The Art: A hand-woven Chumpi belt from Taquile Island, in Lake Titicaca, Peru
Although high altitudes are not for everyone (including my husband Henk), we couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit Lake Titicaca at 14,000+ feet, since it gave us the opportunity to experience a home stay with a Peruvian family who live on one of the lake’s remoter islands (Amantani). It also allowed us to visit a neighbouring island, Taquile Island, known world-wide for its textiles – one of the most interesting of which is the ‘chumpi’ belt.
Getting to Taquile Island is Half the Fun – or Not.
First of all, let’s just say that watercraft operating at this altitude require a certain type of engine that can handle lower concentrations of oxygen in the air – and these engines are not necessarily the most efficient or speedy. In this case, it meant putt-putting across the lake in the marine equivalent of a high-emissions-producing greyhound bus.
But it’s more than worth breathing in a few diesel fumes to gain access to Taquile island, as there is a timelessness to this island that is difficult to find in today’s world.
After landing at their dock, we hiked our way up to the main square (hey, what’s another couple of hundred feet when you’re at 14,000), where we found men and women hanging out or strolling by in traditional dress, and several men knitting. In this culture, it’s the men who knit, in particular their signature hats, which, depending on the colour or style, tell you who is single and who is married. Handy, that.
“Chumpi” or Calendar Belts
Even more informative are the ‘chumpi’ (calendar belts) made here on Taquile Island, which literally weave stories into the fibres: everything from personal milestones in the wearer’s life to the best time to plant potatoes. In fact, these belts are recognized by UNESCO for their significance as a record of the oral traditions of the community and its history.
What we recognized was their beauty. So I chose one from the cooperative store, after examining dozens that all had slightly different stories to tell. Once home, it seemed only fitting to display this Peruvian belt on the iconic Peruvian animal, the llama, (which I have to confess, came from Homesense). But adding this belt certainly elevated this vignette to a whole new level. (Maybe not 14,000 feet, but I think it looks pretty good.)
The Fact: Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world so if high altitudes make you woozy, you might want to think about staging your ‘climb’ slowly by visiting lower destinations first. Or consider bringing along altitude meds recommended by your travel doctor. In either case, if someone offers to help you with your bag, say yes, thank you, and save your breath to order a Mate de Coca tea, which is said to help you acclimatize as well. And no, it won’t get you high.