Stan Diamond's guide to visiting the world for enjoyment and personal enrichment and growth. Suggestions for places to go and things to do from a lifelong traveler and author.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Lakesides of the Third World
If you like to voyage in watery areas, investigate the many wonderful lakes that abound in the Third World, places of amazing cultural scenes, volcanoes, fascinating villages and practices and exquisite beauty. In our hemisphere, my favorite is Titicaca which sits between Peru and Bolivia. This is the highest navigable lake in the world at about 12,500 feet. A delightful train ride through the Andes takes the traveler to Puno, the main lakeside port of Peru. A brief reed boat ride to a nearby island takes visitors to one of the many, populated artificial islands of the Uros Indians. The Indians fashion these islands solely using the reeds that grow abundantly in the lake. The residents live on these small islands and make their living from catching fish which are then traded at the shore for their other needs and for food. They also weave interesting objects which they sell on the mainland and to visiting tourists. This is an amazing traditional culture and a mini-trip not to be missed. But there are many additional islands on this vast lake. My favorite is Taquile, a hilly island where another traditional society offers the wanderer incredible variations in dress and a cooperative where fine woven articles are sold. Be ready for a good climb if you visit this site however.
Closer to the Bolivian side of the lake is the Island of the Sun, a hilly, unpaved terrain where one can still see many early Inca buildings. Not far away from there is the Island of the Moon, a former Inca nunnery. Even the nearby town of Casablanca from which one accesses the two islands is interesting. For one site of interest, stop at the big church on the square where you can have your vehicle blessed by the local priest on the weekends. Bikes, motorcycles, trucks and buses are all eligible. Bring a small offering to the church as a thank you gift.
An even more beautiful site is in nearby Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is a deep caldera, surrounded by cone shaped mountains including three volcanoes. This is a Mayan area though the thirteen villages on the lake vary in their dialects, their culture and their dress. People speak one of two ancient Indian languages which are rather distinct from one another. Most of the villages are accessible from the lake. A public boat takes visitors to three of the more commercialized ones but more independent travelers can rent their own boat and pick and choose the towns which interest them. The return trip to Panahachel, the most popular tourist base can be rough in the afternoon. Our boat seemed to fly up onto and down from the waves that the wind had stirred up. Make your day trip an early one. There may not be a more beautiful lake in the world. And it's not very far away.
While Asia offers many lake adventures, my favorite is Lake Erhai (Ear shaped lake) in Yunnan Province in the South. The best way to access this spectacular site is from Dali, the nearby Bai Tribal city. The Bai people wear traditional costumes and have festive and colorful markets to visit and they are only one of the colorful Chinese minorities in the area. On the lake itself, there is a large tourist boat (far too large for my taste) which takes people to several sites including an island with a very popular Buddhist temple. Another treat for the visitors is the cormorant fishing on the lake. If you have never seen how these captive birds are used by Chinese fisherman, you will find this just fascinating.
Another amazing Third World lake is Inle Lake in Burma (Myanmar). The lake supports islands of fishermen as well as markets and temples galore. Most of the buildings are fashioned from bamboo and stand on stilts seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Vegetables are grown on floating islands and cared for by the fishermen of the lake during daytime lulls. In the evening, the lake fills with fishermen who row their boats with one leg while the other is placed on the gunnel of their boat. They toss their nets from this position as well as propel their boats. This athletic wonder goes on all night. It is not an easy life but it is colorful and takes place in a very pretty environment. Additionally, this lake is right in the middle of several minority groups, each of which offers a different culture to observe and learn from. It is a totally fascinating site.
There are innumerable other places which rival the ones above. I will mention just one additional place that I found especially beautiful. Lake Van is the largest body of water in Turkey and is located in the less visited Southeast of the country. Unfortunately, the water is brackish and the fishing consists of only one small species which the people do take advantage of. The lake is dotted with islands but the thing that I remember best are the cliffs and mountains that surround it and the especially intense colors of the sunsets one can see at the end of the day there. It, too, was one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. Try a lake vacation. I think you will like it.