islands is the Uros, named for the people who live on them. Both the islands and the houses that sit on them are made from the totara reed and, since the reeds rot in the water the islands constantly need to be added to by placing more reeds on top. The Uros are fishermen and hunters of birds and their reed boats are emblematic of the lake. They were, in fact, used by Thor Heyerdahl as the basis for his raft Kon-Tiki.

For those on a budget or backpackers at heart there are two islands that do offer warm but basic hospitality. One is the island of Amantani which has about 800 Quechua speaking inhabitants. There are no cars and no electricity you can however stay overnight and enjoy a home cooked meal the ingredients of which you bring with you. The rooms are plain but clean and comfortable and there is dancing in traditional costumes for entertainment.

The other island is Taquile which was for many years a prison originally started by the Spanish to imprison revolutionaries during the war for independence. In 1970 the property was turned over to the Taquile people of whom there are a little over 2,000. They are known for their handicrafts and are so recognized by UNESCO. Interestingly while the women make yarn and handle the weaving, knitting is the sole prerogative of the men. The island lives by the Inca code which is basically, don’t, steal, don’t lie and don’t be lazy. The folks on Taquile walk the walk and have created a unique tourism model including home stays transportation and even restaurants. Something must work because they get over 40,000 visitors a year.

When people think of Peru they think of Machu Picchu but Lake Titicaca is worth the trip both for its scenic beauty and unique inhabitants. If your heart says backpacker but your head says luxury you can stop at Taquile, visit with the people and then continue on to Suasi for a world class meal and excellent wine. You can have it all.