Snapshots of Nature: Lake Titicaca

Tim Hofmeister is a student at Grand Valley State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is serving with ISA Service-Learning in Cusco, Peru.

According to Peruvian legend, civilization originates with Lake Titicaca. With the world living in ignorance and savagery, Sky God Viracocha decided it was time–time for the world to be settled and civilized. Thus, Viracocha created 8 humans (4 men and 4 women) filled with wisdom and know-how to settle and bring true civilization to the world. These legendary humans were born out of Lake Titicaca, and upon their ascent from the lake they were given the most important job from their God Viracocha: leave the Isla del sol (Island of the Sun), and in his name and under the guidance of the Sun God, Inti, go forth and settle the greatest civilization in the world. This civilization, stemming from Lake Titicaca, was the Incan Civilization.

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Sunrise. Photo by ISA Service-Learning student Connor Clifford.

Lake Titicaca has numerous islands. Within these islands many Pre-Columbian mysteries and cultural traits, habits and ways of life are still alive and well. Although each island has its own special charms and is unique in incredible ways, each island has a clear appreciation for la Pachamama, or mother earth. La Pachamama in all islands is the basis and giver of life and sustenance.

On the Floating Islands everything comes from the lake. Their houses, their balsas (rafts), crafts and even the island itself are all made out of the totora reeds that grow in the lake. All of their food comes from the lake as well. The inhabitants rely on the lake for their survival.

The Floating Islands. Photo by ISA Service-Learning student Christian Lowe.

On Isla Taquile, I had the privilege of eating trout plucked straight from el Lago Titicaca itself. After I finished haggling with the locals in attempt to buy an authentic chuyo (winter hat) for a reasonable price, I walked up the mountain and got a whiff of the air filled with the wonderful aroma of la trucha (trout) being cooked, and that put a huge, goofy grin on my face. This was probably the best seafood I’ve ever eaten, and it is a huge part of what the Taquile residents’ diets consist of–food straight from the lake.

We also had the chance to enjoy a celebratory meal on the island, which the islanders call Pachamanca. I’m sure you noticed just how close Pachamanca is to Pachamama, and that’s definitely intentional–Pachamanca translates to “food from the earth.” In order to cook the meal of mouth-watering chicken, vegetables, and potatoes, the islanders dug holes in the ground and lined them with stones to create underground ovens. They heated the stones with coal and put the chicken and potatoes in between levels of the smoking-hot rocks. The product is a delicious food that has an earthy yet easy-to-eat feel, and I’m proud and a little ashamed to say that I ate like a king. The food comes from the earth and works in accordance with the belief that everything comes from, goes through and ends with La Pachamama.

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Making la pachamanca. Photo by ISA Service-Learning student Christian Lowe.

On Amantani, there are two mountains called Pachamama and Pachatata (Father Earth). Every January 21st, the islanders begin the year with a celebration where they climb the mountains in a race. If Pachatata is reached first, the islanders believe the coming year to be a rough one for the growing season. If Pachamama is reached first, the islanders believe it will surely be a good year for the crops and life on the island.

On all of the islands and all throughout my discovery of el Lago Titicaca, it was so easy to see the connection, adoration and worship of La Pachamama. The way the islanders used the lake for their survival, construction of life, sustenance and spiritual strength was truly incredible. It’s amazing that, when we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and living, we often forget to take a step back and truly appreciate everything La Pachamama has given us. Just loving, connecting and finding your path to success is difficult and strenuous like climbing up the Pachamama, but it becomes a lot easier when you stop to appreciate the rejuvenating sense of spirituality, the great food and the incredible views from the top.

Lake Titicaca. Photo by ISA Service-Learning student Christian Lowe.

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