Step into 2106 with a new milestone.
First and foremost, I wish you all smooth sailing in the new year and all the best with whatever wishes, goals and resolutions that you may have this year. For me, an unexpected surprise came through my inbox late last year that definitely helped to bring a good start to the new year. It was an email from National Library of Australia requesting permission to archive A Table For Two in the Pandora, Australia’s web archive set up by the Library since 1996. Despite I’ve been blogging since 2008, the blog itself has always been just an outlet for me to share my love of food and travel with everyone. I do not have any journalism background, so the blog is merely a playground for me, a hobby. I never thought my blog is any good, let alone being archived by NLA and shared to the public and future generations for research purposes. It is an honour that I can’t pass up and agreed to it, well this blog is free to public for the last eight years anyway.
On another note, it will be another significant milestone for me this year as I will be hitting the big Four-Oh! I am actually quite looking forward to it and totally ready to embrace the older and wiser me. Don’t think I will have a big party as I have decided to go back to South America with a few good mates and spend my birthday over there. South America is still a new territory to be explored, I had a taste of Peru back in 2014 and loved it. Our trip encompassed the exciting culinary and art scene in Lima, the ancient city of Machu Picchu, the vibrant culture of Cusco, and this post will be the last leg of our journey where we headed further south to one of South America’s largest lakes and the world’s highest navigable body of water – Lake Titicaca.
Staying at Titilaka Lodge
To get to Lake Titicaca, we flew from Cusco into Juliaca airport in Puno, the capital city of Puno region which is located on the shore of the lake. The Puno town itself is not really the tourist attraction. Most tourists tend to stay on the outskirt of town to explore the beauty of the countryside and of course, the lake. We were very lucky to be spending a couple of nights at Titilaka Lodge, a 45-minute drive on a tranquil private peninsula shared only with the local indigenous Aymara community of the same name. Titilaka is the most luxurious hotels in Puno, with the Relais & Chateaux emblem plague proudly displayed at the entrance, rest assured that all hotel guests are in for a special treat.
The architecture of the hotel is thoughtful and intuitive, a touch of modern design that accentuates the art and culture of this area. They worked closely with the local community and you will see many of the beautiful regional crafts made by locals throughout the hotel. The relaxing atmosphere made me felt at ease and welcomed, it was indeed another home away from home.
Built on a private peninsula, you’ll get a panoramic view of the pristine lake from every corner of the hotel. There are outdoor wrap-around terraces, overwater deck and boardwalks for those who like to just sit back and take in the views while listening to the waves gently crushing below. If that doesn’t get you excited, wait till you check out the rooms!
The hotel features eighteen lake-facing rooms distributed on three levels connected by a central hallway. Each room is tastefully decorated with personal touches of local crafts. My room came with heated floor, a banquette where you can daydream while admiring the lake.
I love surprises! There was a tiny gift along with the welcome letter on my bed as I checked into my room. The little souvenir for guests to take home is a replica of the traditional kitchen station used by the Uru people at the floating villages on Lake Titicaca till these days. Even the ‘do not disturb’ sign is not just a card to hang on the door knob but by placing a cute miniature straw hut apparently just like those at floating village outside of my room.
Great thing about staying at Titilaka Lodge is that all meals, activities, excursions and airport-hotel transfers are all inclusive in the package. Not to mention the complimentary WiFi and also the cocktail hour before dinner, you can never have too many pisco sour I say. The menu features contemporary Peruvian dishes using fresh local ingredients, some sourced from their own kitchen garden. It also had a great selection in the menu, I’ve never had same dish twice during our stay.
The food was good, bit hit and miss at times. Best to stick to Peruvian classics rather than go for something fancy, because nothing can be more sad than a sunken souffle. I particularly enjoyed the black quinoa and vegetable tabule and also the classic Lomo Saltado (which is stir fried beef strips in soy sauce) with sides of steamed rice and crispy Peruvian yellow potatoes never disappoint.
