Taquile Island observations

Charles Treadgold’s letter about taking maps to Peru’s Taquile Island (Nov. ’05, pg. 44) got me thinking about other things that would be most appreciated by the people there. I visited in 1992, but from what I have read about the place it seems not to have changed much.

First of all, fruit would be very well received. The people can coax a couple of dozen varieties of potatoes out of their unbelievably rocky soil, and I did see some kiwi vines here and there, but citrus fruits just don’t grow there. The island, within Lake Titicaca, is a couple of hours by boat from the mainland city of Puno, and the Taquile Islanders I met weren’t making the trip very often. Plus they didn’t have a lot of money, so fruit was not high up on their lists when flour, rice and batteries were needed instead. Take fruit.

Second, all the females were wearing red sweaters and black skirts, even the little girls. The sweaters could be thick or thin, long-sleeved or short, cardigan or pullover, big or little. And they were wearing these sweaters long past when you or I would discard them, so don’t worry if the sweater you are taking is a bit frayed or has a spot. As long as it is red, the ladies will love it. Plus you will have more space in your bag to fit what you have bought at their co-op in the town square.

I guess children everywhere believe there are monsters lurking in the dark, and the kids of Taquile Island are no different. When I was there, I gave my host’s two daughters each a whistle. As soon as it got dark, I could hear the “wheee, wheee” of the whistles. The parents explained that the girls were trying to scare away the bad night spirits.

Speaking of kids, they can always use book bags. Again, it’s not something mom and dad would bring back from Puno. It would be best to leave these with the island teacher, unless you are staying overnight, in which case, if your host has kids, it’s an appropriate gift to leave with your host.

Taquile Island is a wonderful place to visit for a couple of overnights. My friend and I stayed two nights in a little mud-brick building. It had two sleeping platforms, kind of like wide shelves made of mud brick, each piled high with thick wool blankets, so we weren’t cold, although we could see our breath in the room.

It’s a quiet island. Dogs weren’t even allowed because they make too much noise barking. I found the people to be gentle and sweet-tempered, speaking almost in whispers. You will sleep very well.

Taquile is, however, at about 13,000 feet in elevation, and paths are rocky with a lot of ups and downs. You’ll not be able to go 10 steps on the level anywhere on the island.

The very first test of your ability to withstand climbing at high altitude is right off the boat, when you are presented with 400 stone steps from the pier to the hut where you sign in as a visitor. Still, if you are not terribly bothered by altitude and are in good shape, Isla Taquile is a great place to go. For me, it was a wonderful experience!

Readfield, ME