On Saturday we left Cusco at 11,000 feet and flew even higher into the Andes to Juliaca where we boarded a bus to travel the 45 minutes to Puno and Lake Titicaca and our hotel, the Libertador, which was right on the shores of the lake. We were now at 12,500 feet, which becomes a real challenge for those of us who normally live at sea level. The hotel offers complimentary oxygen sessions (about 10 minutes) for those who have trouble adjusting. The lake is composed of two nearly separate sub-basins connected by the Strait of Tiquina, which is 800 m (2,620 ft) across at the narrowest point. The larger sub-basin, Lago Grande (also called Lago Chucuito), has a mean depth of 135 m (443 ft) and a maximum depth of 284 m (932 ft). The smaller sub-basin, Wiñaymarka (also called Lago Pequeño, "little lake"), has a mean depth of 9 m (30 ft) and a maximum depth of 40 m (131 ft). The overall average depth of the lake is 107 m (351 ft.)
On Sunday, we boarded a very comfortable boat for a full day on the water. Our first stop was the floating reed islands or Uros Islands. The Uros use bundles of dried totora reeds to make reed boats (balsas mats), and to make the islands themselves. The larger islands house about ten families, while smaller ones, only about thirty meters wide, house only two or three. The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months; this is what makes it exciting for tourists when walking on the island. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years. We had a wonderful visit leaning about their culture and way of life and native dances.
We then reboarded the boat and drove about an hour to the UNESCO heritage site of Taquile Island, one of the last frontiers conquered by the Incas. Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are regarded as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, starting at age eight. Women spin wool and use vegetables and minerals to dye the wool to be used by the community. Women are also the weavers of the Chumpis, the wide belts with woven designs worn by everyone in the community of Taquile. The island is divided into six sectors or suyus for crop rotation purposes. The economy is based on fishing, terraced farming horticulture based on potato cultivation, and tourist-generated income from the approximately 40,000 tourists who visit each year.. We learned about their history and wonderful weaving and knitting skills (which earned the culture its UNESCO status) and had a wonderful chicken lunch.
It was then back to the boat for our trip to the hotel and a quiet evening. At this altitude, you burn out quickly, and everyone was pretty exhausted by dinner.