Above the clouds; floating calmly on the highest navigable waters of the globe; sailing under the glacial snows of the loftiest peaks of the Andes, so near the sky that heaven and earth seem to meet around you, and to make you feel that you are on the roof of the world; -such have been my experiences for a day and night on Lake Titicaca. As I write, the United States is sweltering under the hot sun of an American summer. It is always winter on Lake Titicaca a cold, wet winter during half the year, and a cold, dry winter during the remainder. At times the winds from the Andes sweep over the waters like a blizzard, and again it is as calm as the Dead Sea in midsummer. The air is now as fresh as a sea-breeze. It is cold and bracing, but so rare that when I walk fast my heart leaps up into my throat. Some of you often go to Mount Washington to avoid the heat of the city. Lake Titicaca is more than twice as high up in the air as the top of Mount Washington, and it is situated amid scenery which is infinitely more grand. Titicaca is almost as big as Lake Erie. It has a greater average depth than Lake Superior, and its scenery is a combination of the beauties of Lakes Lucerne and Geneva and of our beautiful Lake Champlain. Our great lakes freeze over during the winter. Titicaca never freezes.
I have written of the skies of the Andes. Those of Titicaca have all the beauties of the Andean heavens combined with others peculiarly their own. I cannot describe the sense of loftiness one has here. The clouds rise up about the shores of the lake like walls upon which a canvas of heavenly blue fits closely down, making one feel that beyond the walls there are mighty depths, and that if one should sail through them he would drop into space.
The air is so clear that you can see for miles. Soon after leaving Puno, Peru, I was shown the sacred blue island of Titicaca, fifty miles away. A little later on other islands came into view, apparently floating on the waters as though they were balloons or balls, and not the outcroppings of the highest mountain chain of our hemisphere. One island rose out of the water in the shape of a gigantic mushroom of soft blue velvet; another looked like a mammoth whale, whose head and tail stood out high above the surface of the lake. These curious shapes were optical illusions due to a peculiarity of the atmosphere, for the islands, when we reached them, looked much like those on other waters.
Lake Titicaca is well known from text-books on geography. They tell us it lies in the Andes about half-way between the Isthmus of Panama and Cape Horn, 12,550 feet above the sea. They represent it as oval in shape, and state that it is 120 miles long and 57 miles wide, and that it has an area of 5,000 square miles. Some of these statements are true: others are merely conjecture. The lake has in reality never been carefully surveyed. It has great bays which have never been explored; in places it winds in and out like a river, affording a succession of beautiful views of islands, mountains, and .coast.
In crossing from Peru to Bolivia we sailed a distance of II0 miles over water which was in many places, the captain said, more than 1,000 feet deep. Lake Superior has an average depth of something like 600 feet. Some parts of the bottom of Lake Titicaca have never been reached, and the captain told me that, if he should land on certain parts of Titicaca island, he would have to cast anchor high up on the rocky shores, as the waters which wash them are so deep that the grappling-hooks could not reach the bottom.
Think of a body of water like this at an altitude of more than two miles above the sea! It is more than three miles from the ocean, in a basin, which, next to Tibet, is the loftiest inhabited plateau of the world; remember that you must cross a mighty desert and climb on the railroad over a pass which is nearly three miles above the sea to get to it, and you have a slight idea of Lake Titicaca. You must add, however, that, while it is fed by the snows and glaciers of the Andes, it has itself no visible outlet to either ocean. Nine rivers flow into it, but only one carries off any part of its waters. This is the Desaguadero, which connects it with its little sister, Lake Poopó, which lies about 280 miles farther south on this same Bolivian plateau. In this distance the river has a fall of 500 feet. It is a rushing, turbulent stream, big enough to be navigated by steamers for a part of its length. It carries off a large volume of water, but Lake Poopó has no outlet to the sea; and, notwithstanding this drain, Lake Titicaca remains at the same level, whether the season be wet or dry, year in and year out.
Lake Titicaca has many beautiful islands. Most of them are ragged mountain peaks rising out of the water. They consist of rocks with a thin coating of soil. Eight of the islands are inhabited, and are cultivated to the very tops of the mountains. If the United States were as carefully tilled as this part of Peru, it would, I believe, furnish food for all the world, and leave enough grain to glut the Chicago markets during a corner on wheat. Patches of soil no larger than a bed-quilt are walled with stones and carefully tilled. Bits of land between the rocks are green with scanty crops of potatoes, barley, and quinua, the only things that will grow at this altitude. I see people working on the sides of the hills where they almost have to hold on with one hand while they use their rude little hoes with the other. This grubbing for a bare existence goes on over the greater part of the plateau in which Lake Titicaca lies, the plateau which was once the seat of the Inca civilization.
