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Things I learned on a day trip to Lake Titicaca, Peru.
Lake Titicaca lies on the border of Peru and Bolivia and is the world’s highest navigable body of water.
I was lucky enough to visit the mystical place while I was doing a work exchange in Cusco.
It was definitely a highlight of my time in Peru!
On one of our days off, my friend and I took an abnormally comfy overnight bus from Cusco to the town of Puno.
From there, we embarked on a day tour of some of the islands located within the massive Lake Titicaca.
Here are some of the things I learned at Lake Titicaca.
1. Qeuchuan is the local language.
Most people living on islands in the lake speak Qeuchuan, an indigenous language of South America.
Completely different from Spanish, Qeuchuan was the main language of the Inca Empire.
2. Titicaca means gray puma.
The name Titicaca roughly translates from Qeuchuan as “the gray puma”.
Our tour guide told 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 inhabitants of the lake know it was shaped like a puma without satellite image? MIND BLOWN
3. The altitude leaves you breathless.
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. The altitude also leave you sunburnt.
Also at this extreme altitude, the ferocious sun makes pale people like myself very prone to sunburn.
I lathered myself in so much sunscreen. But the sneaky sunlight managed to burn the one small piece of unprotected skin: my scalp.
I should have worn a hat.
5. Beware of giant frogs.
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 to hear that these creatures generally stay underwater and don’t make a habit of coming to the surface and scaring tourists.
6. The Uros Islands are incredible.
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. Reed islands can sink.
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. The islands are at risk.
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. Taquile Island is gorgeous and unique.
A much bigger island, named Taquile, has its own unique culture and communities.
It was also home to some of the most stunning scenery I’ve seen on this trip.
10. I love the Taquile people’s motto.
The motto of the people who live on Taquile is “don’t be lazy”. Simple, straight-forward, I love it.
11. Local couples marry young.
The relationships between men and women on this island are very intriguing.
Traditionally, couples marry around 16 or 18 years old.
A man is mainly judged by the quality of his hat.
12. Gender roles are interesting.
The societal role of a man is to knit, and the role of a woman is to weave.
13. Boys and girls show affection in strange ways.
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.
And if the affection is mutual, she will shine light back with her own mirror.
But 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. There is a back-up plan if the sun isn’t out for the mirrors.
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. Female hair is very special.
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 every day. Talk about intimacy.
16. Shoes are made from tires.
Men wear shoes made out of old car tires picked up from the mainland.
17. Facial expressions are important while dancing.
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.
18. Divorce does not exist.
When you marry, you marry for life. That’s it.
19. They make lots of Quinoa on Taquile Island.
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. Many islands in Lake Titicaca run on solar power.
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!
So there are 20 fun facts I learned at Lake Titicaca!
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To read about more of my experiences in South America, check out these articles: