Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world – it’s about 4000m above sea level. Apart from having this fascinating geographical title (and an amusing name) this makes it a high enough altitude to give us altitude sickness. Quite badly. The less interesting effects of this include severe headaches, stomach aches, a general feeling of queasiness and severe shortness of breath to the extent that I would get up, have a shower, and start panting because I was so out of breath. Waking up in the middle of the night because you think you’re going to run out of oxygen isn’t too fun either. The more interesting effects include strange hallucinations, such as moving mountains, or sky that seemed to glitter. That bit was quite fun…
We spent two days visiting some islands on the lake on a guided tour. I’m usually not a fan of guided tours but this one was cheaper than going on our own and also let us meet some other travellers, particularly Chelsea from California, and Zac and Keely from Canada, who we had great fun spending a few days with. The guide also taught us a bit of some other languages which is always fun – Aymara and Quechua – as the islanders don’t really speak Spanish. The colonists never quite got that far! Aymara is cool because it doesn’t have any tenses, apparently because you can’t change what happened in the past and you don’t know what will happen in the future. And Quechua is cool because it’s what the Incas spoke. The other thing that the Spanish colonists didn’t make go this far was religion – I had assumed that all of Peru was Catholic, but it’s actually only the big cities, and in the country they still worship elemental powers as they have done for centuries (it’s called Andean religion).
We first visited the islands of Los Uros, which are manmade floating islands built of reeds by the Uros people when they were trying to flee the Incas. It was a rather odd experience because you sort of felt that if you jumped a little too hard you might go through the island and end up in the lake, but the Uros people had lived here for hundreds of years, and even had primary schools built onto floating reeds!
Then we spent the night with a family on Amantani (another island) which was a strangely utopic place where they grew everything they needed on the island, were completely self-sufficient, and it was nice and sunny too. (You could also see over the lake to Bolivia, so I can sort of say I’ve seen there too…) In the evening was a fiesta which we thought would be a bit cringe but was actually very fun, with Peruvian music, costumes and dancing. The following morning, following a quick dip in the lake, we sat on the top of the boat and played Asshole (card game) with the others all the way back to the mainland while getting extremely sunburnt – but the excursion in itself was definitely a highlight of trip overall 🙂
1) the floating islands of Los Uros
2) the ‘fiesta’ with traditional clothes