Th. 11/13/14. Plaza Mayor Hotel to Lago Titicaca

Got a really good night’s sleep.  My body needed that.  I feel like I am fighting something in my lungs, asthma keeps acting up a bit, but feel fine other than the coughing at night.  The hotel room reminds of one the little tiny ones that we had in Rome, really compact, but with everything you need right there, practically at your finger tips, especially with my long arms.  :-). Can practically flush the toilet while sitting on the bed.  And the hotel provided a nice breakfast, with plenty of fruit and whole wheat bread for toasting and to put my Nutella on–do I always talk about food?  :-)
So the boat ride is great!  The boat will hold 32 passengers and there are only 14 of us on the boat, and 4 of those are tour guides.  Yay!  Plenty of room to stretch out and move around.  Our guide is named Vladi (accented heavily with spanish), or Vladimir, and he likes his job!   The name Titicaca means grey colored Puma, and the people here have a puma god, and a condor god, and the lake people eat the local fish and birds as staples of their diet, in addition to potatoes, corn, quinoa, other seeds, reeds, and clay.  Yes, they eat the clay that comes out of the lake, after they have mixed it with water and stuff, and they eat the reeds that their little islands are made of.  I refrained from making jokes about the teenaged boys eating them out of house and home.  :-)
So, a bit of education:  the region of and surrounding Lake Titicaca is protected land by the government of Peru.  The indigenous peoples of the lake make their homes on islands that they also make out of the reeds that grow in the lake, and the people are protected also, as no other people are allowed to have the reed materials.  It is papyrus, and the reeds grow to become approximately 8 meters long, 4 meters above and 4 meters below the water line.  During the Dry Season (May to October), when the lake is lower, there are available the rootballs of the reeds, because the water has receded and uncovered parts of the bottom of the lake.  At that time, they harvest these root balls, which are very precious, and they dry them out (so that they float, and do not reabsorb water).  This is the foundation for the islands.  Since each one is approximately 18″ square and 1-2 meters long, like a square column, a family will need a couple hundred smushed closely together side by side and tied together with nylon cord, yes, modern nylon cord now.  It apparently lasts longer than the reeds as rope.  And they can start to build their island and have room to build one house.  Each island houses one extended family and the kids choose, when they are married, which set of in-laws they can best live with, given their skills and who needs what type of assistance.  And so that island is added on to, and a house is built, so that now the young couple can live there and make their contributions to the settlement.  This is a very community based culture and operates on reciprocity and lots of men come together to help one family build their island and their houses, and lots of women get together to fabricate the embroidery work that will be sold to help the whole community, and to raise the children and cook.
Fortunately, the government has a system whereby each of the 87 islands that are located in the smaller bay area of the lake, near Puno, are in a rotation for daily visitors from all of the tour companies that operate boats through the region.  Since there are not 87 boats per day, there is a rotation, so that each island has visitors only a carefully controlled number of times per week, and all of the family people on that island have their handwork displayed for the tourists on their days, and they put on a great presentation to show us how the islands are made by laying the reeds in opposing directions across the tied up reed root columns.  The islands are then anchored with long, long ropes, which are actually so long that there is danger that the little outboard motor propellers will sever the ropes in some places.  The men therefore place large heavy rocks on the ropes to weight them down to the lake floor in the middle to avoid that concern.  No technical or even mechanical modern equipment is used in the making of an island, no snorkeling or scuba equipment either;  just natural materials and the combined strength and skill of many hands and bodies.  And then the favor of help with manual labor is reciprocal, so that they all help eachother as needed.  Like the Shakers and barn-raisings, the whole community gets involved.
This bay of the lake is somewhat protected by two peninsulas, from the adverse weather conditions and large waves that the larger main body of the lake experiences.  And, as the weather is today, when the intense sun is shining, and there is a gentle breeze, the people are barefooted and handed, with leathery weathered and darkened skin.  Surprisingly, the women’s hands remain pretty soft to the touch
They showed us just how deep the water was underneath this particular island by dropping a stone with nylon cord tied around it down through a hole in the middle of the island.  17 meters was the verdict.  And then I got to meet and talk to the resident island baby, Angel, who, at 20 months old, is quite the draw for tourists. Super chulito kiddo!  He let me take his photo.  The 2 men with families on the island rowed us across part of the bay to another island, where the tourists seem to be congregated for snacks and banos–they use big charcoal pits–and then we took off again in our plush comfortable covered boat.  The children attend school on little reed islands, in reed buildings, and we floated past a little Seventh Day Adventist school here on an island too.  Vladimir states that an SDA school was the first school built here for the children in the 1960’s By missionaries.
So then we went the 1.5 hours to Taquile Island to walk around, explore just a bit, see the traditional clothing of the townspeople, and the men who are taught as boys to knit with fine knitting needles, and the women who do the weaving, and girls who do braiding for pulseras, or bracelets, and then graduate to small belts, and then to full weaving.  The colors in the hats symbolize age, location of your home, maybe specific families, whether the male is married or not, and whether you hold a public office.  Wow!  They can tell all that with just a hat.  And all of the women cover their heads and their skirts with a black fabric.  This is where we had lunch on the opposite side of the island after walking across and then the teenagers demonstrated some traditional dances for us, and one boy created their traditional soap/shampoo for us out of a local plant.
So on the return trip in the boat, we all toasted with our Pisco sours… Ugh!  Gross!  It burns your throat all the way down even with the Sprite and lemon juice.  Pisco is the fermented grape juice that is said to be the Peruvian rum.  Blecthgh!
Wow, I learned a lot today.  Vladimir did a good job, and made it fun for all of us!  At 3:45, we are just about back to the deck.  There are no slips For the boats.  They are all parked side by side with tires hanging between them and you just make a big effort to keep the boats from knocking together when you are sliding in.
   

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