The harbor waters are still. Beyond the sheltered inlet a stiff wind whips the lake into whitecaps. I don’t much like choppy waters.
This body of water sits just over two miles above sea level and encompasses 3200 square miles. This makes it the highest and largest navigable lake in the world. Shared by Peru and Bolivia, I sail these rough waters from the Peruvian side, headed for Isla del Sol. Although my destination is an island under Bolivian jurisdiction, there’s no passport control to deal with here.
My boat puts ashore at the base of a stone staircase below the village of Yumani. The untrained archeologist’s eye in me surmises that the majority of these steps must be pre-Incan, as they hold very little of the precision in Incan construction I’d seen throughout the Andes.
All the village children are gathered at the base of these steps because they know the climb ahead is formidable – they earn soles from oxygen-deprived visitors hauling luggage up the 206 uneven platforms. Although I anticipated these altitude difficulties and spent a week moving from sea-level into the Altiplano to acclimatize myself, the thin air still winds me.
After the slow climb I reach the top to find an arched portal popularly called the Incan Arch. Again this construction’s most likely pre-Incan, it lets me know however that I’ve made it. I pause here to catch my breath and meet up with my guide, Percy, a professor from the University of Puno. He’ll lead me to the many sacred spots dotting this isle.
Percy greets me with a handshake and smile. An Associate Professor at the university in Puno, he explains his research and findings on the various Altiplano civilizations pre-dating the Incas. Most of his colleagues agree that people formed communities surrounding Lake Titticaca around 1400 BC, moving through several phases of evolution that peeked with the Tiwanaku civilization in the late first millennium. However he sees it differently – his studies indicate that complex societies extend back to at least 4000 BC.
We walk about a mile along an ancient pilgrimage path following the island’s crest to a rocky pinnacle. Soon I see this is more than just a field of boulders sitting on a hilltop. Ruins of a pre-Incan temple lie scattered around us, with a cairn of stones marking the location of the crumbled holy altar. This island was considered sacred long before the Incas conquered these power spots (huacas).
Percy selects a flat boulder near the altar and we take a seat to view his hand-drawn map. It diagrams the Bolivian/Peruvian Altiplano, beginning south of Tiwanaku and continuing north past Cusco. The map’s bisected by a diagonal “spirit line” that marks the path of earth magnetism, which he likens to the 60’s interpretation of Ley Lines – energetic lines in the earth’s crust. As this line cuts a path northwest through Lake Titticaca and Isla del Sol, the many huacas or power spots it crosses are energized.
Our view from the ruined alter is magnificent and I easily become spiritual in this place. Perhaps it’s the spirit line beneath my feet but meditation is my immediate default. As I gaze at the deep blue sky above reflected in the water below, the distant snow-capped Andes Cordillera seems to float on the far horizon.
Written by: Steve Smith
Steve inherited the wanderlust and has always needed to see what’s around the next corner. In his college years he enjoyed many memorable (and cheap) forays into Mexico sleeping under the stars, but today that’s all changed. Since 2006 he’s contributed stories and photographs to In The Know Traveler, and in 2014 he assumed an editor role with the same. Published both in digital and print formats, his international assignments have taken him to the Middle East, Asia, North/Latin/South America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Follow his Facebook page Steve’s Roadtrippin’ Travels that spotlights both his photography and how his road travels intersect with digital storytelling using dynamic space-age mapping technology.
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