There’s one last blog that I want to write about Peru. The last big location that we visited was Lake Titicaca. I skipped writing about it in favour of Machu Picchu and the Amazon, but it was a pretty great place to visit as well! Lake Titicaca is located on the southwestern side of Peru and shares a border with Bolivia. Approximately 60% of the lake is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia. It’s the largest lake in the world that’s located at such a high altitude (3800 masl). The lake is really diverse and has some of the most interesting and traditional cultures that we discovered while in Peru.
We stayed in Puno City while we visited the lake, but we did take a 2 day trip out into the lake to visit several of the islands. The section of the lake near Puno is actually really shallow and a lot of reeds grow in the area. In most of the bay surrounding Puno, the water is only 7-8 metres deep! The first island that we visited was one of the Uros Islands, which are actually floating reed islands built by the people that live on them. The islands are formed of a floating base layer and the reeds are layered perpendicular to one another until they are high enough that they are out of the water. The islands are then anchored to the bottom of the lake and the Uros People have to make sure to always add new layers of reeds to the island.
It was incredibly unique and different than anything I’ve ever seen before. The people living on the islands survive mostly on tourism, so we took a boat ride in a reed boat around a few of the islands in order to support their livelihoods. There are still many people who live on the islands, however it is a lot of work to maintain the islands and more and more children are leaving when they grow up. It’s an interesting way to live and it was a bit bizarre to see a lot of modern technology on the island as well. Many of the reed houses had solar panels, which provided them with electricity, and satellite dishes. Although, many of the islands have also been completely abandoned in more recent years.
The second island that we visited was Amantani Island. Amantani is a completely natural island which also survives primarily on tourism. On Amantani, you will not find any hostels, hotels, or restaurants. Amantani is in the business of providing an authentic family experience to tourists. We stayed in Amantani overnight with a local family. Most families have an extra room in their homes for tourists and they cook all their meals. Our host family was really nice and had four children between the ages of 5 and 16. Their second eldest daughter took us around for most of the day since it was a saturday and she wasn’t in school.
We ate a delicious lunch and supper with our host family and spent some time in the afternoon working with them as they harvested oka, a small vegetable that’s very common on the island. Our tour group also went on a short hike in the late afternoon to the top of the island to watch the sun set. It was actually a pretty large island and in order to get to the top we had ascend 400 metres in elevation. This was before our Salkantay hike, so I had a hard time with it of course, but I made it to the top in time to watch the sun set over the Lake!
In the morning we left Amantani behind and visited our third and final island, Taquile. I didn’t find the scenery on Taquile much different than Amantani, but it had one of the most unique cultures. The people who live on Taquile Island are known to be the best weavers. Everyone learns to weave and it is essential to learn to be a good weaver. One of the most important possessions for men in Taquile is their hats. Every boy and man must weave a traditional hat for themselves. The hats all looked the same to me, red on the bottom with some detailed design around it, and pure white on the top with a large colourful tassle. The white part of the hat folds over and can hang down on either side of your head.
If you look more closely at the hats though, there’s a lot that you can learn from them. Each hat is actually different, the detailed design on the bottom of each hat tells the history of your family, so if you ever lose your hat, you don’t really need to worry about it because someone is bound to find it and know to return it to you. However, the reason it’s so important to be able to weave a good hat is that a good hat is a symbol of a good, hard worker, whereas a bad hat might indicate that you are not a dedicated or hard worker. So women are on the lookout for men with good hats. It was also interesting to learn that the way a boy or man wears his hat is also very important. Married men have different hats than unmarried men, but it’s important to wear your hat the right way if you’re unmarried. If you wear your hat with the pom in the back, it means you are happily single. If you wear it with the pom on your right, it means you’re in a relationship, whereas if you wear it with the pom on your left, it means you’re looking for love. Definitely an interesting way to share your relationship status….
Women must also become good weavers as well; one of their most important tasks is weaving a belt for their husband before they are married. Everyone survives on agriculture and pretty much all labour is done manually, so it’s important to have a good belt to protect your back. A woman must weave the first work belt for her husband and it is common for part of the belt to actually be woven using some of her hair. There’s a lot of interesting dynamics with how men and women interact in Taquile and my first thought was that it was a bit dated. For example, women are expected to walk 5 paces behind their husbands if they’re out together. However, our guide talked about how traditional gender roles have been changing and how women have recently started getting involved in island politics and voting.
It was a very interesting culture to learn about, however, as with the Uros Islands, it’s a culture that is quickly dying. Teenagers have less of a desire to continue their parents way of life and are anxious to move to Puno to attend university. This change is only accelerated by tourism, which can be equal parts good and equal parts bad. Tourism certainly supports local livelihoods and provides families with more security and opportunity, but it also introduces a traditional culture to a different way of living. Children are exposed to cameras, ipods, tablets, and phones and are starting to desire a different life. I’m glad we got to learn a little bit about their culture though as I’m sure it will continue to change more and more.
Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed my little mini-series on Peru! I’m not sure what I’ll write about next, I’m hoping to do some traveling around Newfoundland over the summer and might be making a trip up to Ontario. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to hear about. Hope to see you over the summer!