School Days On The Titty Side


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, January 03, 2004 was originally posted on January 05, 2004.

DAY 77:  Lake Titicaca, the lake that Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening once called a place whose name is guaranteed to make kids snicker, lies on the border of Peru and Bolivia at an elevation of over 12,500 ft above sea level — one of the world’s highest lakes.  Rachel, a 22-year-old Chicago native working in northern Peru — and my new roommate for the day — told me that Peruvians say that the Peruvian side is the “Titty” side, while the Bolivia is the “Caca” side.  Now if that doesn’t make the kids in your life snicker, I suggest you start making fart noises with your armpit.

I had met Rachel at 8:30 in the morning when she and two Norwegian girls, Loella and Meyliss, came with a transport van to pick me up from my hostel.  We were just four of twenty-three tourists on a two-day tour of Lake Titicaca.  Other travelers from Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Colombia, Germany, Australia and Peru all met at the port and stocked up on junk food from any of the many available junk food stands before embarking on a boat with our guide Roberto.  Roberto was a nice man who spoke in both Spanish and English, and broke the ice for everyone with introductions.

THE UROS PEOPLE OF THE TITICACA REGION yearned to isolate themselves from the Incan conquest so many centuries ago.  They did this by building floating islands made out of the local totora reeds (picture above), an important item of vegetation used for everything from construction supplies for houses and boats to food.  The Uros people still live on floating islands today, and have extended the use of totora reeds to make handicrafts and miniature toy boats for the hordes of tourists who come to visit them daily.

Our first stop on our boat trip was one of these floating islands of totora reeds, appropriately named Isla Totora.  Walking atop the three-meter thick slab of reeds — anchored to the lake floor with wooden stakes — felt like walking on a really big sponge.  There was no need to worry about falling through — Roberto told us in a lengthy lecture that the Uros people put a fresh layer of reeds on top every 2-3 weeks.  If there was one thing we were learning about Roberto, it was that he really liked to lecture for what seemed to be excruciatingly long periods of time — I mean, even a nearby local woman looked bored to death.

All of us hopped on a balsa de totora, one of the boats made by the Uros, characterized by their animal head shapes at the bow.  We journeyed twenty minutes to a bigger, more affluent floating island, with solar power and telephone — even its own post office.  In addition to those luxuries, there was also an observation deck in which visitors could see the view of most of the other floating islands. 

OUR CAPTAIN, WITH THE “HELP” OF A LITTLE DANISH FOUR-YEAR-OLD named Daniel on tour with his family, navigated the boat passed the reeds and out to the open water, which stretched all the way to the horizon.  “It’s almost too big to be a lake,” I commented to Ivan, the head of the Danish family.

We cruised the lake, under the unhealthy weather combination of being simultaneously too hot from the sun and too cold from the wind.  Three hours later, we arrived at Isla Amantani, a much larger and much more natural island than the manufactured reed ones.  Isla Amantani was to be our home for the night, where we’d get in groups of two or three and live with a local family.  One docked at the port, it was like trying to be picked for kickball as Roberto matched tourists to a family

Both Rachel and I had been shortchanged information; she had been told to bring groceries for hosts, while I had been told to bring raingear and flashlights.  “You want to pair up?  I have an extra flashlight and you have gifts,” I suggested.  Roberto assigned us to the Calsin family, a single mother named Basilia and her son Jose — the father had run off with another woman four years prior.  Their very humble house up the trail from the port was where we had lunch in the small and very poor-looking mud wall kitchen, if measured by Western standards.  Although appreciative of its authenticity, Rachel felt weird, like she didn’t belong there.

Despite the lack of a microwave and a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, everything needed to make a proper lunch was available.  There is no meat production on the island — people get by on vegetables, potatoes, grains and eggs — but Basilia made due with what she had and made us a delicious vegetable and barley soup, followed by plates of french fries, onions and rice and the medicinal muña tea, used to help alleviate altitude sickness.

I was still feeling some effects of altitude sickness so I tried to take a nap before our 4 p.m. meeting time with the group.  This was hard to do because Jose, who was on his three-month vacation from school, was bored out of his mind and kept coming to visit our room to look at the postcards I bought from the floating islands.  Basilia also came back and forth to try and sell us woven alpaca hats — I bought one to keep my head warm for the upcoming mountain trek, while Rachel figured she could get a better deal than her 20 soles price.

JOSE, ALONG WITH A REPRESENTATIVE from each family led all 23 tourists to the community area, up a hill that only made the effects of my altitude sickness even worse.  Luckily, Roberto passed out sticks of mu?a (sp), a mint plant whose odor helps alleviate the headaches and nausea from the thinner air.  Roberto instructed us to rub it all over the back of our left wrist and take a whiff of it when needed.  Needless to say, on our trek higher up the mountain, I had rubbed the mu?a on the back of my right wrist as well for easier access, and eventually — cutting out the middle man — right under my nose. 

