Lake Titicaca… birthplace of the Incas
Cox & Kings client Dr Paul Sharpe travelled with us on our Grand Tour of South America. Here he describes a particularly special early morning visit to the Uros reed islands on Lake Titicaca.
Perhaps it was the rarefied air that made the colours so intense. A cloudless, cobalt sky mirrored itself in the placid waters of Lake Titicaca whilst the women who greeted us wore long, thick skirts of bright blue, red and green. Together with their thick cardigans and jackets, they were well wrapped up against the cold, for the sunshine was there to deceive.
Inhabitants of the Uros islands
At an altitude of over 3,800 metres, Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake and the Uros reed islands float upon it like enormous rafts. The islands are entirely man-made, constructed of several-metre-thick, buoyant totora reeds bound together by ropes and anchored to the bed of the lake. Cut from the shallows at the lake’s margin, the reeds are constantly added to as those deeper in the water gradually rot away. As a consequence, the ground – if you can call a substrate of compressed reeds ‘ground’ – was the colour of sun-bleached straw yet as soft as spring turf under the feet.
For the people who inhabit the Uros islands, the reeds are not simply used to make their islands but also the actual homes in which they live. Using tightly bound bundles and the minimum of conventional building materials, they are weatherproof and cosy, although lacking in many of the creature comforts we have come to expect. Even the bed was made of reeds. An exception to this were the televisions, courtesy of electricity generated by the many solar panels that had been installed. No doubt the inhabitants have also moved with the times with their boats, and those made of reeds are more for tourists than as a means of transport. Nevertheless, they are a colourful reminder of a way of life that has almost disappeared.
Reed boats on Lake Titicaca
To reach Lake Titicaca, we had travelled by overnight train from Cuzco to the port of Puno, arriving well before dawn. Leaving the warmth of our cabin behind, we walked through the chilly air to the waterfront where hot drinks and a blazing brazier were there to welcome us. It seemed fitting that we should watch the sun rise over the lake from which the Inca sun god Inti ordered the first Inca, Manco Capac, to emerge. And what a spectacular sunrise it was too. As night faded, the eastern horizon became bathed in a pale coral glow which imperceptibly spread and brightened until the burnished sun then rose up as if out of molten copper.
Sunrise over Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is shared between Peru and Bolivia, and for the final part of our visit to the lake, we crossed the border into Bolivia and were driven to the resort of Copacabana. From here, under the watchful eye of the Bolivian navy which controls the port, we boarded a motorboat to take us to Isla del Sol, where a climb of more than 100 steps brought us up from the jetty onto the island. According to some sources, this island is where Manco Capac appeared, but what is certain is that there were many Inca remains there, including a legendary Fountain of Youth. Having tested its efficacy, I can only assume its water is very slow acting.
Lake Titicaca is the present-day home of the Uros people and the spiritual home of the Inca. Our visit gave us the opportunity to find out much more about both.
Paul travelled with us as part of a group on our Grand Tour of South America, visiting Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. To find out more, visit our website. Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.