Day 13 — Isla Taquile

Wednesday — April 15

Lake Titicaca is the remnant of an ancient inland sea. It is 122 miles (196 km) long and averages a width of 35 miles (56 km). The second part of our boat tour took us into the main body of the lake, “Lago Grande” (aka Lago Chucuito), which reaches depths of 932 feet (284 m).

The lake plays an important role in Inca mythology. According to one legend, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo emerged from the depths of Lake Titicaca on “Isla del Sol” (Sun Island; now on the Bolivian side of the lake) and journeyed to Cusco to found the Inca Empire. Another important legend is the one I wrote about in my post on Amaru Muru. In this story, Viracocha throws the gold sun disc into the depths of the lake to save it from the looting conquistadors. (Could this latter legend be based on fact? Jacques Cousteau must have thought there was enough of a possibility; he mounted an expedition to explore the lake with a mini-sub. His efforts were to no avail and the disc remains lost to this day.)

Once outside Puno Bay, the water became quite rough. Having taken a precautionary dose of Dramamine, I survived the 2½-hour ride to Isla Taquile, but it was tough going towards the end. Luckily, the driving rain that had been accompanying us let up as we approached the Chucuito Peninsula and I was able to go out on the small aft deck. Breathing fresh air and keeping my eyes on the horizon allowed me to complete the journey without an embarrassing incident.

Our boat is not unlike this one that is motoring alongside on our way to Taquile.

Some fresh air helps to clear my head.
(photo by Vidal)

Isla Taquile, which was part of the Inca Empire, was one of the last places in Perú to surrender to the conquistadors. After it was captured, the island was passed onto Count Rodrigo of Taquila — hence the name the island is known by today. When the Spanish banned traditional dress, the islanders adopted the Spanish peasant dress, combining it with Andean-style garments (ponchos, belts, mantles, coca-leaf purses, etc.). In fact, Taquile is known for the exceptional quality of the local products woven on the island — every man, woman, and child knows how to spin and weave.

The people of Taquile practice the moral code of the Inca — “ama sua, ama llulla, ama qhilla” (Quechua for: don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy). Their economy is based on fishing, terraced farming (potato cultivation is important), and tourism — approximately 40,000 tourists visit each year. As we learned from the Danish NGO worker whom we met in Ollantaytambo, the islanders are implementing communitarian tourism that will someday enable them to offer more to visitors — I hope in a way that doesn’t dilute the experience we were able to enjoy today.

I had chosen this particular tour that starts on the north side of the island for two specific reasons: (1) this side of the island is less-visited, and (2) although the hike to the main village is longer, it is a gradual climb that involves no stairs. Shortly after our boat docked at 11:00a, we began our walk. We let the rest of the group take the lead. Soon, they were out of sight and the four of us — Mui, Vidal, Veronica, and I — had the path to ourselves.

The weather was absolutely perfect — the rain long gone; blue skies with puffy, white clouds overhead; a slight breeze to keep the temperature comfortable. We stopped often to enjoy the views, smell the flowers, check out the grazing sheep, and talk to the Taquileños whom we encountered along the way — we even saw a couple of the local men knitting while they were walking (a common practice on the island). I am happy to report that we had absolutely no problems completing this high-altitude walk.

Left: View of Lake Titicaca from the path to the village on Isla Taquile.
Right: The men of Taquile are known for their knitting skills.

Gates like this one add charm to the path that we’re climbing.
(photo by Vidal)

Curious about us, this sheep stops grazing and provides a great photo op.

Modern day technology has found its way onto the island.

After loitering a bit in the village square, we rejoined our group, which had just sat down to a traditional meal of quinoa soup and grilled trout served with rice and potatoes, two staples of Peruano cuisine.

The first course of quinoa soup …

… is followed by grilled trout.

After lunch, Walter gave us a presentation about the traditional daily attire of the Taquileños. From the color of the men’s hats, to the way those hats are worn, to the size of the pompoms on the women’s dresses, the various accessories carry significance as to a person’s marital status. Later, when one young man showed interest in our blushing Veronica, we knew he was a bachelor and jokingly gave consent for him to court her. Could we have been witnesses to a budding romance?

Left: Walter and his assistants discuss the significance of traditional attire.
Right: Walter shows us a belt woven by a bride-to-be for her future husband. Women used to weave these belts using their own hair. Today, this practice has been abandoned and wool yarn is now used.

After lunch it was time to tackle the 500+ steep, uneven steps leading down to the main dock on the south side of Taquile. (No, I didn’t count the steps to verify the number; I was too busy making sure that I wasn’t going to come to a nasty end as I negotiated my way down.) I have to hand it to the Taquileños we encountered; they were going up and down the steps with heavy burdens ranging from propane bottles for cooking and heating, to daily staples, to construction material.

A photo op before we start the descent to the main dock at Isla Taquile.

On our way down, we met our NGO friend; she remembered us from our visit in Ollantaytambo. We introduced her to Vidal and the two of them had a lengthy chat about the goals of the NGO. We offered to give her a ride on our boat, but she was traveling with a group. Since we didn’t have room for everyone, we bid her adios, wishing her continued success with her program.

The return boat ride took only 2 hours thanks to the calmer conditions. Mui and I spent most of it on the small aft deck — enjoying the sunshine and the warm breeze as we made our way back to Puno, but first a stop …

Next Up: Day 13 — Uros Islands (Part 2)

1 comment:

  1. We just got back, and things have changed a bit since you were there!! You can go without a tour guide, which is delightful since you can just explore on your own! Here's what I wrote up about it! http://www.est2010.com/taquile-island-homestay/

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