Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Totora Meets the Open Sea

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Totora Meets the Open Sea

Article excerpt

WHILE TRADITIONAL totora reed boats are disappearing from the waters of Lake Titicaca, the vessels are discovering a new role--or possibly rediscovering an ancient one--as transoceanic voyagers.

In mid-April, one of the reed expeditions, the Mata Rangi II, headed by Spanish explorer Kitin Munoz, surpassed the two-month world duration record for a reed vessel voyage. Another, the Wirakocha, was recently completed in a town on the shore of Lake Titicaca. That vessel's builder, U.S. adventurer Phil Buck, plans to set off from Chile this fall for Easter Island. The third such expedition, the Kota Mama, headed by English explorer John Blashford-Snell, is scheduled to leave from the Bolivian border town of Puerto Suarez in June and sail to Buenos Aires. From there, the Kota Mama will cross the Atlantic to South Africa next year.

All the expeditions are bound by a common thirst for adventure. "It's been a dream for me to do a reed boat voyage ever since I read about Thor Heyerdahl as a child," said Buck. From Easter Island, he plans to spend several years circumnavigating the earth in a series of reed boats built at various stops using traditional materials and methods.

These explorers are following Heyerdahrs footsteps in many ways. Some of the same Aymara craftsmen who built ships for Heyerdahl are constructing this generation of reed ships. And Munoz learned from Heyerdahl and accompanied him on one of his voyages.

Munoz's voyage, sponsored by UNESCO and the Swiss watch company Breitling, set off from Arica, Chile, on February 14 and in early May had arrived at the Marquesas Islands, where the crew planned to replenish supplies and do upkeep on the boat; however, only half of the craft arrived. An infestation of particularly voracious mollusks forced the crew to cut away half of the vessel. …

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