Islands of Lake Titicaca Excursion
The next morning we started bright and early for an exciting excursion at Lake Titicaca. Oh, did I mention all excursions and activities are inclusive in the hotel package? The hotel offers a full-day “Islands of Titicaca excursion” which guests will get to visit the floating Uros Islands along with the Island of Taquile. During our visit, the excursion was somehow split into two days, hence off we went to Uros floating island on the first day and Taquile island on the day after.
Our designated tour guide met us at the hotel and then took us to a nearby village where we boarded the boat that will take us to the village. We learned a lot about Lake Titicaca from our knowledgable tour guide during the boat ride. By volume of water, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and it is also the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812 meters. The western part of the lake lies within the Puno Region of Peru, and the eastern side is located in the Bolivian La Paz Department, so many visitors also come visiting the lake via Bolivia.
Lake Titicaca is home to more than 530 aquatic species. Due to contamination from the nearby mining and industrial activity over the past 50 years and also introducing foreign species of trout to the ecosystem, some of the aquatic life are now endangered species with a few already extinct. Recently the governments of Peru and Bolivia signed a 10-year bilateral deal to work together to restore and preserve Lake Titicaca with a joint investment of more than US$400 million.
The lake is actually quite vast at 190km in length and 80km wide. At times it felt like we were cruising in the big sea but eventually we saw the yellow reeds drifting in the horizon and we knew we were getting close to the village.
The Uros floating village is an interesting one. The Uros are a pre-Incan people who live on floating islands which are built entirely on reeds. We’ve been told there are around forty two floating islands with the larger ones can live up to 10 families and 2 to 3 people for the smaller ones. The purpose of the island settlements was originally defensive, and if a threat arose they could be moved. The largest island retains a watchtower almost entirely constructed of reeds.
Nowadays, Uros do not speak the Uro language, sadly they have lost their original language some 500 years ago. They nor practice their old beliefs but keep some old customs. When we reached the islands, we couldn’t simply dock our boat on any island without permission. Our tour guide told us that we will need a permission from the elder from one of the islands and let us know which island we are allowed to visit. Our boat circled the water for a while, eventually a small boat came burying a colourful flag and signalled us to follow him. We had been granted permission to visit an island.
The whole family came out to greet us as soon as our boat docked on the island. The inquisitive yet bashful children quickly dashed away as soon as they saw a horde of foreigners with big cameras coming.
The whole island was “squidgy”, took some time to get used to walking on soft surface made of reeds, but the whole island felt sturdy and I couldn’t really feel it was actually bobbing on the water at all. We were introduced to the family of the island then they showed us how the island is built.
Each island is made of totora reeds which grow in the lake. Blocks of dense roots are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The top of the reeds will be cut off and lay flat in thick layers. As the roots rot away, new reeds are added to the top every three months or so.
It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. As the number of tourists increases, the reeds on the island rot quicker as each step on island sinks about 2-4″ depending on the density of the ground underfoot. Uros people are resilient, hard worker and great swimmers, and often known to have ‘black blood’ because they can submerge in water for a long period of time to build the island and do not feel cold.
The reeds are also used to build huts on the island and also the reed boats. Tourists can enjoy a cruise around the lake on the reed boat at an extra cost. The dry reeds will be burnt as fuel for the kitchen, I can imagine it will be so dangerous to cook with naked flame on the island, you definitely do not want to set the whole island on fire. On top of that, you can also eat the reeds!
When a reed is pulled, the crunchy white bottom part is often eaten for iodine. They chew the fibre-ish white part (called hullo) filled with liquid like a snack for relief from a harsh climate and hunger. It is a primary source of food apart from the fish in the lake.
We were welcomed to poke our nose into their homes and learnt about their daily life. All the colourful crafts made by hand were spread out on the reeds if anyone wanted to purchase a piece of Uros memory to take home.
As we only spent half a day at the floating village, we arrived back at hotel just in time for lunch. I then spent the rest of the afternoon wandered around the village nearby and tapped into the local life.
Since arriving in Peru, Lake Titicaca would be the highest point (around 3800 metres) I’ve experienced. Usually the staffs at Titilaka Lodge will measure the guests’ oxygen level when they check in especially if they just flew in from another country. As my body should already be acclimated to the high altitude after spending few days in Cusco, so they didn’t really bother to check our oxygen level. I didn’t have any of the high altitude sickness symptoms like nausea or headache, but I definitely felt short of breath after the stroll. And I was curious so when I got back to the hotel, I asked the staff to check my oxygen level.
