One of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting is Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru. From sleeping in huts with locals, to shopping on floating islands made of ‘totoro’ reeds, to lounging on top of a tourist yacht, you could say it was the weekend of a lifetime.
Upon arriving in the Capachica rural community, I was immediately struck by the amazing view. As we drove up the narrow, winding dirt road, the sun setting over Lake Titicaca emerged over the horizon. The icy mountains of Bolivia were visible across the lake and there was little sign of modern luxury. I wondered immediately how I was going to share my experience without access to Facebook or Instagram, but eventually took solace in my vacation from that world. As we unloaded the bus, we were given our hut assignments, and I found my home after a 20-minute hike along the lakeshore, a small room of three beds which I would share with five other girls. Almost immediately, we discarded our things in the room and ran to explore. Our search for a relaxing beach led us to a beautiful hike of stunning views and boulders the size of my home in Wisconsin. Though a unique experience, walking along Lake Titicaca reminded me of a walk along Lake Superior, and it felt like home.
That night we were given the opportunity to help prepare our meal the way that the locals do. We each took turns grinding quinoa between large slabs of stone, a long, taxing process. Afterward we were taught how to make “galletas de quinoa” which were simply little chips of quinoa flour and vegetable oil quickly baked that we ate with cheese and salsa. After dinner, we danced around a bonfire built from quinoa reeds. It constantly needed to be fed, but was one of the largest and hottest bonfires I’ve ever seen. It was a nippy night, but that didn’t stop us from a run down to the shore to dip our toes in the water and share a beer, after which we crawled into our shared beds with six or more blankets and had one of the best nights’ sleep of my life.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast of bread and fruit, and boarded a water bus, a tourism boat which would be home base for the remainder of the weekend. The cabin was full of comfortable seats and surrounded on all sides by windows. However, my friends and I preferred to spend our time atop the boat, where we could feel the lake breeze and pretend we were aboard a private yacht, strumming an ukulele and sharing laughs as we made our way to the next stop of the weekend, an island community called Uros.
Pulling up to Uros, it doesn’t look like much of anything, until you disembark the boat and realize you are stepping onto a floating island made of what seems to be grass. Actually, it is a colossal mass of totoro reeds, all strung together and anchored at four corners. Totoro reeds are often referred to as the banana of Lake Titicaca, because though long and cumbersome, when peeled they can be eaten like a banana. The taste reminded me more of cucumber, but was delicious regardless. However, in Uros’ case, the reeds were much more than a tasty snack. As I sat on the island and listened to the explanation of how exactly the island is constructed, I realized I was surrounded by totoro reeds. Not only was the community suspended by these floating reeds, their houses and boats were built from them, there was a lookout tower constructed with primarily reeds, and I was sitting on a bench of totoro reeds.
After the explanation we had the opportunity to shop crafts made by the six families which inhabit the island. I purchased a gift for my not-yet-born niece, a beautiful and colorful mobile constructed from – you guessed it – totoro reeds. Then we had the opportunity to board a totoro boat and travelled to another local community, where we were the first tourist group ever to visit. We hiked through what seemed to be a forest of reeds (which are actually quite difficult to walk on) and crossed an incredible totoro bridge. We had the opportunity to play a game of futbol against the local children, who took it easy on us, and observed a traditional offering to Pachamama, the Earth Mother, with a local elder of 94 years young. After this incredible experience, we loaded up the water bus and were off to find our next home for the night.
Amantani Island is known as the island of love, and the reasons are clear. Upon arriving, we were all blessed with bands of beautiful flowers similar to a Hawaiian lei, and led to our rooms overlooking Titicaca and Pachatata mountain, quite the romantic view. After lunch we had the opportunity to hike Pachatata or go for a dip in the lake. Lake Titicaca is frigid, but I live on Lake Superior and again, the breathtaking icy water felt like home to me. I pitched my hammock and relaxed with my uke as I waited for the dinner bell, enjoying the cool breeze as the sun went down. After dinner, we were all dressed in traditional garb and joined a mass of other tourists in the island’s main plaza where we danced to traditional music and traded our stories and experiences.
The next morning, our last morning on the lake, we were taken to one last island, one which seemed to float in the clouds. After a long steep hike, we made it to the top of Takile island, where we were demonstrated a traditional wedding acted out by my peers. We bonded with the locals, particularly a young boy no more than three years who understood only Quechua but loved our company regardless. We were given a wonderful meal of quinoa soup and gazed over the lake as we said goodbye to the weekend of our lives.