Tuesday, July 6, 2010


There is a lake with a name that makes English-speaking school children giggle when they study it in world geography. 
It holds the title of the highest commercially navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet (3812 m) above sea level.  Lake Titicaca is bigger than The Great Salt Lake in Utah and lies across the border between Peru and Bolivia.

DH and I visited there with a group a few years ago. The thin air gave me nosebleeds.  DH and several others suffered from the headaches and nausea of altitude sickness. 

Centuries ago the Uros people began making artificial islands out of the torta reeds of the lake so they could isolate themselves from their enemies.  The reeds grow in abundance in the water and look a lot like cattails. The reeds are edible and are also used to build homes and boats.

Lake Titicaca school bus
The lower layers of the islands decay in the water and are replaced from the top with new layers making a dry, but spongy, surface.

The islands we were allowed to visit were about 70 yards across.  The people had built little houses the size of camping cabins and tents.  There was also a school and an observation platform from which to survey the surroundings.

The people were ready for our arrival wearing brightly colored native clothing.

They had items for sale spread out on the straw-colored surface of their island between the little houses.  They waited patiently while our guide instructed us about the history and traditions of the “Islas Flotantes.” 

When he was through the shopping began.  I had already bought a miniature reed boat from a booth set up at the hotel which was attended by some sweet local ladies who filled their spare time knitting and working on their crafts.  So, while everyone else bargained for goods, I took pictures.
The mamas had their babies fully dressed in warm layers of bright colored wools.

I had a one-sided conversation with a man who told me, in Spanish, all about how they cooked over a fire while living on a pile of straw. 

They had clay pots that sat on a tiny ceramic stove.  The fuel, of course was dried reeds.  I filtered through the foreign language and hand gestures to hear a story about how fire had burned under the surface of the island and had set the homes on fire.  Many jumped into the water and some of the children drowned.  “Muy triste,” or, very sad, he said.

We were allowed to visit the school and then were offered a ride on one of their boats.  DH decided not to add motion sickness to altitude sickness so he stayed behind. 

The boat was constructed of tightly bundled reeds in a double-pontoon shape with a cabin that held several passengers.  The front ends of the boat were made into the shape of puma heads complete with teeth.   It was manned by two men, a father and a son, each with an oar.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful trip - worth the ailments!!

graceonline said...

Thank you so much! I learned about Lake Titicaca in fifth grade (too many decades ago), but you have shown me so much more than those grainy black and white images in our text and library books. How beautiful the clothing! How clean everything appears. Fascinating, too, that they set their island afire with their little cooking pots. And tragic. May their hearts be at peace.


Learned something new today. Thanks

Maude Lynn said...

An island of straw? That is absolutely amazing.

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Hi Leenie, What a marvelous trip (Peru/Bolivia) you all must have had. I have heard of Lake Titicaca (and yes, we have laughed at the name)--but didn't remember much about it.

It would be so interesting to meet the people who live there.. I loved seeing all of the thatched homes. AND--their bright colored clothing was so pretty.. I'm sure they count on tourists to buy their wares. I would love to see a picture of your miniature reed boat.

Thanks for such an interesting post.

Kilauea Poetry said...

Gee, what a beautiful blue contrast to those colors. Pretty fascinating history and that lake is intriguing! Wow, using reeds to isolate themselves..I'm still digesting that..no pun, but they are also edible- wow. Thanks Leenie- a terrific post. I also enjoyed the shots of the pantoon and family (clothing too)!!

Linda Sue said...

I can't get there from here so thank you for taking me! The vibrant colours reflect the people- unlike grey old b'ham...

Carla said...

Goodness, that's amazing!
I can't imagine living 'on' the water that way. I guess folks make due with what they have.
Beautiful pictures!