Thursday, February 14, 2013

On the shimmering waters of Lake Titicaca

We signed up for a 2 day/1 night excursion to visit the floating villages of Uros, experience a home stay on the Island of Amanthani, and learn about the male knitters on the Island of Taquille.

We boarded our boat at the dock in Puno with 8 other tourists, met our guide Hugo, and within an hour we docked on the edge of a floating Island. We learned from Hugo how these islands are constructed with a base of the thick root structure of the reeds native to these waters. Blocks of these root structures are actually sawed under water, grouped together with stakes and tied. An anchor system keeps the islands from floating away. The Island we visited was very small as you can see from the photos, yet it sustains several families. The small huts are home to 7 or 8 family members. Amazingly, the people of the floating Islands of Uros have been living this way since the 1400’s.

While we were there, we had the chance to ride in a boat also made completely out of reeds. The money from the boat rides helps them purchase the solar panels that give them electricity. We found this to be the only modern convenience on the ‘island’. A very primitive lifestyle indeed, but one they are content with. No taxes to pay, no worries. I think we all found the experience very eye opening, and we were all thankful our home stay was on a real island and not one of these floating ones!

We got back on our boat and two hours later we arrived at Amanthani, a stunning Island where women dressed in red puffy skirts, embroidered blouses and black embroidered shawls greeted us and escorted us up the steep hill to their homes where we would be billeted. Marc and I stayed with an amazing couple, Gladys and Adolfo who we liked immediately.

Gladys and her mother in law cooked us a traditional lunch on a wood fireplace in their small kitchen. Everyone on the island by the way is a vegetarian. First course was a thick quinoa and potato soup that was delicious. The main dish or segundo as they say here, was fried salty cheese (very similar to feta), white rice, steamed potatoes and a slice or two of tomato and cucumber for garnish. Simple and delicious. Over lunch we got to know them with a bit of English and a bit of Spanish and a lot of descriptive hand movements.

We got settled in our room upstairs and at 3:00 pm we all walked up to the top of the mountain where three times a year the local people have ceremonies for pachamama and patchatata (mother and father earth) It is not a long climb, but very steep. And we were over 4000 meters so it was a tough climb. The views were spectacular and it was a spiritual experience to be there. As the sun set, we walked back down to the local restaurant, where many of us had a hot drink, then we were hosted again by Gladys and Adolfo for a hot dinner.

The evening’s entertainment was a fiesta organized by the village for all of us tourists. Gladys dressed us all up in traditional dress (including Marc) and we joined about 30 other tourists and 30 locals for the party in the main hall. There was local music, dancing and beer, and soon Gladys pulled us to the dance floor with the other local people doing a folk dance something like the hora all around the room. The young tourists in the group were quite taken by the whole thing, but Marc and I were out of breath very quickly and ducked out as soon as it was reasonably safe to do so. It had been a long day and it was time to tuck ourselves in and get some sleep.

Early the next morning we had a farewell breakfast with our family with whom, by that time, we were completely in love with and so sad to leave behind. They were so kind and so welcoming. Our short visit with them affected us much more than we anticipated. Gladys walked us back to our boat where we said our final farewells.

Next stop Taquille! On this Island they are known for their knitting and weaving — and the unusual part is that the men are the ones knitting! You can see men and woman walking together, the woman spinning yarn and the man with three knitting needles in play working on a hat. The first hour of the visit entailed yet another uphill climb to the main square of the village where we visited the co-op where the men and women sell their wares. Hugo gave a detailed description of the customs of the people of this Island before we sat down to a trout lunch (not vegetarians on this Island, but almost). After lunch we walked the rest of the way around the island and back to our awaiting boat. We had a three hour ride back to Puno, so most of us had a nice long siesta dreaming about the people we had met, the traditions we had learned about and the food we had enjoyed on three of the hundreds of Islands dotting Lake Titicaca.

I found this on the internet, I was not brave enough to photograph the men myself.

We arrived back in Puno in late afternoon, knowing this would be our last night in Peru. What a way to end an amazing trip to an amazing country.

The next morning we boarded a bus that would take us across the border of Peru and into Bolivia. Next stop Copacabana!

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