learning the culture of the ancient quechuas and the uro indians

Friday, May 29: Yesterday we arrived in Puno and our hotel, the Sonesta Posadas del Inca, which is located on the scenic shores of the world highest navigable lake, Titicaca, where despite it being the dry season, I cross my fingers that I’ll again enjoy an abundance of birds and other water fowl and flowers too.

puno-hotel-sonesta-posadas-del-incaThere’s also an old shipwreck of the steamship Yavari, built by the Peruvian government in the early 1800s to collect goods along the river for trade. Built in kit form, meaning no piece weighing more than the maximum carrying capacity of a mule, it was moved by train to Tacna (Peru’s most southernmost city), before being hauled over the Andes Mountains by mule to Puno. It took 6 years to complete. Today, it’s an official state museum located on the river near the hotel and easily accessible by land (via a bridge) or boat.

The hotel offers spectacular views, some lakeside and some mountainous, depending on which side of the hotel your room is. Because it’s located a couple of miles from the main square, having dinner anywhere but here tonight will require a taxi ride. With a huge dining room and lake view dining available right here, we may not want to. (Note: hotel photo from hotel website.)

Today’s other food offerings include another buffet breakfast at the hotel, American style (I soon won’t be able to fasten and zip my pants) and lunch along the way on this morning’s 19 mile excursion to Llachon at the Peninsula of Capachica where we’ll see and learn more about the Quechua communal culture.

Quechua, if you recall, was the official language of Peru in the Inca period. It is still an official language of Peru (and Bolivia) along with Aymara and Spanish but remains essentially an oral language because of the lack of books and other written material in Quechua. After the Inquisition (in 1532), the Spaniards banned the language and culture from both politics and education, but in spite of this, this indigenous people remained a communal society.

uros-harvesting-totora-o-lake-titicacaAlong the way, we’ll make a visit to the floating totora islands of the Uros Indians. As the ancient inhabitants of Lake Titicaca, they believe they own the lake and water. They say that have black blood that makes them unaffected by the cold, and also call themselves the sons of the sun. Presumably that means they can tolerate heat as well as cold.

Although they no longer speak the Uro language or practice the old beliefs, they do keep the old custom of harvesting the totora plants growing along the lake, which they uros-island-wikipediadry and use to make uros-reed-boatnot only the  boats seen along the river, but the floating islands they make their homes on as well.  The purpose of these floating island settlements was originally defensive, so that if a threat arose they could be moved. The largest island retains a watchtower almost entirely constructed of reeds.

A very interesting fact that turned up during my research on Peru is that many homes in Puno and surrounding cities are only half finished in their construction. The reason given is that this way the inhabitants don’t have to pay taxes. I’m finding this and other details turned up in my research of our Peruvian trip so fascinating that I think I may have missed my calling. Should I have been a researcher? a journalist? a rich person who only travels all over the world?

As a child I remember wanting to be a journalist for a magazine like the National Geographic, the most exotic magazine I was exposed to at the time, or–when I was older and came across Margaret Mead’s photographic book on families–anthropology was high on my list of romantic professions. I loved the way the new word rolled across my tongue. It replaced the other word I loved in an even earlier period, choreographer, because by then I’d learned that choreography mean’t making up dance moves and programs and I didn’t even know how to dance.

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