Lake Titicaca, Peru
Birthplace of the sun. Lake Titicaca is a little slice of heaven. No really, it is pretty magical here. Not only is this place literally close to the heavens, 12,715 feet above sea level to be exact, but according to Andean belief it is the birthplace of the sun. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and highest body of water in the world that can be navigated by boat. Between the stunning views, the friendly locals, the Inca remnants throughout the landscape, and the rich traditions still in practice today, this place is a dream.
Holy Altitude. There is so much I want to tell you about Lake Titicaca, but we need to get something out of the way first: altitude sickness. We flew from Lima straight to Lake Titicaca (don’t do this, by the way), so essentially went from sea level to nearly 13,000 feet. I am going to spare you the gory details and just share the pictures below. Basically, we were out of commission for over 24 hours and are still feeling the affects days later. While we were fully aware that we would experience some type of altitude sickness, I don’t think we were prepared for what hit us. And it definitely hit us.
Super Quinoa. Anyway, moving on, the first day we were back on our feet we visited a local village. Along the way we learned about the agricultural practices of the locals. Each family has their own plot of land and farm it completely by hand. Each plot is meticulously kept and they harvest crops such as potatoes, beans, quinoa, and a “super quinoa” called cañihua (or kaniwa). Perhaps cañhua will be the next super food?! On weekends the locals bring their crops and goods to the village market and use an exchange/bartering system instead of money. We thought that this was a brilliant, and sustainable, system for exchanging goods in the community.
Go local! On our visit to the village we were invited into one of the local homes to see the women who weave beautiful blankets, rugs, pillowcases, hats, and other garments. Their craftsmanship is incredible. Each piece can take weeks or even months to complete. The materials are all locally sourced; including sheep and alpaca wool died using natural ingredients. The hotel, on Lake Titicaca, fully supports this local village. All of the hotel decorations are purchased from these villagers. In addition, 80% of the materials, food, and goods used in the hotel are purchased from the local communities. The other 20% are purchased from larger, surrounding cities. The hotel also donated an elementary school (previously only a middle and high school existed) in an effort to support education among the community.
Muña saved us. There is a plant that is widely used in this area called muña. It was served to us as a tea to help us with altitude sickness. It was delicious and a lifesaver! It tastes and smells a bit like mint. Muña grows wild, but the locals also use it to plant around their crops as a natural insect repellent/pesticide. There are so many amazing ways to use muña and it is just as important to this area as the coca leaf (which is also used for teas and elixirs, but mostly for chewing). Muña pictured below as a wild plant and in tea.
Not your average tiny house. The next day we were feeling even better (well, we weren’t in the fetal position, so let’s call it a good day) and headed out to visit the Isla de Uros, floating villages. Literally, villages built in the middle of the lake on the root system of reeds. This is the mic drop of my sustainability reporting. I could probably stop this blog after telling you about the floating villages. There are approximately 90 islands containing small villages of houses, schools, and even a medical clinic. The houses are very small, also made of reed, to keep the families warm at night (the temperatures drop significantly on Lake Titicaca after the sun goes down). They do not have plumbing, electricity (they use solar, which can be seen in photo below), or any modern kitchen appliances. It’s incredible to say the least. Additionally, they use reed boats for transportation. These boats are made with used plastic water bottles. The inside of the boat is entirely constructed of plastic bottles and the outside is then wrapped with reed. Remember my last blog post about plastic bottles? If the people of the Isla de Uros can do their part, we can too!
Fairytale land. The last place we visited was Tequile island. No, it was not a fairytale because we drank tequila all day. Maybe that’s another blog post. It was a fairytale because this place is absolutely gorgeous and untouched in tradition and culture. For over 2,000 years the people of this island have been living completely self sufficiently. Think Mediterranean Sea and Greek Islands, but on a lake, 13,000 feet above sea level!
The island is now a UNESCO world heritage site and the locals have partnered with tour guides to share their way of life with visitors. It is a matriarchal society and both weaving (done by females) and knitting (done by the males) are an important part of their social system. Women’s hair is very sacred and is typically grown until they become married. Upon marriage they cut their hair and offer it to their husband. Women also knit brightly colored belts that could take many months to make. The belt includes a symbolic story about what the wife asks her husband to promise in their marriage. Woven within the belts are strands of the wife’s hair. Men wear their marriage belt (used instead of a wedding ring) very proudly and hold it as one of their most prized possessions.
Lather up. Speaking of hair, because women of Tequile Island want to grow long, healthy hair prior to marriage, they use part of a cactus leaf, called chuho, as a shampoo. When ground and added with water it forms a lather which is then applied to the hair for washing. How easy! Pick a plant, grind it up, add water, and voila- natural shampoo.
Although sick, we couldn’t get enough of Lake Titicaca as well as our hotel Titilaka. This place, including the hotel, is truly magical and has so much to offer in sustainable tourism. For now, however, we are off in search of more oxygen. We're hoping to find some as we decent a couple hundred feet to Cusco. Hasta la próxima!