Italian swimmer breaks record on 'sacred' Lake Titicaca

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LAKE TITICACA, Bolivia (Reuters) - Andrea Oriana, an Italian former Olympic swimmer, has set a new record on the high-altitude and chilly Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake that is surrounded by Andean mountain ranges between Bolivia and Peru.

The 47-year-old swam across 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) of the lake without a wetsuit in a total 5 hours and 33 minutes, breaking the previous record for distance swum on the lake at his third attempt, despite bracing waters and thin air at 3,812 meters (12,506 feet) above sea level.

"The difficulty is the altitude, it does not help you to swim well and it slows down your strokes due to the cold because you feel the 12 degrees Celsius (53.6° Fahrenheit) without protection, and it feels very, very cold," Oriana said.

The Italian, who rubbed a kind of wax on his skin to keep away the chill, swam from near the so-called "Sleeping Dragon" mountain peak on the east shore to the Island of the Moon in the middle of the lake.

Mauricio Salas, a judge from the Bolivian swimming federation, confirmed the new record, which broke the previous record of 16 km (10 miles).

"It is a dream to swim in this lake because it is one of the most difficult tests in the world," said Oriana, who has previously also swum across the English Channel.

"Having the world record on Titicaca makes me feel very happy because this is really a sacred lake," said Oriana, who is now planning to swim even further: 43 km (27 miles) from Bolivia to Peru across the lake.

(Reporting by Santiago Limachi and Monica Machicao; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Frances Kerry)