The vast Lake Titicaca stretches 58,000 km2 across two countries, Peru and Bolivia, and sits at a high altitude of 3812m. From the distance, it almost looks like the sea with the endless horizon. The legendary lake is stunning, but what draws me to it is the indigenous natives who have created their unique culture and way of living, making them intriguing and all the more captivating.
Artificial Floating Villages
Around the vicinity of the city of Puno, Southern Peru, there are over 60 little floating villages on Lake Titicaca that the Uros people have constructed with natural resources. Using reeds, or in Quechua language ‘Totora’ (a strong aquatic plant), they build temporary houses that float atop the water surface. The tide washes over their houses at times, so new layers of reed need to be laid every 2 weeks for better resistance.
We had the great opportunity to visit one of the floating villages where 8 Uros families live. Recently opened to tourists, these families are barely familiar with foreigners and can only speak Quechua language (descendents of the Incas).
They showed us their homes, and their colorful work of art and sang beautiful melodies of the Uros. We also got to ride on their boats weaved out of reed, or how they called ‘Balsa de Totora’.
The Uros people lead a simple life, catching food from the lake, exchanging fish for any products they need and getting all their basic necessities from the environment. Education (primary and secondary) is free in Peru. They weave their own clothes and materials.
In other words, they are completely self-sufficient. They do not need money as they get everything they need from the natural surroundings. If everywhere in the world worked this way, our environment and the Earth might just be saved from destruction.
Descendants of the Incas
The Inca civilization had stretched from Mexico all the way through to Peru. There are two main groups of descendents from ancient civilizations – the Quechua and the Aymara-speaking people. Puno is the only place in the world where you can find people from the two indigenous groups living unanimously together. Above Puno towards the North, there are only Quechua-speaking people, while in the South are the Aymara-speaking group. It is definitely intriguing to hear the Uros speak these ancient languages that their ancestors had spoken thousands of years ago. Many do not speak Spanish, the official language of the country.
The soul of Lake Titicaca lies on the unique Taquile Island that is blessed with the natural backdrop of Bolivia’s Cordillera Real (Royal Mountain Range) and a hilly landscape. It also boasts of a thick and rich culture that the locals have fortunately retained and flourished.
The people of Taquile island have their distinct costumes, influenced by Catalunyas’ Sadarnas (Spanish traditional wear). We were lucky enough to have lunch at a local family’s home, where they shared with us their local dance and costume.
Lake Titicaca Culinary Delights
The Uros and inhabitants all over Lake Titicaca get their food from the lake, which means fish is their main staple. They do not eat any red meat, and have a healthy diet based on fish, potatoes and quinoa.
Quinoa is an extremely popular South American grain that is as healthy and nutritional as soya bean. We sampled some freshly fried corvina fish and quinoa soup that were definitely some of the best Peruvian cuisine we’ve had. Like what they say, home cooked food is always the best.
This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip through South America so far, with a surreal and rare peek deep into the hearts of the locals. Despite tourism being over-developed in many countries including some parts of Peru, this part of the world still stays relatively real.