“It’s a placebo, man,” Rachel told me at a resting area overlooking the lake.

“Don’t spoil my fun.”

A storm was coming in from the distance — January is in the middle of the rainy season — and being so high up, we were assaulted by a downpour of hail.  Actually it was more of a “sidepour” with the wind blowing the pelting hail sideways like rounds of ammunition.  At first it was okay to shield yourself with a raincoat hood — Rachel used my bag raincover — but soon it got so heavy that we had to take cover behind a trench wall, a la WWII

At the ceasefire, we continued our way up to the peak of Pachatata, stopping midway in the freezing cold weather for another one of Roberto’s lectures about the lake.  He was so adamant about giving us the information that whenever someone would talk amongst themselves, he’d stop and say “Excuse me, please” like a strict high school history teacher.  We stood for ten minutes in the cold dismal weather as he pointed out stuff on a map he had laminated to make it waterproof, until someone had the balls to interrupt him and say, “[Can we just go up now, it will be dark soon.]” 

Professor Roberto said he’d conclude his lake lecture another time.

WE TREKKED UP TO THE TOP OF PACHATATA (about 13,615 ft. ASL) where an ancient ceremonial temple stood in the cold thin air.  Rachel bought an orange woven hat from a nearby vendor for the drastic drop in temperature, and then we did the customary walk around the temple three times for supposed good health, but all that good health vanished when Professor Roberto had us sit in the freezing rainy weather for another lengthy lecture.  Again he spoke, wanting everyone’s undivided attention.  Someone who was really getting sick just left Roberto’s outdoor classroom. 

“Where are you going?!” he scolded.  But she just walked down the hill to breathe more oxygen.

“I THINK I SHOULD HIDE MY HAT,” Rachel said as we descended down the hill.  She was worried that she might offend Basilia if she saw that she bought a hat from another woman. 

“It’s bad enough her husband left her, and you have to go and buy a hat from someone else,” I joked.

After a quick stop in the main plaza, Jose picked us up to lead us back to the house.  It was a longer way than we expected, showing us the sheer size of the town.  “It’s quite a big titty,” I said with an unintentional Freudian slip.

“What was that?” Rachel asked.

“I mean, it’s quite a big city.”

Kids, you may snicker now.

THE FEVER I HAD DEVELOPED over the course of the day, from the altitude sickness and the fickle weather, had gotten worse and I strugged when eating the dinner that Basilia brought up for us — there was no communal eating area.  After the meal and some coca tea, I just crawled up in a ball with all my clothes on, under three blankets.  Basilia came to pick us up for the big schedules nighttime tourist fiesta, but with both Rachel and I feeling sick, we asked, “[Is it necessary?]”


“[I’m very sleepy,]” I told her.  Basilia was pleased because she didn’t feel like going either.

Jose on the other hand was more enthusiastic about the party.  He came to our room to practice his flute for his performance at the fiesta with his group.  Killing time before the festivities, he loitered around our room, looking at my postcards again, looking quite bored.  I suppose for a kid growing up on Lake Titicaca, the snicker-inducing name of the lake wears off and does get boring after a while.  I could have made fart noises with my armpit to entertain him, but I was so sick I couldn’t move.

Next entry: The Orange Hat

Previous entry: Bargain Hunter: Puno

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Comments for “School Days On The Titty Side”

  • FIRST!!! bwahahahahahaha!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  12:21 AM

  • wahah. i love how even the little reed huts have signs of modern technology on them. it is so weird. certaintly nothing like what they show you in national geographic…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  02:12 AM

  • dood. maybe u got sick from the food? after looking at that kitchen, its highly probable. Lookit them pots n’ pans!!! what’s that black stuff on ‘em? and where’s the lids??


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  02:33 AM

  • Alice: bring your GBA tom. our internet might still be down. we need something to do!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  02:33 AM

  • I think LP is onto something Erik. That kitchen didn’t quite look like the site for the next swiffer addvert.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  04:14 AM

  • [snickering]...

    nice pics on this one….

    it’s not the kitchen…ur kitchen used to look like that anyway…hahahaha

    and umm…go get a haircut…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  04:38 AM

  • hehe .. more boobies!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  12:42 PM

  • hehehe….this was my favorite entry so far….the floating islands were awesome…and proffessor roberto was hilarious…hope you feel better soon!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  04:48 PM

  • This is my favorite entry too, with the cool floating islands.  If you get hungry you can just pick up a reed and start eating . . .

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  05:52 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Bargain Hunter: Puno


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