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Titicaca Lake or solitude at its best

Day 42-43: 24-25 January 2016

La Isla de los Uros or WTF am I doing here?

The plan was easy and simple: take a bus from Cusco to Puno, arrive there sometime in early afternoon, take a boat to the Uros islands and ask the locals, if they have a place for an overnight stay. I mastered all that without any complications – by the sunset I got a private shack with a pink door on the Island of Uros!

Just a few words about where I was. Uros are an ethnical group (perhaps the poorest communities in Peru), which choose isolated life on Titicaca Lake escaping from aggressive Inca conquerors centuries ago. They built (and still do) floating islands out of the reeds growing abundantly there. The islands are constantly replenished from the top as they rot from the bottom (every 2-3 years).

Currently there are about 2000 Uros leaving on Titicaca Lake on about 90 floating reed islands kind of connected together. A small group, mostly a family lives on each Island. Fishing and handcrafted souvenirs are their main occupation, if you are lucky enough, you’ll find a little grocery store or a restaurant, offering some lake fish. Some of them have reed boats and offer tourists little rides. The call these boats proudly “Mercedes” 🙂

So I made it to one of those mini islands with 6 huts, a grocery store (a little room with some bananas, cookies and soft drinks) and a restaurant. The last boat left, I stayed there. The sun was about to disappear behind the hills…

It was going to be a windy night

Short after the boat left I felt a bit like an alien – I was definitely not belonging there. At that moment I realised first time, it might be a strange experience here. My poor spanish was apparently not enough for a little talk, the locals speak Quechua – sorry dudes, got no skills on that one! I played a bit with the kids, which was fun (was a good idea to have some little presents for them), but couldn’t establish any communication with the women of the island. They kept forwarding me to the man of the island, the husband of one of them. He spoke Spanish. I think the real barrier was other than the language. My whole presence there was extremely strange, starting with my flashy appearance in outdoor clothing (which unfortunately I couldn’t change), and ending with the fact, that a young lady was asking for an overnight stay all alone in some isolated corner of the world with a bunch of strange people. I am definitely not the first and the last visitor, they know how to deal with tourists. But I had the feeling, they constantly questioned in their minds “wtf is she doing here?” In fact I kept asking myself the same question. Too late, the boat was gone, I had to go through this no matter what.

Despite all recommendations of guidebooks I was not fancy trying some local fish or anything else at their restaurant. The hygiene concept of the island was not convincing me at all, and I was still kind of a bit careful after my recent infection from Cusco. I actually had no appetite at all, asked for some coca tee and went to my shack.

It was going to be a windy night. I usually sleep bad when it’s windy outside, as I start visualising its destructive power and get scared. Accordingly I couldn’t fall asleep that night in a hardly isolated shack made of reed. It was getting cold. The wind felt like a storm, at least from acoustic perspective. I started hating myself for the decision to stay here. Why could’t I be just like any other tourist coming to this island, spending 15 minutes here, making some photos, getting souvenirs and going back with the same boat?

What am I going to learn here?

I hated myself even more, when I discovered that I left my sleeping bag inlet in the main backpack stored in Punos’ bus station. But even if I had the inlet with me, there was no way I would get into that bed! I don’t know how many people slept in there, but I’m definitely sure it has been never “refreshed” since the beginning of its times. So I put on an additional layer of thermo clothes, jackets, gloves, everything that I had with me in order to prevent any skin contact to any surface. I turned off the light, and tried to focus on my breathing in order to calm down. It may sound exaggerated, but something told me there was more to come. Yeah, they came out, the insects leaving in reeds (the bed was made of reeds too). The light of my had lamp was enough to recognise 2-3 spiders walking on me. Did I ever tell you how much I hate spiders? I didn’t scream at that moment, just pulled my Buff headband over my face to isolate the last bits of the exposed skin, knowing that on a certain moment they were going to reach my face anyway. The toxic smell of the insect repellent were intensified by the limited oxygen I was getting through the cover on my face. In a while I stopped bitching with myself, I just gave up and fall asleep.

Woke up at around 5 am, the ducks were making funny noises. It was still dark and cold, however I could’t stay in that shack anymore. There was no wind, the lake was so quiet. Amazingly quiet! I found a chair somewhere, sat down and waited for the sunrise.

