Isla Taquile, Lake Titicaca – Puno, Peru

Peru - Kat4 665Isla Taquile is one of the larger islands on the Peru side of Titicaca.  While the landscape itself is simple and agricultural, the views of the intense blue of the sky and water mirroring each other is really quite spectacular.

The people on the island are a pre-Incan culture, and although they do speak Quechua it is not their native language.  The natives have inhabited the island since 1,000 years before Christ – truly a culture preserved by their seclusion.

Weaving is the most important tradition of Taquile Island, and has major significance to daily life.  Men weave their own hats (“chullos”).  There are two different styles of the typical chullo – one of which proclaims the status of a married man, the other of which can be worn by anyone.  The horizontal stripes that pattern the cap continue all the way to the top on the married mans, but only half way up the bachelor’s.

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Women of the Island only wear hats for three days after their wedding, as a sort of celebratory symbol.  The hats that little girls wear are meant to look like the flowers of the island (“cantuta”) – the national flower of Peru to be exact.  These hats are worn by girls up to the age of five.

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Men traditionally weave belts of wool spun with their wives hair, and women traditionally weave calendar belts (the dating on these calendars begin in August).  Joint effort belts are woven by married couples as a symbol of love, with the man weaving one half (the portion with the woman’s hair), and the woman weaving the other (flatwoven with symbols of social status).

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The married women here also make for their husbands small coca bags to wear at their waists.  These coca pouches are the best way to tell if a man is married, as he is never without his coca stash.

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With all these symbols for marriage floating around, one would almost think that the men of Taquile must not be trusted throughout their history – otherwise, why would they need to wear all of these icons reflecting their relationship status?  It turns out that the couples on Taquile actually get a trial run before they’re really paired for life.  That’s right, they have a trial marriage – living together for one year to see if they will be able to get along, if they decide yes then they are married for life – there are NO divorces on Taquile.  Seem’s pretty logical to me.

Taquile has two docks, one on each side of the island.  Both sides are steep hills, decked with those iconic stone steps of the country, though one is steeper than the other.  While these stairs are a workout for the flocks of tourists visiting the island, natives make light of these climbs.  Amazing old women carrying ridiculously large bags on their backs (full of soda cases or other heavy supplies) make the ascent appear easy.

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As you cross the island, it’s hard not to notice the terraced landscape of Taquile, which has been this way for thousands of years.  The farmlands are cared for as they have been for generations, a tradition which has proved fruitful for the islanders.  Roaming about these grounds are countless amounts of sheep, chickens, and cows.

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It’s hard not to notice the charmingly rustic gates that flank the stone walls outlining the properties.  Especially charming is the method for hinging these handmade doors; with flip-flop soles.
Peru - Kat4 667Three soles are nailed directly to both the gate, and the post which holds it, creating a cheap (and accessible) method of attachment.  As someone who went to school for design, and has a minor obsession with doors, I thought this was pretty clever.

Today the people here make most of their earnings from Peru’s thriving tourism industry.  On tours, visitors are happily entertained with weaving and dance demonstrations by the locals (and then given the opportunity to purchase their handmade goods of course). The harvest dance is representative of the motions of the planting season.  The men use their handmade tools to prep the ground for the planting of the seed, while the women follow behind dropping the seeds in the ground.  The wedding dance demonstration is more interactive, including members of tour groups in the fun.

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Food here is simple but delicious, and most tour groups include the meal here in the cost of the tour.  Soup of squash, beans, and vegetables is a standard across the country, though the bowl I had here tasted especially fresh – and just perfect when spiced with a bit of salsa.  Fish is a major part of the Taquile diet, and though trout (rainbow and brown) was introduced to the lake by foreign influencers (around 1930), the people have accepted it as a delicious part of their meals.

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While coca tea is available and clearly plentiful around the country, a cup in Taquile adds a bit of a different twist.  They use their island mint to add a hint of flavor to the otherwise green tasting brew – it’s a nice treat.

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Before leaving Taquile, everyone has to get the quintessential Taquile arch/child photo.  While it is not suggested to give handouts to children asking for money, it is encouraged to give them money for a service, such as a photo – encouraging them to work, not beg.  Children sit at these arched welcoming structures to take photos with tourists – one Sole is the suggested donation for such a picture (a memory well worth the price).

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ivo Vanherp July 6, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Hi Katrina,
cool post. I love your pictures.
Maybe it’s worth mentioning that their traditional clothing was actually imposed by the Spanish (it’s the traditional clothing of the Spanish countryside of those days), but they obviously managed to integrate traditional elements.

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Katrina July 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Thanks for the additional info Ivo! This detail was not mentioned on our tour. 🙂

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