In the middle of Lake Titicaca in Peru lies the quiet and beautiful island of Taquile. An island where time seems to have stood still and the people still speak Quechua, the ancient language of the Inca.
I step carefully out of the collectivo boat. I don’t want my feet to get wet. It seems to be ok. We have 30 minutes before the boat will head on. We are on our way to Taquile from Puno, but lucky for us, the boat makes a stop at the fascinating floating islands of the Uros people.
The islands are synonymous with the Titicaca Lake and for many; a trip out on the lake doesn’t extend further than here. Outside the dirty smelly city of Puno lies these fascinating islands of houses and boats, all made of reeds. The ground feels a little spongy when I walk around. Almost all women on the island seem to sell souvenirs. The same as I’ve seen every where else in the country. Their colorful clothes are illuminated by the bright light here.
The sun is scorching down and the scalp is easily burned on this intense blue lake which is 3820 meters above sea level. Three hours later we reach land at Taquile, where we pay a tourist fee of 1 sol, before we face the next challenge; the steep steps up to the center of the island. It is said that it is about 500 steps. At a height of almost 4000 meters, you will definitely feel this. It takes us almost 45 minutes to reach the top. The fact that we also have our heavy backpacks on, does not make it easier. People breathe heavily in discomfort as they struggle up the stairs and I’m concerned about a couple who really seem to be finding it difficult.
Two men look up from their knitting when we ask for a place to stay for the night
Finally at the top we find the ‘reception’ sign. Two men look up from their knitting when we ask for a place to stay for the night. When people on the mainland started bringing tourists here, the islanders came together and took control of the tourism themselves. This allows them to enjoy the income, in addition to controlling the flow of tourists visiting. The accommodations are distributed among the island’s inhabitants. In addition to the room you can also pay extra for dinner and breakfast.
While we are assigned a host family for the night, the knitting needles have barely been at rest. The only man we see around us who has idle hands is Elias, our assigned host.
We have just caught our breaths after ascending the stairs, when we have to walk even further to get to his house. Up and down along small paths before we reach a dwelling with two rooms. We are assigned one of the rooms, while he lives in the other with his father, wife and two small children. The house has a dirt floor and the toilet is a plastic shack down by the field, where he grows black corn. Outside the house is a large pond of rainwater and there is a solar panel for electricity.
We suspect he appointed himself to host us when he saw Joe’s mandolin. He pulls out his own and tells us that he has invited a friend over in the evening to play. We agree on a little jam session later.
After leaving our things in the room we go for a walk on this beautiful island. There are no vehicles here and it is a true haven for the soul with hardly any noise at all.
‘Our’ family. Photographed in a Kodak moment with a film that surely had seen better days (i.e it didn’t take the heat so well) The sort of problems we could face before digital cameras.
As we stroll we meet men and women who constantly work while walking around together. The textiles they make go to the island’s cooperative shop, where the tourists can find souvenirs to take home. We pass women walking around with spinners. The young people carry the hand-held spinners, while the older women weave the colorful patterns that represent the island’s rich culture. Still, it’s probably the knitting men who fascinate tourists most here on Taquile.
The boys learn to knit at a very young age. As they become men, they learn to knit the colorful hats, chullos, in colors that show their marital status. White for bachelors, red for married men. Even the position of the tassel tells of your status. If you are single it hangs behind your head. If you are single but looking for a wife, it hangs on one side.
As they become men, they learn to knit the colorful hats, chullos, in colors that show their marital status
We pay Elias some extra soles for dinner and get delicious trout fresh from Titicaca Lake. Candles make the room feel cozy. We enjoy a cup of mate (tea) after dinner, when we hear raindrops on the roof. It turns into to a heavy rainfall! Elias’ friend is soaked when he arrives around nine. Our Spanish is not the best at this time and although the men can not speak English, we still manage to communicate. We play a couple of songs each before we swap. Their music is of more religious nature while we play Susanne Vega, Four Non Blondes, Pink Floyd, Creedence and Irish Folk Songs.
It’s midnight when we creep under two layers of thick blankets and a sleeping bag. It’s cool at night and the rain does not make it any better. It falls incessantly, banging against the roof, threatening to come through. Still, we manage to fall asleep.
The rain is a faded memory when we wake up the next day. We hear activity in the room next door. Elias has picked up his mandolin and is trying to remember one of the Irish folk songs we played for him the night before. When he hears we’re awake he brings in our breakfast and asks if Joe can teach him the melody. Later he comes back in with a huge cassette player to record the music. His wife and the youngest daughter come in too. She would like to hear “What’s Up” with Four Non Blondes, so we spend the morning recording various songs they want to hear before we have to descend all those steps again.
When he hears we’re awake he brings in our breakfast and asks if Joe can teach him the melody
The sun is high in the sky as we head back to Puno on the boat. I breathe in the fresh clear air. Taquile is about to become a beautiful memory. Up here we found a great peace and quiet. A little piece of paradise, where life is (almost) untouched by what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Yes, tourism has had its consequences out here too. Where the residents would rather have a huge ghetto blaster, than a more hygienic toilet arrangement.
But they seem happy and with such intense beauty that the lake offers, why not. We look back one last time. Out there, in the middle of Lake Titicaca, Elias is listening to the recording of two strange backpackers singing “Whiskey in the Jar”. The world feels a little smaller now.
Soletraveller visited the island in 2002