The continuing story of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 10 – Lake Titicaca


Famous alpaca sweaters - image

Famous alpaca sweaters – image Aspenandes

We nattered in the “lobby,” until our transport arrived, Edgar’s bus to take us to the port. We battled with insistent women selling alpaca wool jerseys. They were beautiful, and although they seemed cheap by our standards, we had been warned that they were actually double the real price. We could have bargained and paid something more reasonable, but time was against us.


Along roads that were cris-crossed with railway tracks, making the journey seem perilous as the bus slipped on the shiny rails, we arrived at the port and herded from the bus to a small roadside stall with tables and chairs and shade. Although still only 8am the sun was already strong. Here we bought cold juice and cokes and our last chance to buy drinking water, which we were assured we would need.



The Yavari returning to port – image AV

It wasn’t long before we were shown along the wharf, where an old steamer was being fired up. The ship was one of the two British steamships from the previous century that had been assembled on the lake to ply trade between Bolivia and Peru. The haunting “chuff” of the boilers being fired for the first time in 50 years was eerie. We paused to watched as smoke belched from her smoke stack. We were privileged to be watching the resurrection of a ghost from the past, the Yavari was being made ready to sail. Our own departure was delayed so we could witness this special event. The old steamer moved gracefully away from its berth and steamed noisily chuffing out into the bay where it made one circuit and returned. All the glory of a bygone era was put on show before our very eyes. Nostalgia, is a powerful emotion.


Kids on the Uros Islands - image AV

Kids on the Uros Islands – image AV

We returned to the present. The ghost was again at rest, although smoke still billowed from the stack as we looked over our shoulders. Edgar got us all into the launch without fuss, we were now behind schedule, but the delay had been worth much more than could be reckoned. As our launch moved slowly at first away from land, Edgar began to recount legends of the Inca surrounding the lake, its origins and myths. Without realising, we were captivated by the emotion he put into his tales, that we were now at full speed.

Uros Islands -image: Virtual Tourist

Uros Islands -image: Virtual Tourist

Our first stop was the Uros Islands; the famous floating islands made of totara reed. The island we visited was St. Martha, it is the only island that tourists may visit, so that the Uros culture is not disturbed. The families do not live on this island, but come here each day to trade with the tourists. They dress in their usual costume, and follow an everyday Uros’ routine. They make reed souvenirs to sell, the parents make the trinkets, the older children sell them and the younger children play and receive gifts from the visitors. They love the little comics and presents of coloured pencils and educational stuff that we were encouraged to buy in place of sweets. Although it was evident that the kids would have preferred sweets. Every greeting was returned, “caramelo, señor?” hopefully. Some of our group took the opportunity to go for a quick trip in one of their totara canoes, for a small sum, of course, this is how the islanders made their living.


Small craft ply the lake - image AV

Small craft ply the lake – image AV

After a brief hour on the undulating islands, the spongy platform these delightful people called home and we were back in the launch and heading full speed out into the lake, passing between the two headlands that marked the Bay of Puno.


The water became bluer, a deep rich, jewel-like blue. Then waves, it was like being on the sea.

Amantani Island sen through an arch on Taquile - image AV

Amantani Island sen through an arch on Taquile – image AV

The launch began to buck and slap at the waves as we ploughed on through the mythical waters and the shape of Taquile Island appeared on the horizon, beyond it, Bolivia. Fishing and trading boats passed us in the calmer waters as we neared the island and began to slow toward our landing. Mercifully, Edgar had decided not to land at the main port for the ascent to the village is a grueling 500 steps up the steep island side. Instead, he was taking us to a smaller landing around the other side where the ascent was more gradual through farmlands, although the trek was longer. Along the way, we passed some ruins, and an old arch, looking back through the arch we could see the island of Amantani with the clouds over Bolivia.


We soon came across children scattered along the pathway, hopeful faces peering over stone walls. The bold requests for “caramelos” from the boys, but we didn’t understand why the girls only only whispered, barely audible. Edgar explained to us that here on Taquile, the women and girls never talk with a loud voice, that was reserved only for the men. One of the many quaint customs on this island that time had forgotten.