The sunrise was absolutely spectacular. The temperature drops quickly at this altitude once the sun is not shining, and accordingly it gets quickly warm with the very first rays of light. So the lake started evaporating when the sun beams touched the water surface. It was an otherworldly breathtaking moment, that made me forget the wind and the spiders of the past night. I didn’t move from that spot until the very last moment when a boat took me back to Puno.

The locals started coming out of their huts sometime around 8. Barefoot and hardly having something warm on, they looked at me in my warm outdoor clothes sitting on a chair at the lake. I guess the first thing they thought to themselves was

“WTF is she doing here?”

While sitting on that chair…

…I was amazed how peaceful it was on the island. Despite the considerable amount of guidebooks featuring Uros, that place was not feeling touristy at all, at least at this time of day. That was the first time in past weeks I had the feeling I was somewhere isolated, really distant. Awesome! Finally!

One needs now and then a quiet moment to focus, to focus on oneself. The places I visited by then were distracting, being too extraordinary, spectacular and captivating. I spent most of my time exploring them and not myself. All was too intense. The isolation on this island was intense too. Finally I could think…

I felt so relieved, that odd feeling from past night was gone. Not that I found my waiting on that chair extremely enriching, but I knew that the enormous discomfort I went through that night was not completely in vain.

Let’s start with spiders: allow the most hated thing happen to you, it is not going to kill you, but will make you stronger. Nothing new about it, but now I know now, how it feels. Enough on that…

I was observing the sleepy inhabitants of the island getting out of their shacks. You know what, the first thing they did was to smile to each other. They were in harmony with themselves, relaxed and in peace. I looked around myself… As I already mentioned, the Uros are not the wealthiest ethnical group in Peru and in the world. They literally don’t possess much, but obviously, it was not making them any unhappier, they looked pretty contented to me. I wish I could observe myself waking up in the morning? Du I look this happy and contented? Usually I have a busy mind in the morning…

I started sorting the topics usually occupying my mind. Hmm… got lots of choice and option questions… I guess too much if them. Because then comes the mind bugging question, how to manage the limited time and the resources I have to justify or realise all that stuff. It starts with the most banal ones, like “Which sneaker shall I put on today?”, goes on with a bit more complex ones like “How to get enough time for my x hobbies, friends, work, family and myself?”, and continues with more epic questions like about love, freedom, future, fulfilment, career and life strategies, security, etc… tough stuff!

Would I be a happier person, if I would have less options and choices? My answer is yes! I have to find a way to reduce them to the minimum. John Maeda comes to my mind, a professor at MIT I extremely admire, writing about simplicity and reduction: Designing a better product focus on the crucial feature of it and eliminate whatever is optional and could force you to do compromises. Amen to that, Mr. Maeda! This is how I am going to design my life in future: I will focus on just few things, which I love and which make me extremely happy and will eliminate the whole noise around it distracting me. Would be fair to apply the 80/20 rule on that: Invest all resources on 20% of topics that bring you 80% of happiness. No more energy waste! Sounds like a good plan. Still need to figure out those “things making me happy”. But I got time, there are many hikes ahead, I’ll think then on those few things.

Day 44: 26 January 2016

Bolivia: Isla del Sor

Right after my glorious night on Uros Island I departed from Puno to Copacabana, the town on Titicaca Lake on Bolivian side. Arrived there in early afternoon, had a spectacular sunset and a shitty dinner there, went to bed early.

Next morning I took the first boat to the Isla del Sol, the sacral island of Incas: the myths of Incas origin took place here. Although most of the structures are credited to Incas, Ayamara people were inhabiting the island centuries earlier, and the most of those structures, as well as the agricultural terraces were built by them. There is not much left from Incas in nowadays (thanks to Spanish conquistadors), just some ruins and a sacrificial altar. The shaman there confirmed, that this place is still used by Ayamara people  for spiritual rituals. There terraces are still used for agriculture.

The 9km long hike from north to south of the Island offered beautiful views.The trail was surprisingly not crowded at all. Although the terrain was not really demanding, the elevation of over 4000m was making the walk a bit strenuous. The sun was burning, the blowing wind was chilling off – the island has definitely a striking temper, which was outlined in addition by the visual dissonance of the endless tranquil lake and the harsh wind. A fantastic place!

Sunset in Copacabana


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