To the many peoples of the Andes, it’s the sacred birthplace of the sun, and the story goes that Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo (essentially the Adam and Eve in their creation story) rose out of the deep waters of Lake Titicaca and started the Inca civilization.
Shared between Peru and Bolivia, at 3,860m (12,420ft) above sea level, Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable body of water in the world. A truly mystical landscape, the lake and the sky compete in an endless battle of blue, interrupted only by distant mountain ranges. On the Bolivian shore – the magnificent snow-capped Cordillera Real mountains rise from the horizon. On the opposing Peruvian side the hills are covered with Incan terracing from bygone days, now home to agrarian peasant farmers whose way of life has hardly changed – constant reminders of the centuries of toil this harsh, unforgiving landscape has witnessed.
On arrival in Puno, we headed straight across the border to the touristy Bolivian lakeside town of Copacabana (not as impressive as its Brazilian namesake), meeting up with old and new friends – Andrew, Veronica, Andre, Christian and Jonathan. The next morning we took a boat to Isla del Sol where we spent the day hiking along the island’s raised spine, from north to south, visiting Incan ruins and quiet pristine bays. This was my first hike at altitude, and I really struggled (annoyingly Steven was fine!). I knew it would be hard, but was not prepared for how hard! With every step I gasped for air, thinking my heart would leap from my chest in its thirst for oxygen. Luckily I didn’t suffer from any other symptoms of altitude sickness, and with frequent breaks, drugged up on altitude meds and lots of coca sweets, I persevered.
It was most definitely worth it for the stunning views. Growing up in the Caribbean, I’m used to staring out to sea at the distant horizon. But here I had to keep reminding myself that I was over 4,000m above sea level, in the middle of the Andes. It’s mind-boggling – like an ocean in the clouds. You really feel like you’re on top of the world, and given the altitude, you kind of are!
Back on the Peruvian side of the lake we spent a night on the tiny Islas Uros, the famed floating islands made entirely of buoyant totora reeds. For me, this was the highlight of the trip. These unique islands were first constructed as a hidden refuge for the Aymara people fleeing from the spread of the Inca, and then the Spanish invasion. We visited a local community for an insight into their way of life, enjoyed a tasty meal of trout straight from the lake and slept in a traditional reed hut (under five alpaca blankets and in a sleeping bag!).
Interacting with the islanders of the lake really got me thinking about the impact of our visit, and of tourism in general on these fragile indigenous communities. But I’ll save these thoughts for my next blog, and end this one here.
Love from Lima xxx