Lake Titicaca was, indeed, the centre of a mighty empire generations before that of the Incas, for on its shores still stand ruins so old that the Incas could not tell the Spaniards anything about them. They said that the mighty monuments were made by a race of giants who lived about the lake before the sun appeared in the heavens. These ruins lie near the little town of Tiahuanacu. They cover an area of about three square miles, and consist of the remains of massive walls and terraced mounds, and the ruins of a great edifice supposed to have been a temple. The ruins show that the building covered about four acres; it was made of great blocks of hewn black stone, each 36 feet long and 30 inches thick. The stones, like those of the buildings of Cuzco, were fitted together without mortar so carefully that it was impossible to insert a knife-blade between them. From these ruins some very curious archæological relics have been taken, many of the most valuable having been secured by Professor Adolf Bandolier, who is spending his life here as a collector for the New York Museum.
Prfessor Bandolier has made many new discoveries about Lake Titicaca, and from his researches he is inclined to believe that much which has been published about this region is pure fiction. He has spent months upon Titicaca island, which some authorities claim was the Garden of Eden of the Inca mythology, the spot on which their Adam and Eve first lived on earth, and whence they started out to found Cuzco and build up the human race. According to this theory our first parents were the children of the sun. There were two of them, Manco Capac and Mama Oello, his sister-wife. On this account, says Squier, one of the authorities on Lake Titicaca, the Incas considered the lake, and especially Titicaca island, holy. On the island they built temples and wonderful palaces, and even brought soil from the mainland, so that corn might be grown. According to one of the old chroniclers, who, Professor Bandolier thinks, had a very lively imagination, this corn was considered so sacred that, when a grain of it was put in one of the public warehouses, it sanctified and preserved all other grains, and when placed in a private granary it insured the owner’s having food for the remainder of his life.
There are today many ruins on Titicaca island, and the very rock on which Manco Capac and his sister-wife stepped when they dropped from the sun is shown. According to tradition, this rock was once plated with gold and kept covered with a veil. The inhabitants of the island are chiefly Quichua and Aymarâ Indians, the descendants of those who were so numerous about the lake ages ago. They now live in little huts of mud or stone, thatched with straw, and show no signs of having had gorgeous temples or the more extensive civilization which they possessed when the Incas were their masters. They are Catholics, and are superstitious in the extreme.
The steamboats on Lake Titicaca might be called the steamers of the heavens. They sail at times in and out of the clouds, and are nearest the sky of any similar craft on earth. Think of lifting an iron ship of 600 tons over a pass higher than Pike’s Peak. This is what was done with the steamer Choya on which I took a trip. The ship was built in Scotland, brought to Mollendo in pieces, loaded on the cars, and carried over the Andes to Puno, and there put together. It now sails as well, and furnishes its passengers with as comfortable accommodations, as any steamer of its size on American waters. It is as beautiful as a gentleman’s yacht, and it can easily make twelve knots an hour. It is propelled by a screw, and its fuel is Australian coal, which is brought over more than 7,000 miles of water and lifted on the railroad over the Andes to Puno, at the edge of the lake. By the time it reaches the ship the coal costs about $25 in gold per ton, but the traffic on the lake is so great that the steamers pay for themselves and their running expenses many times over.
There are three other steamers on Lake Titicaca; and there are smaller steamers on the Desaguadero river, which carry copper, silver, and tin to the lake from the rich mining region of Oruro, Bolivia. The vessels now belong to the Peruvian corporation, although the line was originally established by the Peruvian government, and the first steamers were placed on the lake at government expense, costing, it is said, more than their weight in silver. They were built in England, and shipped in pieces to the Peruvian coast. Here they were loaded upon the backs of men and mules and carried step by step up the Andes. It took ten years after landing to get them to Lake Titicaca.
Much of the smaller traffic on the lake is done in balsas, or boats made of straw. I can see a dozen straw boats as I write. Some are filled with Indians; and one has a mule, a donkey, and a llama in addition to its human freight. The captain of each boat is an Aymarâ Indian, who stands up and poles the boat when close to the shore, and manages the sail when out on the lake. Balsas are peculiar to Lake Titicaca. They were used there when the Spaniards came, and before the advent of steamers they carried all the freight of the lakes. They are rafts made of rolls of straw-like reeds so tightly woven together that they keep out the water, and they have straw sails. An extra roll around the top of the balsa prevents the passengers from falling out.
