Lake Titicaca

A flock of sheep is heading my way on the trail of Tequile Island (in the middle of Lake Titicaca), and there’s nowhere to go. Walls to the left of me, walls to the right. I decide to take a picture. That’s when the trouble starts. An ancient woman shepherdess following the animals holds out her hand looking for money. I try to tell her in my broken Spanish I don’t have anything small, but she’ll have none of that. She grabs my hand and starts yelling louder that she wants some pay for her trouble. Finally my flustered guide intervenes and gives her a dollar (equivalent) himself.

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This is a problem all over the world, of course, and the poorer the country, the worse it gets, until, I fear, the tourists like myself will become so turned off that they’ll start staying away from all but the most popular spots…which by and large don’t have near the problem. Sure you may get an African trying to sell you some cheesy Eiffel Tower key rings on the Champs Elysee’, but he won’t do much more than show you his wares. Likewise, few US cities don’t have homeless men asking for dough at intersections, but they aren’t generally aggressive. And yes in many countries street musicians will ask for a donation after a performance you didn’t ask for, but they aren’t insulted when you don’t pony up, especially if you just got there.

But try walking off the all-inclusive compound in the Dominican Republic, and the children will actually try to grab your foot to give you a shoeshine while you’re walking. In Montevideo, they will try to pick your pocket. In Panama, you must pay the “gringo tax” to the local police if you choose to rent a car.

And the problem is spreading now to Europe. I watched an African vendor in Venice harass a German woman so badly that she ran down the street in tears while he chased after her. In Florence, you can barely make your way down the street outside the Uffizi gallery because the rapefugees have spread a sheet out on the pavement with cheap reproductions of classic works. You’re generally safe in the Germanic countries and the Iberian peninsula for now, but as the tide of immigrants swells, the problem is bound to get worse.

My solution is to see as much of Europe as you can while you can. The problem is not yet intolerable there now. I have decided to give up on Latin America. These societies are just too dysfunctional to be worth the effort anymore.

I don’t doubt that in some Dystopian future we may see the same thing here in the States as our economy crashes (inevitable at this point), but for now you can safely travel here. So I’m keeping home next year except for maybe one side trip to Switzerland, which doesn’t tolerate such uncivilized behavior. Or perhaps a religious pilgrimage. I doubt that the monks will shake me down.

It’s too bad, because these poor countries need this money, and badly. But I’m afraid they just aren’t worth my trouble anymore. I doubt I’m the first or the last to come to that conclusion.

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So this was supposed to be a story about a trip to Lake Titicaca, on the border between Peru and Bolivia, but it morphed into something else. All I will say about this trip is it is a full day’s bus ride to get there from Cusco, so you need to want it pretty badly. Along that route, you’ll see some magnificent ruins at Raqchi and some quaint churches along the way. Once in Puno, you can take a boat as I did to see the man-made floating islands on the lake. These floating villages are collectively called the Uros Islands. The Uros people that live on these reed floats (since pre-Colonial times) have their own language, customs, dance, and textiles. The children go to school out there on the lake, and they go to church and marry, and generally die there. It’s a glimpse into living history.

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Tequile Island is similar in that they have preserved their own traditions as well. For example, when a boy and girl are 16 they’re allowed to live together in one of the parent’s homes without getting married. If after 5 or 6 years they’ve decided they’d like to tie the knot, they do, but if they don’t, there is no stigma attached to the decision. However, once married, always married. There’s a huge social price to pay for it, so divorce is extremely rare. As in other parts of this country, I’ve found that they tend to be pretty broad-minded about the dichotomy between Catholicism and their own traditions and customs.

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As in other parts of rural Peru, I’ve found anecdotal evidence of longevity. One of the women I spoke to said her mother was 99, and all of them seem to have good teeth and generally good health, even if they are almost universally overweight.

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The island itself offers its own natural beauty. With the sea on one side and Eucalyptus trees on the other, you can enjoy a very nice view on the foot trail from the harbor to the village. There are no sounds of cars or any gas motors on the island, because they’re not allowed. Maybe that’s why they live so long. They have to do their organic farming by hand, and they don’t have any noise pollution. Or maybe it’s the marriage, or the church, I don’t know. But it seems to work for them, and I can’t help but compare that to the latest study which says that, for the first time in our recorded history, we Americans are actually living shorter lives. Now, in this day and age, maybe nobody cares, since the demographic that is dying early is White men, but maybe we can learn something from these Peruvians?

If you go here, I would advise getting acclimated first, if you can, to the altitude.  Maybe spend a few days in Quito, Machu Picchu , or Cuenca (all at 8,000 feet) first before you try to enjoy the sights at Lake Titicaca.  It’s the highest navigable lake on earth at 12,500 feet, and I can tell you, even after 3 days in Cusco, I am still needing to drag on my OxiShot canister just to keep the gasping to a minimum.

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