Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in the world, and Taquile Island is its most populous island with 300 inhabitants. There were no cars, dogs, or donkeys. One doesn’t conceive of lying or delinquency, because the houses don’t use locks on their doors, and the people are hospitable and friendly. Everyone was dressed typically, with caps, jackets, and colorful vests. When they see you in the morning, they greet you with: Ayin Punchao! which in Quechua means good morning.
I stayed at a private house on the eastern part of the island so I could watch the sunrise in the morning. The doors and windows of the house were painted with vivid and gaudy colors.
The days I spent on the island were the most beautiful and quiet of my entire trip. In the distance I could see the Andes, Bolivia, and several more islands. The blue water of the lake was in complete calm.
The Taquileños live from agriculture, fishing, the sale of cow’s milk, and from tourism during the summer months. It has a museum, a craft shop, a school, a Catholic church and an Evangelist one.
But something came to disturb the harmony that I had enjoyed during my stay on Lake Titicaca: When I boarded the boat in Puno, the boatmen had confirmed with all the travelers that, upon returning from Taquile Island, we would also visit the islands of the Uros, a detour already included in the seventy intis.
Well, in the port of Taquile there were four community boats: Two went directly to Puno, and two made a stopover on the islands of the Uros, but with a supplement of 10,000 soles. My complaints were to no avail; if I didn’t pay, I wouldn’t go to these islands. I promised I would pay and went on board.
The floating islands, or islands of the Uros, are small landless islets composed of cattails, which is a plant that sprouts on the lake, whose root is edible and a good remedy for throat sicknesses. To walk, the ground sinks like you were walking on grapes. There were a few houses of straw, typical huts, where some natives sold crafts, while others constructed reed canoes. I heard that the Uros were already an extinct race and the present inhabitants of the islands were indigenous to Puno. When the last tourist left from the islands at the end of the day, the latter would take off their typical Peruvian clothes to dress in jeans, and then take their boat to go sleep at their houses in Puno, only to return the next day to continue selling crafts to the tourists.
En route to Puno the boatman called us for the 10,000 soles. I categorically refused to pay and said I had been deceived. Several tourists also refused for the same reason. The boatman cut the engine and threatened to stay there until we paid. Little by little, all the tourists gave in, except me.
In the boat were about twenty Italians on a programmed trip, a few French, and some Germans. All wore huge backpacks. Seeing how the minutes passed, they became impatient and began to shout at me:
—Pay, pay already!
—It’s only 10,000 soles, pay!
—Pay and let’s go!
—And even an Italian, who at first had categorically refused to pay, shouted:
—Pay or we’ll throw you in the water!
I argued that I didn’t want to be deceived, that it was a matter of principle, not economics. Then the boatman, after throwing me a few words in Quechua that I didn’t understand except for the tone that I guessed was insulting, asked my nationality.
—I am Spanish.
Upon hearing me, he cried in a sick fury, foam spewing from his mouth:
—Spanish...! All the Spanish are outlaws! Your ancestors enslaved us and stole our gold!
Everybody, the boatman and tourists were against me and were all worked up. Not one supported me. I replied the way I did at the Gold Museum in Bogotá, although this time with ardor:
—They weren’t my ancestors; they were YOURS, since YOU are descended from the mix of those Spanish with the Indians! YOU have the blood of those ancestors, not me, because my ancestors stayed in Spain!
The boatman fell completely silent. I am sure that he had a Spanish surname and was not expecting my answer. When I finished speaking, I glanced over at the tourists, slowly one by one, with an insulting look.
It produced an awkward silence for them, until the Italian tour guide exclaimed:
—For the Spanish conquistadors I bring 10,000 soles, since on principle the boat doesn’t move!
The boatman seemed satisfied and accepted the bill. For sure, he would have started the boat immediately if the Italian had not paid. But compromise or not, these cases mark the difference between a tourist and a traveler.
We proceeded and everyone spoke about the subject with cowardly voices. The tourists looked at me stealthily out of the corner of their eyes and, when I surprised them, they quickly turned their faces. Nobody would speak to me.
The discussion didn’t put me in a good mood. I appreciate the Peruvians a lot, and that boatman I liked, even afterwards on the return trip and after the incident. When I saw him gazing pensively at the horizon with a lost face, I even felt guilty for having infuriated him. But soon I got rid of my anger...
Date posted: July 2013 Kyle Magnuson (United States of America):
A huge and pristine lake, with unique islands which have their own vibrant culture. Lake Titicaca fits the criteria of a world class WHS.
Date posted: January 2010
Have you been to Lake Titicaca? Share your experiences!