The ports on Lake Titicaca do a large business. Most of the freight from Bolivia is sent over the lake to Puno, thence down the railroad to the seaport of Mollendo. Cargo is brought hundreds of miles to Chililaya on mules, and on steamer days it is not uncommon to see a thousand mules being loaded and unloaded at the wharves. In 1895 more than $1,000,000 worth of imports went into Bolivia over Lake Titicaca, and more than 300,000 worth of Bolivian goods were shipped out. There are now steamers weekly from Puno to Chililaya, and nearly all the passengers and freight to and from La Paz, the largest city of Bolivia, go by this route.
Much of the freight is brought to Lake Titicaca on llamas, the little animals which form the freight-carriers of the Andes. They are to be seen everywhere in all parts of the plateaus of Bolivia and Peru. I pass llama trains every day, and see llama flocks feeding on the plains. The llama is one of the aristocrats of quadrupedal creation, and rightly so, for he is one of the most beautiful of four-footed beasts. He has a camel’s head, a sheep’s body, and the feet and legs of a deer. From the sole of his hoof to the top of his head he measures about four feet and a-half, and from his feet to his shoulders about three feet. The female is usually smaller than the male, and not quite so strong, but her wool is much finer.
Llamas hold their heads high up in the air as they walk, treading the earth as though they owned it. They are very stubborn, but are not sulky like the camel, although apparently fully as proud. When you load a camel he cries like a baby. The tears roll down his cheeks, and at times he fairly bellows with grief. As he marches off with his load he pouts and pouts, and groans and groans. The llama carries his burden with a proud air, scanning the landscape with his eyes as he goes, and pricking up his ears like a skye-terrier at every new thing. He will carry only so much, his usual load being T00 pounds. If you put on more, he does not cry or groan, but calmly kneels down and waits until the load is lightened.
If you make a llama angry, he does not bite you, as does the camel. He shows his contempt by spitting upon you. I would rather be bitten by ten camels than be spat upon by one llama. The spittle has a most disagreeable smell. If it touches you it is almost impossible to get rid of the odor. The llama chews the cud, like a cow, and he has a special reservoir somewhere in his anatomy well stored with saliva for such occasions.
Llamas are gentle when well treated. They seem fond of their masters, who are usually Indians. The Indians are also fond of the llamas; they pet them and talk to them as though they were human beings. They often dye the wool, and some-times tie bright-coloured ribbons through holes which they make in the llama’s ears. When on a journey they always walk beside the beasts, stopping from time to time to let the animals graze. Every-where on the highlands you see Indian women spinning llama wool from the fleeces and weaving it into cloth. The wool is coarser and longer than sheep’s wool, but it serves to make the ponchos and the rough dress of the people of the highlands.
The meat of the llama is eaten by the Indians. It is of a soft, spongy nature, and of a disagreeable flavour. ° The llama also furnishes the people’s fuel. There are no trees or bushes, and no one thinks of using fires for warmth. Fires are only for cooking, and the only fuel is the droppings of the llama. Every hut has a pile of such fuel beside its fireplace, and the better classes of houses have special quarters for it. La Paz, a city of nearly 50,000 people, depends entirely on llama manure for its fuel; and the steam which moves its electric-light plant is created by a fire of this manure. The cooking is all done over such fires, and for this reason I have for the time given up such things as broiled beefsteaks and mutton chops, and am now sticking religiously to soups, fries, and other victuals cooked in pots or pans. In this connection it seems a curious dispensation of Providence that the llama has one place for making his fuel deposits. When possible he uses the same place every day, so that the manure is easily saved.
Llamas have curious habits as to their love affairs. The female, I am told, picks out the male she specially loves, and makes all the advances. It has been stated that the female llamas are not allowed to carry burdens. This is a mistake, for the freight trains of llamas I have seen, numbering many hundreds, have had almost as many females as males.
Other animals of the same genus as the llama live on these highlands. The vicuna is smaller, but far more beautiful. It runs wild, and is often hunted for its fur. The alpaca, which is also smaller than the llama, is celebrated for its fine wool. There are many alpacas about Lake Titicaca. The animals are kept in flocks, and are herded as we herd sheep. They are of different colours, generally black or brown. The wool of the young is as fine and soft as silk, and after a year’s growth it becomes a foot long. Several million pounds of it are exported every year, most of it going to Europe.