Visiting the beginning of the world

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The Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca is, according to Incan creation mythology, the birthplace of the world. We went and visited and it was excellent.

Lake Titicaca is often billed as the world’s highest navigable lake. This seems a dubious claim as surely a strategically placed paddling pool and toy boat could beat it for the title. But suffice to say it is high at 3,800m. And it has almost endless clear blue waters surrounded by deserty shores and mountain vistas. We can understand why the Incas thought it was special and an excellent spot for a little child sacrifice on the stone table below.

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A little Incan theology

Among other things, the Incan creation myth says that the sun rose into the sky by climbing three steps of a puma shaped rock on Isla del Sol. The sun holds massive importance in Incan religion with which we sympathise. It’s what makesĀ  a frigid I’m-wearing-all-my-merino Andean morning into a bearable sightseeing day.

The Incan emperors were said to have descended directly from the sun itself. This was all part of their shroud of majesty which kept them as unquestioned and absolute monarchs. There is actually some evidence that at least the modern emperors knew this was a ruse, which is awesome. You can imagine their kids being like “dad, are we really descended from the sun?” and them being like “No, just from grandma. We say the thing about the sun so everyone will worship us”.

One of the remarkable thing about Incan society was its ability to sustain diversity of religious belief. Even in terms of creation myth there was a competing idea that the first people had nothing to do with the sun, but instead wriggled from the ground like worms. And when new tribes were incorporated into the empire their gods were venerated and brought to the main Incan temple in Cusco. The unifying religion was the least innocuous bit – worshiping the sun, moon and stars – and the earth mother Pachamama that remainsĀ  a revered force throughout the Andean Americas today.

The island

There’s about 4,000 people living on the Island today in a few scattered settlements. We stayed in one which had a delightful village feel, complete with a sheep that had the most cliched baaa imaginable. We also met a young girl of about six who freely volunteered the problems with her parents hostel: “ya, no hay wifi” – now there is no wifi she said. “Is there hot water?” we asked, and she sadly shook her head. New tactic for assessing potential lodgings: ask innocent child.

Each settlement charged a small fee for walking through their lands. That was fine, but lead to some ticket offices in some remarkable places.
Each settlement charged a small fee for walking through their lands. That was fine, but lead to some ticket offices in some remarkable places.

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