Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lake Titicaca, Peru

What most people know about Lake Titicaca is its name and little else. Pristine and vast, the lake sits majestically at 12,500 feet above sea level backed by the snowcapped peaks of Bolivia's Cordillera Real range. It is the highest navigable lake in the world and South America's largest fresh water lake, covering 3,200 square miles that extend across the border between Peru and Bolivia. Five major river systems and more than 20 smaller ones feed into it and the lake has 41 islands, some of which are densely populated. Since 2000 Lake Titicaca has experienced constantly receding water levels. Between April and November 2009 alone the water level has sunk by 81 cm (32 in) and has now reached the lowest level since 1949. This drop is caused by shortened rainy seasons and the diminishing glaciers feeding the tributaries of the lake. Water pollution is also an increasing concern because as cities in the Titicaca watershed grow, they sometimes outpace solid waste and the sewage treatment infrastructure. The lake is surrounded by the barren landscape of the Altiplano, a high plain that starts at the northern border of Peru and stretches south through the Andes, ending at the world's highest volcano, the Ojos del Salado. One of seventeen remaining ancient lakes in the world, the lake is thought to be three million years old, a remnant of Lago Ballivian, an inland sea that disappeared amid the volcanic shifts and eruptions that formed the Altiplano. For centuries, Lake Titicaca has held great religious significance and mythology abounds. Pre-Incan peoples believed in the Sun Deity and that the sun itself had originally emerged from the lake. According to the mythology, this is the place where the world was created when the god Viracocha came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars and the first people. For the sun-worshipping Incas, it was considered the birthplace of mankind, beginning with the first emperor, Manco Capac. Considered a sacred place for the Inca civilization, the Incan mythology states that the first Inca king, Manco Capac, was born here. As we drive in the early morning to the southern end of the lake and the swirling mists rise from the lake and hover over the Cordillera Real, it is easy to imagine how these myths were started. The lake, in parts densely filled with reeds, is a deep sapphire blue and shimmers in the ever increasing sunshine. The mountain range on the Bolivian side towers in the distance, the volcanic peaks capped with snow slowly begin to emerge from the morning mist and gradually show their reflection in the mirror like surface of the lake. There are groups of indigenous peoples preparing their canoes for a day of fishing whilst even more are working in the fields. All are dressed in the costumes that their ancestors have worn for centuries. It is a bygone age. Many of these people live with no power, no television, no so-called modern amenities and yet they do not appear unhappy with the situation. Tom and I speculate that maybe it is because this is all they have known and yet, we also know that many of them, especially the islanders choose this lifestyle and most of those do not even want any contact with the tourists that descend year round on their little corner of the world. South of Puno, several small towns and hamlets dot the lakeshore, Ichu, Chucuito, Llave, Juli and finally Pomata with it’s totally out of proportion, behemoth Templo de Santiago Apostolo, built dramatically on top of a hill. The church is like the proverbial elephant in the corner, you just can’t miss it. From here is the border town of Desaguadero but that is for another day. So, we turn the car around and make our way back to Puno, stopping several times to walk Winston and admire the amazing views of Lake Titicaca as the sun slowly started to set.

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