When we realized the railroad to Machu Picchu would be closed this season due to heavy rainfall and flooding, the students and directors began discussing alternatives. We immediately reached a consensus. If we couldn’t visit the capital of the Inca Empire, we would instead visit the legendary birthplace of the first Incas and the center of the Andean World: Lake Titicaca.
Not only did we learn a lot about the past during the last week of the term, but our trip to the highest navigable lake in the world gave us a chance to experience living culture among people who still practice their traditional customs.
Here are some highlights:
- Arriving in Arequipa, the “white city”, known for its grand colonial buildings constructed of sillar, an ash-colored stone produced by the eruption of Misti and other nearby volcanoes
- Gazing into the face of Sarita, a 500-year old human sacrifice preserved by freezing temperatures atop Mount Ampato and now living in a climate-controlled museum in Arequipa
- Mounting a bicycle at 4,910 meters (16,108 feet) and cruising down to the village of Chivay — a 1,200 meter drop in 20 kilometers that produced an average grade of 6% — fast and fun
- Soaking in hot mineral springs afterward
- Hiking along the rim of Colca Canyon — deepest in the world — watching Andean condors soar overhead. The wings of adult condors span more than 10 feet
- Viewing herds of llamas and alpacas tended by families in the rugged altiplano (high plain)
- Seeing hundreds of vicunas, wild cousins to the domesticated llama, as they grazed and ran in a protected reserve
- Riding in tricycle taxis from our hostel down to the port
- Greeting residents of the floating islands of Uros with Aymara phrases: Kamisaraki (good day) and Waliki (response)
- Paddling a reed boat from one floating island to another
- Spending the night with families who dress and live according to local customs on Amantani Island (no cars to watch out for when you cross these streets!)
- Learning how residents of Taquile Island reveal their marital status through the color and placement of their hats and belts while
- Devouring plates of fresh trout
- Plunging into the clean, cold waters of Lake Titicaca. At a water temperature of 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit), the swim was short but sweet
- Relaxing in the warm sun as our boat returned to the port in Puno (“resting place” in Quechua).
Many thanks to our guide, Pepe Pedro, for offering us a trip that was as adventurous as it was educational.