One of Taquile's two points of entry

One of Taquile’s two points of entry

As the boat approaches Taquile Island, the mountains of Bolivia rise out of the distant lake horizon, a reminder that the coast road can deliver us to La Paz in under four hours.

Barely a mile wide and three miles long, Taquile is home to little more than a couple thousand people.

Everything from the color and position of the tassel and threads in the sash has a meaning.

Everything from the color and position of the tassel and threads in the sash has a meaning.

 

This is one of the last places taken by the Spaniards during their Conquest of the New World.

When its lands were granted to Count Rodrigo of Taquile, a Catalán Spaniard, the islanders adopted Catalán dress that they wear to this day.

Visitors have been coming here since the 1970’s, but outsider access is controlled a collective of the islanders.  Two piers at opposite sides of the island are connected by stone staircases to the central plaza and village.

Local wearing a Catalán barretina

Local wearing a Catalán barretina

A villager in a Catalán barretina passes through the hilltop gates just as I begin my climb.

If walking on the reeds of the Uros Islands feels like floating on a raft at the top of the world, then Taquile feels like climbing the ridgepole of the celestial tent.

View across the island to Lake TIticaca.

View across the island to Lake TIticaca.

The thin air – we’re still well above 13,000 feet – makes for breathless stops along the way, but the view from the top is worth it.

The lake is an endless reflection of the most startlingly blue sky I’ve ever seen.  Clouds that have always towered far above me seem here to be within arm’s reach, and they’re blindingly brilliant in the unfiltered sunlight.

Woman in Catalán garb herds her sheep

Woman in Catalán garb herds her sheep

 

Even though I’ve been tiped off  about local dress, it’s still a bit of a cultural disconnect to see centuries-old Catalán clothing on the backs of indigenous people halfway around the world five centuries after they were first in fashion.

A woman driving her sheep looks like a snapshot from the foothills of the Pyrenees.

 

 

 

A brass band announces the ceremony

A brass band announces the ceremony

 

 

 

Fortune has smiled on this day, for there’s a harvest celebration just beginning on the plaza.

A brass band plays at the foot of a flagpole.

 

 

 

 

Bystanders look on from staircases and doorways, most of the men wearing signature Catalan sashes.

Local residents ring the plaza for a view of the pageantry

Local residents ring the plaza for a view of the pageantry

 

Two boys watch from a staircase vantage point

Two boys watch from a staircase vantage point

Here, as among the Uros, the colored tassels on caps or  women’s pigtails all have significance  depending upon their color and the side of the face on which they are worn.

A mix of Catalán and native dress is often evident

A mix of Catalán and native dress is often evident

It’s probably no accident that the Taquileños use their dress as a sort of language and an important part of ceremony.

The islanders are known for the quality of their hand-woven fabrics and clothing.  Knitted fabrics are produced only by men and woven fabrics and yarns produced only by women.

Smoldering incense fills the air

Smoldering incense fills the air

 

At the center of the plaza kneel men and women in native dress, cloth bundles on the stones before them filled with  dried blossoms and herbs and barks.

 

Like a shaman, one of the figures lights fragrant wood splints and their smoke drifts upward as their scent settles into the crowd.

A masked devil is poised to rope

A masked devil is poised to rope

Only a few feet away, a masked figure bearing a rope advances on a pair of cattle.

The cattle are readied for their part in the procession

The cattle are readied for their part in the procession

 

The design of this plowshare has remained almost unchanged for thousands of years

Traditional wooden plowshare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image of paired cattle is a motif appears widely in Peru as clay miniatures that are perched on rooftops for good luck, fertility, and prosperity.

 

The design of this plowshare has remained almost unchanged for thousands of years

 

Identically dressed women join the procession

Identically dressed women join the procession

The ceremony escalates into processions which circle the plaza, each with its own impeccably costumed players, costumes, and props.

 

Just as elsewhere in Latin America, the Catholic presence undeniably threaded through the proceedings is mixed with a strong dose of local tradition and dress.

 

At times the Christian connection seems to fade into invisibility.

 

 

In the final circuit of the plaza, somber women dressed identically in bright red and black move in a double line.

A spectacular finale

A moving finale

 

Altar boys carry the wreathed image of paired bulls.

Altar boys carry the wreathed image of paired bulls.

At the head of the procession a wreathed image of paired bulls is hand carried by altar boys.

 

As I reflect on the visit during the descent to the boat dock, the Taquile experience seems hard to top, but Lima – and yet a whole other flavor of Peru – is still ahead.  Read on.

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