Our lodgings, no frills, but comfy - image AV

Our lodgings, no frills, but comfy – image AV

We arrived at hour lodgings, we had been warned that they were primitive, almost devoid of the basic comforts that we considered necessary.

The house to which we had been invited, had been extended to accommodate tourists. The beds were comfortable and had many blankets, for the nights, as we were to discover, were bitterly cold.

The Dunny! Outside toilet - image AV

The Dunny! Outside toilet – image AV

The buildings were all adobe, mud and straw sun-dried bricks. There were no locks on the doors, we had come to a place where crime is almost unknown and dogs for security unheard of, where teenage boys attracted their girl by flashing torchlight into her eyes, and she responded with a mirror to give his light back to him; where marriage was on a trial basis and divorce was ever present. A place where the women weave on primitive looms, and the men knit beautifully. A place where one had to take his own toilet paper with him in the dark to an outside dunny.


Our home-away-from-home was the only place on the island that had a small solar panel to recharge a car battery, and so give the tourists an extra hour of light by which to share their adventures over cups of coca tea in the evenings, while the boys and girls ran in the darkness outside, hopefuls flashing messages of love to their intendeds. Sleep comes early here, for so does the dawn. The island wakes with first light and is a hive of activity long before the sleepy-head tourists show their faces. Time here is irrelevant, only the light and dark.


Girls chatting in the ruins at the top of Taquile Is - image AV

Girls chatting in the ruins at the top of Taquile Is – image AV

Breakfast was not bread rolls and strawberry jam. We were almost disappointed. Instead, omelettes and scrambled eggs, coca tea and toasted rolls. Before a trek to the summit of the island to visit areas of earlier ruins and a chance to see more of the unique way of life of these almost primitive people and their simplicity.


We walked among the ruins at the summit for a while, and then met a couple of teenage girls having a chat among the ruins. They didn’t like their photos taken, in such communities it is polite to ask first and come to a small financial arrangement before doing so.. We continued on down the hill arriving in time for lunch.


Boys in traditional costume farewell visitors as they leave the island - image AV

Boys in traditional costume farewell visitors as they leave the island – image AV

After lunch, we packed our meagre belongings and headed down the hill. Here we encountered the famous 500 steps, fortunately for us, they were downhill all the way to the small harbour. We passed through many small arches and were fare-welled by boys in traditional costume, photos were expected and small business arrangements satisfactorily concluded. At the bottom, there was no ceremony, it was into the boat for the long trip back to Puno.


Temple of fertility at Chucuito - image AV

Temple of fertility at Chucuito – image AV

We didn’t go directly back to Puno, we had another item on our agenda. First we would go to Chucuito and visit the Temple of Fertility and see the first Catholic church built on the Altiplano. The return trip didn’t offer much different in the way of scenery to the outward journey, so most of the passengers relaxed, dozed, read, played cards or just chatted.


Kids jumping from one phallus to another - image AV

Kids jumping from one phallus to another – image AV

On our arrival we were met by a van and taken the short distance to the temple. Edgar showed us to a small stone enclosure where we found some kids playing, we didn’t take much notice as we gathered around to listen to Edgar’s tale about the temple and the origins of the nearby church. It was during the tale that we realised that the stones which the kids were jumping over and from one to another were actually phallic symbols, stone penises. It was then we saw the funny side and took photos. We listened with fascination as Edgar recounted tales of people who had touched the stone monuments and of how barren women had become pregnant and of how men who were in need of Viagra, didn’t.

PECIR198804bwI mused at the possibly virile future of these youngsters jumping from one phallus to another every day, and the ones nearby who were clambering around another, ready to pounce on tourists to sell their colourful little woolen finger puppets.


The afternoon wore on and we returned to Puno. Tomorrow was to be our train trip to the famous Inca city of Cusco.

NB: Sorry couldn’t find colour copies of some photos…