Altiplano – Puno – Lake Titicaca.
After exploring the recent Inca history, it was time to move south to where legend has it the first humans came out of Lake Titicaca to start the earliest civilization in the Andean highlands.
We headed south from Cusco, for a brief stop at the southern check-point for Cusco, Piquillacta, which had the main gate into Cusco, which looked like a truncated pyramid. This was part of a larger complex of 700 structures and main regional centers of the Wari culture which preceeded the Incas. More details on this are at: http://www.cusco-peru.org/cusco-surroundings-cusco-pikillacta.shtml
The next stop 1.5 hours later was Raqchi, another town built by the Inca Wiracocha with a massive temple built to honor the Superior God of the Incas “Apu Kon Titi Wiracocha”. In addition, there were small rows of indigenous crops planted to show what used to grow in the pre-Columbian period in the Andes. There is an effort by the government to reintroduce the different grains and varieties of potatoes to this section of Peru.
The road to Puno crosses the highest point of the journey at 4335m, and has spectacular views of the altiplano with llamas and alpacas grazing as well as the Andean peaks that rise above 6000m. The road descends a few hundred metres to the main commercial centre of Juliaca, and then another 45 minutes to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca is said to resemble a puma hunting a rabbit, and plays a significant part in the folk lore of the indigineous population of the Andes, as it was thought to be the source of the first people who lived in the area. The lake is 3300 square miles, and is the largest highest navigable lake in the world. Seven rivers flow into the lake, and one river flows out. The Cordillera Real forms the south eastern boundary on the Bolivian side of the lake. The lake is also the home to the Bolivian Navy!
Puno is the main gateway to the lake, and to the floating Islands of Uros. These islands are made of reeds, and are anchored to the lake in fairly shallow water. This is also the boundary between the Quechua and Aymara peoples that inhabit southern Peru and northern Bolivia.
40 floating islands support a population of about 1400 hundred people, with 5 to 7 families per island. I was expecting a more traditional experience, but tourism is in full swing here, and the islands appear more like an open air museum than an authentic village. However, the combination of daily sightseeing visitors and overnight homestays provides a substantial income for the people of the islands and has slowed the exodus of the young people to the mainland.
All of the buildings, boats and “land” are made from dried reeds which grow in this part of Lake Titicaca. The houses have solar panels, and outdoor kitchens, as well as outhouses that are chemically treated. The main food is catfish, trout, and kingfish which are farmed. Vegetables are grown using composted soil. There is also a market on the islands selling souvenirs as well as products from the mainland. Our group toured one family’s island, and then took a ride in a reed boat to the main market centre a few hundred metres across the channel from the island.
The boat tour of the lake continued another two hours out to Taquille Island. This is a “real” island with a population of 3000 people, who farm on terraces made over 500 years ago, and also depends on tourists for income.
We returned to Lima the next day, and back to sea level and fog after two weeks in the sun and most of it at more than 3000m elevation. Last minute shopping for Peruvian souvenirs and our last meal at Larcomar ended this portion of our Incan adventure.