Surprisingly, my oxygen level has dropped to 77% instead of the normal SpO2 level of 92%! The staff asked whether I feel faint or dizzy but I had none of those symptoms, but she offered to hook me up to some oxygen, so why not?!
I was told to breathe like normal while the gas mask hissing and squirting mist all over my face. Within 10 minutes, the staff checked my oxygen level again and immediately it shot back up to 96%, I still didn’t feel any different and definitely not high!
Taquile Island Excursion
On Day 2, we visited Taquile Island, one of Titicaca’s larger natural islands and home to several small Quechua villages. There are only approximately 2200 inhabitants knowns as Taquilenos, live on the island, the island itself is not that big at only 5.5 km x 1.6 km in size, with the highest point at 4050 meters. The Taquilenos are known for their traditional fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are so unique UNESCO has designated them Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
As soon as we landed on the island, this little girl was so eager to sell us some friendship bracelets braided by herself. We didn’t need much convincing as we all charmed by her cuteness and bought a bracelet each.
We climbed up the hill to the main village to meet the family who would be showing us their handicrafts and tell us more about their traditions and customs. Textiles obviously plays an important role in their lives, they started to learn how to weave and spin the wool at very young age. We’ve been told the little girl who sold us bracelets received her first spindle when she turned six.
On Taquile island, knitting is exclusively performed by men, starting at age eight and women (apart from spinning wool) are the weavers of the Chumpis, the wide belts with woven designs worn by everyone in the community of Taquile.
All children of Taquile will wear this colourful hat that looks like a Santa hat until they are six years old. After that, they will wear a black veil with rainbow tassels the rest of their adulthood.
Many of their fine handicrafts are not just normal household items or souvenirs for tourists, the detailed textiles actually tell significant stories of their history, culture, customs and traditions, you can understand why it gained recognition by the UNESCO. They showed us an intricate piece of the belt that tells the story of their lives on Taquile island, when they got married, had kids, bought a farm, built a house. The belt is unfinished and they will keep adding more stories to the belt as time goes on.
Textiles also play a big part in romance on Taquile island. When a man wants to express his love for a lady, instead of a dozen red roses, a man will present the love of his life with a piece of unique textile knitted by himself and hopefully she will accept it.
Our guide showed us a “love piece” made by the host for his wife and invited us to touch it. “Can you guess what it is made of?” then he asked. Errr…. I wish he could have asked us that question before inviting us to touch it. The masterpiece in black and white stripes actually made out of white alpaca wool and also human hair! From which body part, I don’t know!
The lady will then examine and judge one man’s craftsmanship by having a closer look of the textile, making sure every stitch is neat and tight with precision and of course, made with love. They believe that when a piece of textile is so well made with stitches that are so tight, even water can’t sip through when poured on.
If the girl accepts the gift from a man, she will then return the favor by giving him a wig of her own braided hair. The man will have to wear it to show her his true love.
The men of Taquile island also wear a hat similar to the one worn by the children but without the frill. The hat itself shows different emotions including happy, sad, depressed (when someone in the family passed away) or angry, depending on which direction the hat is facing. We were told that our host’s hat was draped over the right hand side which indicating that he was in a happy mood that day because he had visitors to the island.
We were then invited to their home for some hot Andean soup that has loads of vegetables and quinoa in it. It was actually quite delicious and comforting especially in the cold weather. At the end of our visit, the family wanted to thank us for visiting them and would like to give each of us a bracelet as parting gift. It was very kind of them and totally unexpected. The cute little girl came around and insisted to tie the bracelet on our wrists herself and then gave us a big hug, she was so adorable!
We finished our excusing with a small hike to the other side of the island which has a great view of Lake Titicaca. Along the way, our guide also showed us all the bush food we could find on this island, including the Munya leaves, also known as Andean mint, commonly used for making Munya mint tea.
Aymara route excursion
After lunch, our guide had also organised the Aymara route excursion for us to visit to a local family for more textile appreciation plus one of us in the group would also have his future read by a Shaman, simply because out of his curiosity.
