Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol

Much of the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca is terraced into plots for potatoes, cereal grains and other crops suited to the altitude of 13,000 feet above sea level. The hills that rise up all around the lake show a similar terracing. This area was part of the Tiwanaku empire 2,000 years ago, an empire I had never heard of. At its peak, it reached into Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela and Argentina. The island was a cultural and religious center for the Tiwanaku and the Incas who followed them.
Local Aymara Indians still make boats (which they call balsas) from the totora reed, and these on the beach at Yampupata are specifically for use by tourists, two to a boat with paddles. I didn´t have time to indulge.
The terrain is very dry all around Lake Titicaca, whose name comes from two Aymara words meaning puma and stone. My guide, Samuel, speaks Aymara as do most people in the La Paz and El Alto area. Here we´re descending from the peaks on the Isla del Sol. I was short of breath after the climb.

Unfortunately, this double-hulled reed boat pulled out before I could close enough for a good shot. The boat is probably 25 feet long and made completely of totora reeds that grow beside the lake. The prows display stylized puma heads.

Subsistence farming mixes in with tourism on the Isla del Sol, and not always comfortably. Still, a good hotel costs only about $30 night. Food and labor are inexpensive. A great meal of trout, salad and a couple of sides costs about $3.

These stone steps up from the beach on the Isla del Sol are supposed to date from Inca times (the 1400s) or earlier.

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