After years of deep curiosity about visiting the world’s highest lake, it’s hard for me to imagine that I am standing on the edge of a boat overlooking the fluorescent blue water lake, beneath a turquoise-colored sky.
White bellow clouds floating across a magically eerie lunar landscape surrounded by the glacier-etched, jagged-edged mountains. I can see a sprinkling of islands over the hazed-filled horizon.
I am finally recovering from the afflictions of altitude sickness, caused by my five-day, 15, 000 feet crossing of Mount Salcantay trek on the way to see Machu Picchu. The symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for exploring this miraculous paradox:
A 3,500 square mile lake in the heart of a vast, wind-swept Altiplano desert boarding the majestic Andean Mountain range. On the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca shimmers at an altitude of 12,500 feet. This is the largest lake in South America located at the highest altitude in the world.
A brown-colored reed boat floats past me, poled by a rotund woman wearing a brightly colored indigenously designed hat. Hay-covered islands and terraced hillsides seem to tumble down and then disappear into the lake’s shoreline.
I am surrounded by a wall of colossal mountains that seem to reach up and kiss the sky. As I take my seat on the boat, I take a deep gasp of air, unsure if it’s because of the high altitude or the remarkable spectacle that is leaving me so breathless.
I was then offered a cup of mate de coca- a traditional coca-leaf tea with the noxious flavor of dried dirt, by a local guide, – I felt better with every sip. Beyond the adobe houses and scattered farms on the lakeshore, I could see a number of locally constructed fishing boats.
Built-in the same style as the pre-Incan Aymara Indians have been doing for centuries, from the long, flexible but sturdy reads that grow in the vast brakes around Titicaca and the surrounding islands.
This lake and the entire area are much more than a beautiful physical monument with impressive numbers. For most pre-Columbian civilizations, Lake Titicaca was considered the cradle of humanity.
The Incas reverence of the Lake’s two main islands the moon and Sun (Luna and Sol) reinforced the areas’ importance as a tangible expression of these ancient culture’s focal myths. To both the Aymara and Incas, this mysterious and lonely lake was the birthplace of their civilization, the resting place of their primary gods, and the nexus of all creation.
After an hour of surging eastward across the choppy lake beneath lapis-colored swirls of low waves, the hydrofoil docked for 45 minutes at the islet of La Sol. I wandered off to explore the most substantial ruins on the lake.
The somewhat ragged building was described variously as a former harem, Incan nunnery for virgins of the sun, and lastly as a temple for sacrificial virgins. Who really knows, it may have served all three at one time or another.
I then walk near the top of the Yamani village, as I move towards the edge of the island, I hear a deep voice call out, “Senor, please don’t stand too close to the edge”. My guardian was an elderly man wearing a traditional cap.
There seemed to be a strange silence as if I had stepped into a time vortex. Diminutive Aymara women everywhere in traditional attire, a felt made hat that sat on coal-black, centrally parted pigtailed hairstyle, multicolored skirts laying beneath multilayered petticoats.
Along with white-colored llamas, bleary-eyed donkeys, and the chattering giggles of schoolboys asking this worn-out tourist for money.
By chance, I meet a young Bolivian woman who claims to be a Shaman or witch. She seems to be deeply respected by everyone on the island where she is called Curadora Aguila (Eagle healer).
She carried a knapsack of herbs, medicines, and other traditional goods. However, the most impressive thing that caught my eye was the huge grey and black Eagle that was calmly sitting on her arm. She looked at me with piercing yet compassionate eyes, and to my surprise was able to speak broken English.
“You have now entered the world of the Aymara Indians and we are 1,000 years older than even the Inca. Here you won’t find great buildings like at Machu Picchu, but we have a huge reservoir of powerful healing energy from the lake. Titicaca is a gate to another world!"
I told her that I felt like everything here was like an onion, the more I peal the more that gets revealed: Civilization, history, and even magic. She calmly stares at me and quietly states, “Yes, just like life."
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