Lake Titicaca

Straw boat moored on floating island of the Uros: Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. This has been a topic of some discussion among my companions. Is it or isn’t it? I wonder what difference it makes. With enough qualifications you can make this lake or that the biggest, the best, the most dangerous, whatever. The so-called Ojos del Salado Pool in Argentina is 20,965 ft. high making it the highest lake in the world, but qualify lake with the term “navigable” and Lake Titicaca races to the front. The Himalayas are the world’s highest mountain range. Hold on a second. Are you measuring from sea level or the center of the Earth? Sure the Himalayas are the highest from sea level, but take into account the bulge that the spinning Earth gets at the equator and its the Andes hand down.

I don’t understand why it is important to be the farthest this or the highest that unless we are all animists at heart and being the largest or farthest has something to do with our own internal drive to dominate. Homo sapiens arranges himself into the dominant and the dominated. So why shouldn’t we do the same thing to the objects in the world around us? It’s a mugs game.

This morning we head out to Uros Island skimming along the top of the world’s highest navigable lake to a community of floating islands inhabited by an amalgamation of the Uros and the Aymara, a people driven into the lake 600 years or so ago by aggressive land based tribes including the Collas and the Incas who gave them no peace anywhere else. There is something ironic about that. The Incas believe that they came from the lake because the sun sent two of his children, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, to Earth to encourage them to put aside their warring ways. The children rose up out of the lake to spread peace and happiness across the region. The Incas responded by driving the Uros back where they, the Incas, came from. It isn’t easy making sense of the world.

The floating islands are made of straw called totora and are literally rotten to the core, made rotten by the action of the water the islands float on. Every month the islanders bring in new batches of straw and layer it atop the old layer so that the island is constantly being replenished.

This works with totora but it doesn’t work with children. This floating community is doomed to peter out because teenagers born on the floating islands are educated offshore only through elementary school. Sooner or later every teenager leaves to attend high school on the mainland. But, as the song says, how’re you gonna keep’m down on Uros, once they’ve seen Puno? 80% stay on the mainland. It is only a matter of time before the islands are deserted for lack of replenishers. For that matter it is only a matter of time before Lake Titicaca disappears as well. For a long time its height has been rising and falling in equal amounts. It might lose five feet during the dry season only to gain them back during the wet. More recently, unfortunately, the trend is in the wrong direction. Evaporation is doing a number on the lake. The floating islands of the Uros will be reduced to being a diorama in a Puno museum.