A confluence of indigenous tribes and modern day countries, Lake Titicaca is a living reflection of the diversity present in this part of South America. Mandy and I spent a few days in the area and came away with a newfound respect for the people of the lake and the history surrounding it.
Titicaca as we were told is Quechua for “Gray Puma” and it is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet. It shares a border with both Bolivia and Peru, and has two distinct and separate Quechua and Aymara native cultures that trace back their lineage to the lake well before the arrival of the Incans. The lake is spotted with sixty artificial islands occupied by the Uros people. These islands are built by cutting reeds in the area and piling the cut reeds on the living reed roots until it is high enough to build structures on. The reed roots are continuously growing and over 1200 people live on these floating islands. The communities at the time were so far offshore, that the Spaniards never discovered these people ad their culture and way of life stays highly intact to this day. Our guide for the few days we spent on the lake grew up on one of these islands and we were fascinated to hear that many neighbor disputes were resolved by simply pulling anchor and floating away. After an informative day spent learning some of the native Aymara language, exploring a nearby natural island and buying some locally handwoven rugs, we settled in for the night in the town of Luquina Chico.
That night and the following day was one of my favorite aspects of our trip to Peru and was one of the more eye opening experiences of our trip in South America. We spent our time with a local family and stayed with them in their home. The husband and wife owned a farm overlooking the lake and had seven kids ranging in age from two to nineteen. In our first few hours we got to know the two younger girls aged six and eight and played with the twin two-year-old brother and sister. The children normally spend most of their time playing with the animals and helping on the farm and our presence was a novelty they were all immediately drawn to. Mandy showed the girls her Snapchat and camera and it was a blast watching them play with the photo filters. We spent the evening speaking to the parents learning more about their way of life and were treated to a home cooked meal.
It’s funny how we as people tend to project our own ideas about what is the right way to live and those ideas color our perceptions and interactions with the world. However, this “right way” is just a cultural construct at times completely oblivious to the possibility of other ways of life not only being acceptable, but also on equal existential footing. Openness to other ways of life I think is at times seen through a lens of superiority in that another way of life may be accepted and respected but inherently perceived as inferior. By American standards the family was quite poor with only two bedrooms between seven people (the two oldest kids lived in the nearby city of Puno), a very simple mostly plant based diet, and generally few possessions to call their own. I at first felt sorry for the family and racked my brain for ways in which I could help. Yet by the end of my stay, I began to realize how much I was letting my own cultural bias frame my thinking. The family seemed incredibly happy and spent a lot of time together every day. They also had their basic needs met – a home, hot running water, electricity, plenty of food, and access to education. It was me who could have learned a lot about their slower paced way of life – one rich in close personal relationships in a small community of friends and family. // Jeff