When I first arrived at Lake Titicaca, I was more than excited to get on the boat and start exploring. About a half hour from shore, we stopped at a floating island. I was instantly astounded by the feel of the reeds beneath my feet. I initially thought that the island was like a market on a raft of floating reeds. Instead, reality was much more interesting. Each year when the lake rises with the rain, large chunks of roots break off and float to the surface. The residents of the lake then collect the reeds, cut them into appropriate sizes, jam large sticks into them, before tying them all together. From there, they create anchors and gradually add reeds to the top to make their floating homes. Up to two tons of reeds are added up to three times per year. Gradually this adds weight to the island until the root base touches the bottom of the lake once again, resulting in rot, and the need to build a new island. It turns out that my fear of a tourist trap was actually an authentic life with multiple families living together. There are also more developed islands. There is a medical center, and even a primary school floating on the lake. The little electricity that they use comes from solar panels, and they have no running water, but they are still more than welcome to share their experience with groups like ours.
Next up, we continued our voyage by boat to the deep part of the lake, almost an hour and a half past the floating islands. We arrived at the island of Taquile, where we walked up a beautiful hill to a restaurant with some of the most glorious views that I have ever seen. We learned more about the culture of the island here, especially the rich weaving tradition. All men on the island carry knitting equipment with them at all times, and they can routinely be seen working as they walk. The women, on the other hand, use looms affixed to the ground to weave. One interesting fact about this UNESCO-recognized activity is that one can tell a man’s status by his hat. Single men wear hats with one patch of white and one of red. Married men have a similar style hat, but it is rainbow patterned. Finally, the governor of the island wears a hat with ear flaps that is worn underneath a European-style hat.
One other quirk of the island’s weaving tradition is that women collect their hair over their childhood. Once they become engaged, they weave it into a belt. The men also weave a belt, and these two items are eventually combined.
After our lunch and anthropology lesson, we meandered back down to the crystal blue water where our boat awaited. I personally will never forget what I learned that day, and thinking of the kindness we experienced still warms my heart.
~Riley, High School Student