While exploring the beauty of the Titicaca lake in Bolivia, we ended up in the remote village of Huatajata. Here we met Máximo Catari, source of an extraordinary and millenary knowledge.
Máximo, who belongs to the Aymara ethnic group, is an expert builder of totora boats. Aboard this ancient type of pre-Colombian vessel, he sailed the Titicaca lake, the rivers of South America and the Pacific Ocean.
The totora boats
Totora is a water plant that spontaneously grows along lakes and rivers. It’s a widespread plant in Bolivia and Peru, on the Titicaca lakeshore.
Since ancient times, totora has been a very important resource for the pre-Colombian people: it’s been used as building material, as a medicinal plant, fuel, food and so on. Totora has been employed by great civilizations like Tiahuanaco and the Incas to build boats. This ancient knowledge has been handed down orally up to our times.
Máximo learnt the art of building totora boats from his father, Dionicio Catari, who was a fisherman and boat builder.
In the ‘60s, when wood vessels were introduced in the Titicaca lake, Máximo saw the decline of the totora boats. Therefore, he decided to organize amazing sailing expeditions to avoid the disappearance of this ancient knowledge.
The first expedition, called Expedición Titi, was organized in 1993. Máximo, his son Eric and other 8 people built a 10 metre-long totora boat and circumnavigated the Titicaca lake. The expedition departed from Huatajata and sailed 750 Km in 28 days. Despite the strong wind and storms – let’s not forget that the Titicaca lake is over 4000 metres above the sea level – the boat didn’t suffer any damage.
The Expedición Titi was followed by other amazing adventures:
- Kota Mama I (1998), II (1999) e III (2001) on the Andean and tropical rivers of South America
- Viracocha I (2000), II (2003) e III (2019, ongoing) in the Pacific Ocean
The aim of these expeditions was to recover and deepen the knowledge of this pre-Colombian nautical technology as well as the identity of the Titicaca people.
Máximo Catari and his great lesson
Today Máximo is the owner of a small hostel, a restaurant and the Titi Museum.
The Titi Museum, despite being small and off-the-beaten track, collects a lot of information on the history and culture of the Titicaca people. Here the visitors can also learn about all the sailing expeditions aboard of ancient vessels made so far in the world.
Having left everything behind to embark on this journey in search of inspiration, we felt very lucky to meet someone like Máximo.
The story of his life shows the greatness of the native people and make us realize the importance of safeguarding the ancient knowledge of humanity.
What’s considered primitive is often better than what we call “progress”. The totora boats, which are made of non-polluting natural material, are among the most stable vessels in the world.
How to visit Huatajata
Huatajata is halfway between the bustling city of La Paz and the touristic town of Copacabana. It can be reached by bus from Copacabana or from La Paz. The journey lasts about an hour and a half and the stop is upon request. The cost of the ride is between 8 and 15 Bs.
As for the overnight stay, we obviously recommend Máximo Catari’s Hostal Inti Karka, where a comfortable double bedroom with private bathroom costs about 80 Bs.
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