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Lake Titicaca: Vision of Gods

Photo: Roberto Fantozzi.



Photo: Roberto Fantozzi.



Photo: Roberto Fantozzi.


Photo: Roberto Fantozzi.



Photo: Roberto Fantozzi.



Photo: Roberto Fantozzi.

It is the highest and most extensive expanse of water in South America, the only navigable lake at such an altitude. Titicaca (Stone Puma) has lived a long life of millions of years. It contains the sum of all the ages that have molded and defined the works that humans have undertaken in the southern Americas. Over this span of time, that reaches back some two million years, its body of water has been much larger, and encompassed areas today covered in salt flats and wasteland.

The landscape that shelters Titicaca and which is one with the lake - which a dazzled Arnold Toynbee described as a "vision of gods" - is the region of the high plains and vast slopes where the culture of a cold land and of the potato hold sway, having produced, even today, a visible center of influence in the entire southern part of the nation.
To Titicaca we attribute the origins of the Andean civilizations, because from the myth or the reality (the couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo emerging from the waters) stretch different historical developments, reaching their high point in the domain of the Incas. The Incas assimilated the agricultural and ecological techniques for coping with a hostile environment, and of stonemasonry using methods and instruments produced on the altiplano. From thence springs the myth.

The perception that the Andean world is born out of Lake Titicaca comes from the cultures that developed on the altiplano and their contribution to the growth of other civilizations. Probably the founding couple of the myth did not emerge from Titicaca, but what did emerge was a cultural world which grew and spread itself out to wider regions.
Titicaca is a source of nourishment for society and culture, and those who visit it cannot but feel that they are facing a sacred giant, a thing of deep waters in a high place. This world of myth and densely populated areas and wondrous landscapes lies about 1,300 kilometers south-east of Lima.

The Islands
Like any large and autonomous lake formation, it contains almost a half hundred islands and majestic spots on whose shores like eternal watchtowers, rise magnificent churches constructed during the colonial era.

On its islands, which are reached by comfortable motor launch, journeying 3 to 5 hours, according to destination, it is striking how the local people use, as in other parts of the country, terrace systems to gain cultivable land on the steep slopes. These far-off and apparently inhospitable places are welcoming and have, on Taquile, Amantaní, Suasi or Soto on the Peruvian side of the lake, the most beautiful spots, that are part of tour circuits known or about to be included in the world of travel and organized trips. On the Peruvian side of  Titicaca, tourism is just beginning.

The Enchantment of Taquile
Taquile and Amantaní are notable examples of societal and communitarian life, showing values of reciprocity and complementarity in their social output of textile handcrafts and of their stone carving, now lost in other parts of Peru which are not strictly Andean.
This is an indigenous community of some 350 families which continues to live within the traditions of the 14th century, according to the principles of Inca life.
Here, without noting the passing of time, the three golden rules of the Empire of the Sun have been kept: Ama suwa, Ama quella, Ama llulla (do not steal, don't be idle, and do not lie). The contact with other civilizations has not been able to destroy the profound identity of the Inca way.

Enriched by a turbulent past, this small island sinks its roots into the very origins of Inca civilization. And although the Spanish colonization did impose the heavy burden of serfdom, this did not manage to destroy indigenous values and customs.
From its turbulent past, the inhabitants of the island maintain the determination and courage to confront their adversities with a jovial and ever-present humor. For if there exists a fundamental characteristic in Taquile, it is without doubt the joy of living, good humor, the smiling face, and mutual support.

On the way out of Puno, in the bright clarity of the morning, the traveler boards one of the boats that daily connect the small provincial city to the island. Rocked by the soft movement of the waves, the traveler enjoys the wondrous contrast of colors: the intense blue of the limpid waters mingles and blends with the ochres and greens of an extraordinary carpet of vegetation; the stands of totora reed open before the launch. After some three hours of boating, under a luminous sky, the boat puts in at one of the island's small ports.

On Taquile there are no planes, no trucks, no cars, no motorcycles. It is on foot, following the little pathways of ordered stones, that the visitor allows himself to be infused with this surprising atmosphere that envelops the island. The principal characteristic of the island resides in the fact that it has conserved, across the centuries, a great many of the customs of the old lake population, such as a communitarian life where everything is shared, exceptional handcrafts, and - unique of their kind - dances and traditional music, maintained in all their purity.

To live on Taquile is to penetrate the wonderful union between Earth and Humans, it is to rediscover the unity and balance between things and beings. It is to learn anew how to live. Nature has been equally generous to the island. The native vegetation has been enriched with eucalyptus and cypresses brought from outside in the nineteen-fifties. These species adapted to the climatic conditions of the region. In the waters that surround Taquile grow beds of totora reed, and on the slopes the grass known as ichu, which is used both to feed the sheep and to roof the houses.

Travel throughout South America with

By Hernán Cornejo & Christian Nonis
Volume II/Issue 10, Page 06
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