Recently a friend asked me to review an itinerary he was putting together for a visit to Peru. Since I had traveled there last summer with my daughters, he was interested in which destinations I thought were worth the time, money, and effort. Eventually, he asked what was my favorite part of my journey.
Without hesitation, I replied that it was eating lunch on a terrace at a farmhouse on Taquile Island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. He was shocked, of course, in his mind, my favorite part of the trip should have been when my eyes first gazed upon the beauty and majesty of Machu Picchu. But this was not my first choice. In fact, it was not even my second choice. He wanted to know why and he wanted an explanation.
Many people feel that the Altiplano, Puno, and Lake Titicaca are areas of Peru that can easily be passed by. I would disagree with this assumption. I have many fond memories from this region and I felt in many ways that it was here where my daughters and I really came to know and love Peru.
Lake Titicaca is one of those places I learned about in elementary school. My fellow fifth graders and I loved to giggle every time we had the opportunity to pronounce the name in class. Most people know Lake Titicaca as the highest navigable lake in the world (for commercial craft), and many people know about the culture of the Uru people who base their sustenance on using the totora reed for everything from food to shelter.
The lake and the island people are fascinating pieces of culture and geography, and we definitely enjoyed visiting the floating islands of Urus and talking to the local families. We also realized that this aspect of visiting Lake Titicaca has become very touristy and is as much about selling souvenirs as it is about sharing culture. Had this been all we experienced, I may have formed a different opinion about the lake.
Island of Taquile
The second part of our excursion on Lake Titicaca included a boat ride to the hilly, rocky island of Taquile about 45 kilometers east of Puno. This rugged and remote island featured some pre-Inca ruins mixed in among agricultural terraces. There were no vehicles or hotels on the island and only a few small stores that sold basic necessities. Families offer home stays, but only about 40,000 tourists visit the island each year. Life for most of the residents has remained unchanged by much of our modern world.
Our boat ride to the island was bumpy, but it was a sunny day and we enjoyed being on the lake.
When we arrived at Taquile, our boat docked at a secluded alcove. Unlike, Urus, there was no one around to greet us or sell us souvenirs. In fact, the island looked deserted. As we stepped off the boat, we found a very serene, peaceful terrain devoid of tourists and other visitors. It was not what we expected.
Our tour included a hike from one side of the island to the other. The hike was not long, but it necessitated that we climb up one side of the island and walk down steep stairways and paths on the other. The climb was relatively easy, but since the elevation of the lake is 12,500 feet above sea level, none of us were sprinting up the hills.
We took our time to enjoy hiking the narrow pathways through small farms and grazing pastures for sheep. The local people allow the sheep to graze everywhere so their dropping fertilize the land. They do this for a few years and then move the sheep to other parts of the island. We quickly learned that it was a waste of time to worry about where we were stepping, nowhere was safe.
Eventually, we reached a farmhouse terrace that overlooked the lake. It was a simple structure made of stone; comfortable, but not too fancy. The family which ran the farmhouse had prepared a picnic lunch for us. What they offered us was a little bit of comfort; simple, but delicious local food; and unending views of the snow-capped mountains of Bolivia. The day was warm, the wind was light, and there was nothing to do but eat, share stories, and gaze at the scenery that seemed to go on forever. It was a perfect, serene, and peaceful afternoon.
I have never been to Greece nor the Western Mediterranean, but I imagined that this must have been what it would be like dining on a terrace overlooking the Aegean Sea. After eating lunch, enjoying the company of our new friends, talking with the local farm family, and relaxing for a while; we eventually hiked to the top of the island and then made our way back to our boat on the other side. The hike, scenery, and serenity were exhilarating. It was so unexpected.
I realized at the time that this was a special moment that I would never forget. I also began to realize that this is why I travel. Our trip to Peru was a schedule of visits to destinations, but really what we were hoping for was the opportunity to have experiences such as the opportunity to meet people, see things we have never seen before, come face-to-face with history, and experience other cultures. On Taquile, we had a travel moment that permanently left an impression on our souls.
You might be wondering, what was my second favorite experience? It was eating dinner with my two daughters at a restaurant in Lima that was perched on an outside terrace on the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To say it was anything less than magical would be an understatement. I don’t want to downplay seeing Machu Picchu, it was definitely third on my list of favorite things. But on Taquile Island, I truly experienced the beauty of Peru, and I came to realize the reason I love to travel.