The short road trip took through us the spectacular natural landscapes and vibrant communities of the Chucuito peninsula and the district of Acora. We made our way through open fields and pastures, passing from one spectacular lookout to another. We saw the neighbouring communities going about their daily lives and working the land.
Remember those colourful bonbons keyring and the woven fabric holder on the wall at the lodge? They were made by this colourful family we visited. This whole family are weavers with skills handed down through generations. I was amazed by the textile designs here because they were totally different and unique compared to the ones we saw at Uros floating village and Taquile Island. The textiles here were lot more colourful and the most popular colour in Peru is obviously Fuchsia which is inspired and named after the strikingly bright and vivid pink fuchsia flowers that can be found in Peru and around South America.
No chemicals are used in their textiles, all wools are dyed with natural ingredients like flowers, roots, leaves and herbs all sourced from the area. I was so tempted to buy all the woven rugs and bring them home but they didn’t come cheap and some of the more expensive pieces were woven by their great-grandparents. I didn’t leave empty handed and picked up a big colourful rug which is now happily spread out in my living room.
It was time to see the Shaman. One of us was brave enough to sit down and had his future read. At first the Shaman read his future using tarot cards and then he moved on to the method that he is more well known for by using coca leaves. He grabbed a bunch of coca leaves in his hand and scattered all over the rug. He picked up a few leaves in different shapes and sizes and placed right in front of him, then he started muttering about his future in Spanish. We actually had no clue what he was saying but relied on the guide as the interpreter. I thought it was funny that the Shaman obviously said a lot more than what the interpreter told us. But we could tell every time he picked a perfectly shaped leaf is a good thing, whenever he picked a leaf with holes, bit yellow or folded, was a bad sign. The shaman definitely picked more and more bad leaves from the pile and the boy wasn’t happy and getting upset! So we best left it at that and headed back to our hotel and called it a day.
Short excursion to Sillustani
After spending two nights at Lake Titicaca, it was sad that our trip in Peru had finally came to an end. It was time to head back to airport to catch a flight home, but we still managed to squeeze in one last short excursion at a nearby town called Sillustani. Sillustani is one of the region’s largest and most important pre-Hispanic archeological sites, it features Inca and pre-Inca funerary towers, or “chullpas”, overlooking Lake Umayo.
From distance, these chullpas look like giant takeaway coffee cups, don’t you think? These imposing structures were built exclusively to house the remains of nobles and other distinguished individuals. The complex has a range of chullpas in varying architectural styles, reflecting the region’s changing power dynamics between cultures including the Pucara, Kolla, and, of course, the Incas. Constructed from rocks weighing up to six tons, the complex’s largest chullpa, known as the Lizard Tower, is estimated to have taken more than 50 years to build. Combining archeology, history, and unforgettable views, Sillustani was a nice way to end our trip as we slowly headed back to the airport.
Peru had always been on top of my must-visit list, so I am very grateful that I finally got to experience this beautiful country at long last and it definitely didn’t disappoint. It was sad to say goodbye, but I will be back. Promise.
How to get there – LAN Airlines now operates seven one-stop flights each week from Sydney to Santiago, Chile. LAN also offers non-stop flights between Sydney and Santiago every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday in a codeshare partnership with oneworld partner airline Qantas.
Where to stay at Lake Titicaca – Titilaka Lodge
- Make sure you have your vaccination for Hep A & B, Typhoid and Yellow Fever prior to departure.
- Get some US dollars and then exchange it to local currencies when you get to South America.
- Drink Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Camenere, Syrah from Chile; Malbec from Argentina
- Best to get bottled water rather than drink from tap
- To create your own holiday in South America, please visit South America Travel Centre.
- Around Cusco, Peru – Part 1
- Eat my way around Cusco, Peru – Part 2
- Down Sacred Valley in Cuscom Peru – Part 3
- Travel guide – How to get to Machu Picchu, Peru
- LAN Airlines Business Class to Santiago, Chile
- A feast in Lima, Peru – Part 1
- Art & About in Lima, Peru – Part 2
- CENTRAL – The best restaurant in Latin America.