Crossing things off your bucket list represents one of life’s greatest joys.
This week, I toured the world’s highest navigable body of water, and therefore got to cross Lake Titicaca off my travel bucket list.
This gigantic lake lies at the border of Peru and Bolivia, and is one of South America’s largest lakes.
After taking an abnormally comfy overnight bus from Cusco to the town of Puno, my friend and I embarked on a tour of some of the islands located within the massive Lake Titicaca.
Here are some of the things I learned during this adventurous day.
1.Most people living on islands in the lake speak Qechuan, an indigenous language of South America. Completely different from Spanish, Qechuan was known to be the main language of the Inca Empire.
2. The name “Titicaca” roughly translates from Qeuchuan as “the gray puma”. Our tour guide informed us that when the first satellite image of the lake was taken, many thought the lake was actually shaped like a puma. But if this is the reason for the name, how did the ancient ancestors of the lake know it was shaped like a puma without satellite image? MIND BLOWN
3. At 3,800 m above sea level, the altitude is quite intense. Any uphill walks on the islands left everyone completely out of breath, even if we only walked for 2 minutes.
4. Also at this extreme altitude, the ferocious sun makes pale people like myself very prone to sunburn. Despite the fact that I lathered myself in so much sunscreen, the sneaky sunlight managed to burn the one small piece of unprotected skin: my scalp. I should have worn a hat.
5. Lake Titicaca is home to a rare species of gigantic frogs who have white skin because they live very deep in the water and never see sunlight. I was extremely grateful for their tendency to stay underwater, because I just might have had a heart attack if a massive white frog came within 100m of me.
6. The most fascinating islands I saw were the Uros Islands, also known as the Floating Islands. Made entirely out of reeds, these tiny islands are home to, at most, eight families.
7. The inhabitants of Uros need to move the entire island to a different spot every few months, otherwise the reeds will absorb too much water and the island will sink.
8. These islands may not exist much longer, as overfishing is depleting much of their food. However, the people do eat the reeds as snacks, but obviously they can’t rely on that otherwise they would eat all their housing material.
9. A much bigger island, named Taquile, has its own unique culture and communities. It was also home to some of the must stunning scenery I’ve seen on this trip.
10. The motto of the people who live on Taquile is “don’t be lazy”. Simple, straight-forward, I love it.
11. The relationships between men and women on this island are very intriguing. Traditionally, couples marry around 16 or 18 years old, and a man is mainly judged by the quality of his hat.
12. The societal role of a man is to knit, and the role of a woman is to weave.
13. There is a very specific process of a man revealing his interest in a woman. If he likes a girl, he takes a small mirror from his pocket and reflects light onto the girl. If the affection is mutual, she will shine light back with her own mirror. If she does not like him, she puts her shawl over her face. But if the man is persistent, and approaches her despite her lack of interest, she will hit him with rocks that have been sewn into her skirt tassels.
14. On cloudy days, when there is no sun for reflecting light onto others, a boy will throw small rocks at a girl to show that he likes her. Sounds similar to kindergarten days, in my opinion. But in this case, throwing rocks at someone can actually lead to marriage, so this method is a bit more legitimate on Taquile Island.
15. Girls never cut their hair until they marry. Once married, the husband will weave his wife’s cut hair into a belt which he then wears everyday. Talk about intimacy.
16. Men wear shoes made out of old car tires picked up from the mainland.
17. In traditional dances, married women always look angry while dancing. This is because they are not allowed to have fun while frolicking around with other men, since they are taken.
18. Divorce does not exist.
19. Quinoa is one of the main agricultural products on Taquile island (and in much of Peru, for that matter). This makes me happy because quinoa is delicious and healthy, and it is ridiculously cheap here. It’s a nice change from the USA’s $10 a box.
20. Both Taquile Island, and the tiny Uros Islands, have solar panels to provide running water and light to the communities. This is absolutely amazing; many people in the developed world think solar energy is so difficult and expensive, but these small communities living on REED ISLANDS can manage to power their homes naturally. Take notes, people!
To read about more of my experiences in South America, check out these articles: