Friday, February 19, 2010

How to visit Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca

Photo: Delfin on the boat dressed in traditional clothing with Taquile Island in the background.

Taquile is incredibly beautiful with terraced fields, views across the blue Titicaca lake water of the Bolivian snow-capped mountains, and skilled fiber art. Plan to stay at least one night. Plan also to buy tejidos (textiles), either from the artisan's cooperative or directly from your host or other family. This weaving is among the best in the world, very fine double warp patterns. Your purchase helps keep the technique and the villagers alive.

From the city of Puno, Peru, ignore all the tour guides (this won't be easy) and catch the turquoise topped communal boat to Taquile Island by going to the Puno Port at 7:30 in the morning. Taquile has the first office on the left as you arrive at the port. Look for the men dressed in traditional Taquile garb: black trousers, white shirt, black vest, red hat, and red or white cummerbund. It's cheaper than the guided tours and more fun because you ride with local people. Recent regulations have denied the Taquile community the control over tourism that they used to have when ALL the boats allowed to dock on the island were communal Taquile boats. The tour boats don't pay the locals anything and are rather unkind about not letting them ride on the boats.

After the 3 1/2 hour boat ride, you arrive on the East side of the island, so avoiding the famous five hundred-stair hike up to "the arch." You'll hike down those stairs for the return boat to Puno. STAY OVERNIGHT IF YOU CAN! Ask to be assigned to a host family. Rooms are basic: clean and with plenty of blankets; currently the community certifies the tourist comfort of the rooms. Bring fresh fruits and vegetables from Puno as a gift to share with your host family; you can buy lunch from them. Note, once you get up he hill you'll be at nearly 13,000 ft or over 3800 m., so be sure to take it easy and drink plenty of fluids.

Although many restaurants have opened in recent years, we recommend the communal restaurant on the east corner of the central square in the pueblo. Families rotate turns running this restaurant; menu is fish and a very flavorful soup.

Background: our first visits to Taquile

In 1986, Sam Brown and Tara Miller traveled in Peru and visited the Lake Titicaca Island of Taquile. Located just outside the Bay of Puno, Taquile is a 3 hour boat ride from Puno. We stayed in the home of Celbia Yucra Huatta and her husband Felipe Huatta Cruz, and learned of Felipe's dream of visiting the U. S.

In 1988, we brought the first small solar electric panel to Taquile, attached the 9 watt panel directly to a radio, the music played--it was a miracle--You could play the radio with the sun! We returned to Colorado with Felipe and Celbia, sold their fine textiles at art fairs and paid ourselves back for their airline tickets. The summer was magical, full of serendipitous meetings with people who recognized the traditional Taquile clothing at the craft fairs or in the streets. Our relationship grew strong. They returned to Taquile with a 40 watt Photovoltaic (PV) panel, so they wouldn't have to carry their batteries to Puno for a 3 day trip to charge them.

Inez and Paolino with children Cecilia & Angel David showing solar part of textiles trade in 2008
Over the next 8 years, we exchanged letters, but were unable to travel to Peru. Finally, in 1996, we returned, and brought the first Solar Cooker to Taquile. We built a dozen cookers that year, introducing this passive solar technology that cooks food without fuel by simply reflecting the sun into an insulated box. We returned again in 1997 to follow up with the solar cookers, building another 20 cookers using local materials. We also brought a few Photovoltaic Panels (PV, or solar electric), to trade for textiles. In the meantime, the Taquile community had created a microcredit program to buy their own PV systems and pay for them over several years. Now at least 80% of the 300 or so families on the island have solar electric--enough for lights and music.

We have returned to Taquile about every other year since then, becoming godparents to four children in four families, playing the role of padrinos at weddings, taking our Taquile family on outings to buy alpaca fleece or to soak in hot springs or to visit archeological ruins. Now in 2010, we return to Peru and Taquile for our 11th visit in 24 years.

I will write whenever I get on the internet to post stories about our trip, and we welcome your comments.
--Tara Miller