© Andres Schwalb - All rights reserved.

Lake Titicaca

Someone once told me that if I wanted to witness one of the greatest contrasts of nature and human habitat, I had to travel to Puno. A plane takes you in two hours from Lima to Juliaca, which also serves the city of Puno. Puno is an ancient and modern city on the banks of the highest navigable lake in the world, a few kilometers away from the  pre-incan cemetery of Sillustani, with its spectacular  chullpas. It is a chaotic city, cramped by  mototaxistas and combis,  where at all times you listen the out of tune orchestra of horns; but if you cross the border of that noisy world and embark on a boat that crosses Lake Titicaca to the floating islands of the Uros, or to the islands of Taquile or Amantani further away, you will witness the magical silence that springs from the body of those calm waters. The waters mirror the light of the sun and the shadows cast by still clouds on the blue sky, occasionally crossed by highland ducks. That perfect mirror breaks at every moment with the bow of boats cruising, but always repairs itself a little ahead, where the waters recover their original stillness and silence. Then you will experience the world with all your senses.

On that trip I remember that after two hours of navigation, the island of Taquile appeared in the distance. At first it looked very small, but as we approached, the black rock cliffs, where it seems the sun never glows, grew and the little spot transformed itself into a huge mountain. When you reach Taquile and ascend to the “door” of the community, the sun explodes again with all its fierce and fills with light the little square where every Sunday five hundred people gather for the market or to party. It was a difficult climb to the top because of the high altitude and the scarce oxygen, but the panoramic view from above and the beautiful village were worth the effort. The family of Alejandro, president of the community, welcomed us with a tasty quinoa soup. In the afternoon we walked to the top of the island, were the sun went down the line of the horizon, and we saw in the distance, silhouetted against the gray curtain of rain, the beautiful Bolivian snowcapped mountains. The wind was blowing toward the island, the sun went down, the moon came timidly, and there, in that magical moment, I pulled the camera out to capture the colors of the last lights of the day.

That night we took a mild soup with Francisco, the son of Alejandro, who told us what life was like on the island. He said that there was no need for money. Everyone on the island served in different ways. Some had to cultivate certain things one year, and the following year the work rotates. Everyone on the island had to be good for something, and all products were divided equally among the people, so that no one lacks anything. We were also told that they did not need to leave the island for almost anything, but to buy sugar, salt, some fruits and other small goods that were not grown there; but overall, it was only necessary to go to town once a week. These were the only things for which the money was worth. He said that someone once invited him to Lima to expose their looms -which, incidentally, are recognized worldwide-, but had not liked that city because of its noise, traffic and hasty lifestyle.

After talking for a while with Francisco, I went to sleep. It was not easy though. In the distance I heard a heavy storm and a few drops of rain pecked at the window of the room; in the cracks of the roof the wind bellowed. Suddenly, the storm was upon us, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The whole sky was split in half over Lake Titicaca. I grabbed my camera to capture the power of the lightning that reminded me of how insignificant we are in the face of the mighty nature.

The following day I witnessed the most amazing sunrise that I have ever seen in my life. The sky, with its rich palette of colors, painted the rock of the island and the waters of the lake. To see the sunrise upon that liquid horizon was a blessing. I took a quick dive in the cold waters of the lake before heading back. We returned the same day to the city of Puno, and it was as if we had left behind a paradise in which one could live and die in a state of grace. Upon arriving at the hotel, I took a hot shower. The trip had paid me with intangible goods that I never imagined. Later, lying in the hotel bed, I saw again the Lake Titicaca moon. It was perfect over the irregular and shadowy profile of the city.

I wanted to leave my room. It was almost midnight. I walked trying to get away from the city lights, to see the light of the moon. The moon seemed to walk over the water, leaving behind a trace of clarity. Stumbling on huge stones, I wanted to follow the path of the moon. I reached the lake, surrounded by huge stones that, for its strange forms, seemed laid by the Incan gods. There I stood for a while contemplating the waters lighted by the moon.

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