We came to visit the body of water with the funny name and the floating islands made of reeds. At 12,500 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, and one of the world’s most beautiful. The lake is home to the Islas Uros , man-made islands made of reeds growing in the water.
This high up, the air is dry and bitterly cold; the sky an intense shade of cornflower blue. Despite the frigid air, the sun is fierce and sunscreen is a necessity, even for someone with dark and resilient skin like me. The scenery is sharp, striking, and a shockingly brutal study of contrasts. The lake and miraculous floating islands, quite simply, feel unreal. I realize it’s views like these that keep me coming back to Latin America.
When a representative from the National Geographic Channel wrote me asking if I’d be interested in writing a blog post detailing an inspiring moment from my travels through the Americas, I didn’t hesitate to reply with a resounding yes. You see, they are premiering a new miniseries entitled “Untamed Americas”. The series’ main purpose is to feature the beauty, nature, and extreme landscapes of North, Central, and South America: all the way from Canada, through to Costa Rica, and down to Chile. They are running a blog carnival of sorts, asking various travel bloggers to share their awe-inspiring encounters with the Americas; the resulting posts will be featured simultaneously on the bloggers’ personal websites and Nat Geo.
Somehow, before I even finished reading the email, I knew I would write something about Peru. In my two weeks shuttling around the country, I discovered just how much Peru is a country of contrasts. Because Peru doesn’t just have the amazing lake and magical man-made islands I mentioned in my intro. Peru is ridiculously diverse. In this one country I got my colonial city fix in Lima and Cuzco, I beheld the jungle ruins of Machu Picchu, and got sand in every imaginable orifice in the Peruvian desert.
So while the name “Titicaca” may have once incited a giggle from me, its mind-blowing landscapes now prompt a long, low whistle of incredulity.
How did we get here? Liebling and I arrived in Puno, the city on the shores of Titicaca, before dawn, after a 6-hour night bus ride from Cuzco. Even at 5 am the bus terminal was loud and jumping, as eager-for-business taxi drivers looked for their next customers, and sleepy-eyed passengers tried to figure out where to go next. We loaded a taxi with our well-worn back packs and half-slept during the 10 minute ride to our hotel. Once there, we sipped on coca tea (made from the coca leaf and designed to help with altitude sickness, which is an issue at such a high elevation), ate breakfast, and chatted with other travellers in the hotel lobby as we waited for the rest of the city to wake up.
When it was sufficiently bright outside and the din of the street could be heard from inside the lobby, we made our way down to the pier so we could see what we came to Puno for. The lake was resplendent, and bright sun bore down on us. We paid for two tickets for a boat tour to the Uros Islands and soon found ourselves in the vessel skimming along Titicaca.
We got off the boat and were met by the Uru people, the ancient, pre-Incan civilization from whom the islands get their name. Our tour guide, himself of Uru descent, told us how the islands are constructed. The strong, pliable tortora reeds that grow in the water are interwoven and weighted down with pins and anchors. So simple, yet so foreign, particularly to a girl like me- I’m more used to foundations made of cement and brick. The ground felt spongy and porous underfoot.
But even more striking were the people. Their brown skin and bright clothes. The women and children with their long black braids, covered by wide brimmed hats. So, so, SO stunning.
Here’s the thing: it bothers me that a lot of people skip over Latin America in their travels and don’t get to see these things. They say it’s too dangerous, too poor, and too desperate to be worth travelling to. But there is so much to see here that they are missing out. I lived in Mexico for a year and didn’t get shot; I’ve travelled solo in Latin America and didn’t get pickpocketed or raped or swindled (funnily enough, I hear more people saying those things have happened to them in Europe). I’ve seen more beautiful things than I can count after trips through Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
Latin America has so much to offer, but inaccuracy and ignorance often gets in the way. And so some people never end up going. My only hope is that my pictures and words inspire you to take the plunge.
Do you think Latin America is dangerous or that it gets a bad rap? If you’ve never been before, what’s stopping you from going? Are there certain countries in Latin America that you want (or don’t want) to go to? Why?
Untamed Americas premieres Sunday June 10 & Monday June 11 at 9PM et/pt on the Nat Geo Channel- be sure to watch it if you can.