Sailing on the Top of the World: Lake Titicaca, Part 2/3

So, last time we looked at where Lake Titicaca bloomin´ well is, and some of the ancient myths and ruins that make it so special. This time, we´re going to look at what archaeologists have found in the lake, and author Tristan Jones´ Titicaca experience when he put the first seagoing vessel on it decades ago.

Titicaca´s Natural Namesake and its Treasures

The name Titicaca is believed to have come from the local Aymara language, and means wildcat rock or puma rock. Wildcats used to live on the rocky islands of the lake. They are now the most endangered cat species in the Americas.

Stories of Inca treasures lost during the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire and tales of a city lost under the water have drawn interest to the lake. French explorer Jacques Cousteau spent one and a half months doing underwater exploration in 1968. He found no treasure, but did find some animal varieties that were previously unknown and unique to the region.

However, silver llamas, shell figurines and intricately decorated pottery were found at Isla Koa, north of Isla del Sol, enclosed in 22 large stone boxes. The pottery that has been uncovered over the years are the oldest finds, uncovered at Chiripa on the southern shore and on the tiny island of Pariti.

In 2000, an international scientific group called Akakor Geographical Exploring found temple ruins and a submerged road built by the Tiwanaku culture over 1,000 years ago. In 2004, Finnish and Bolivian archaeologists uncovered other treasures that are now housed in a small museum on the island and La Paz. The local population have resisted attempts to bring the ruins to the surface as they believe disturbing the waters is disrespectful.

Sailor Tristan Jones´ Titicaca Tour

In January 1974, British sailor and storyteller Tristan Jones slipped his 17-food sailboat into the waters of Lake Titicaca. This was the first time an oceangoing sailboat had set sail. Jones and his companion, Quechua Indian Huanapaco spent the next eight months cruising and mapping the whole lake. He also helped a group of indigenous tribespeople tie its floating islands together with a 600-foot storm anchor line after a section of one of the islands blew some distance away after an evening storm.

The Uros people still live on the lake on floating rafts made from woven totora reeds, which grow in abundance in the shallow waters around the lake. They receive tourists to supplement their income from fishing and other activities.

“I weighed anchors, cast off the mooring lines, and, to the waves of about a hundred Uros, got under way,” Jones wrote in his book. “When I got clear, the scene was fantastic. In the west, the sun was shining on the silver peaks of the Cordillera Real, below the peaks, the glaciers, purple and violet, dripped like curtains down to the misty gray foothills. All this was repeated upside down, for the whole of this spectacular spectrum of color was reflected in the calm waters of the lake.”

Tristan Jones spent most of his life at sea, smuggling whiskey and selling articles to yachting magazines. Check out his first book, The Incredible Voyage for more tales about his trip across the lake. He later hauled his sailboat across Bolivia to Brazil on the Paraguay River and sailed down through the Mato Grosso to Paraguay and Argentina. Then he went to live in Greenwich Village in New York City and went on to write fifteen more books. There are two movies about him.

For more on sailing on the lake and a cool gunboat you can stay aboard while in the area, check out Part 3.

Sailing on the Top of the World: Lake Titicaca, Part 1/3

Sailing on the Top of the World: Lake Titicaca, Part 3/3

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