November 3, 2005
Today I started my two-day-long tour of some of the islands on Lake Titicaca near Puno. Not really knowing what to expect, I stocked up on water, packed a few essential supplies, and took a short bus trip to the lake, where I boarded a boat with twenty five or so other people.
We rode on the very slow boat for about half an hour through the marshy area of the lake before arriving at the floating islands of the Uros people, who created their own islands out of reeds to flee from the oppression of the Collas and the Incas. Immediately upon stepping onto the first island, I noticed the unstable ground. The entire island was made out of reeds from the surrounding marsh that need to be replaced every few months before they rot through. Still, the island was strong enough to support several huts, an observation tower, and some other buildings, including a school. A lot of people rode to the next floating island on the same reed boats that the local people use in their everyday lives. The second island looked roughly the same as the first, except it also sported a public telephone hut! So much for maintaining the traditions of thousands of years.
Next, we road to Amantaní, a real island that took three hours to reach in our slow-moving boat. Upon arriving, each person from the tour was assigned to a local family to stay with. I walked with the mother of my family to her house through several makeshift pathways that weaved their way around the various crop fields that covered the island. The house was made of mud bricks and the doors were only five feet high. I was lead into a simple room with three beds and a light. I would later find out that the house didn't have electricity, so I guess the light bulb was there to improve the room's Feng Shui.
There wasn't much for me to do, so I took a nap for a few hours and was awoken to find that lunch was ready. The soup I had was typical Peruvian: potatoes mixed with a few vegetables. The main course was a bowl of two different types of potatoes, followed with a cup of mate de coca, which had become a staple of my everyday diet. The lunch wasn't too bad; I just wished it contained something non-tuber-based.
After lunch, I met the other people in my group in the main part of the town and we walked to the ruins of Pachamama and Pachatata (Mother Earth and Father Earth) at the top of the island. With no roads or cars, the walk to the top was nice and quiet, but the altitude of 4000 meters made it a little bit difficult. The view of the lake from the top was great. We might as well have been the only people on Earth. We watched a cloudy sunset and made our way back down.
My host mother was waiting for me at the bottom. She walked me back to her house in the darkness. Luckily, she had a flashlight, something I hadn't thought to bring. I had a bowl of rice and more potatoes for supper as we chatted about life on the island. It turned out that the couple was only 24, and they already had three kids. They had no electricity, no running water, and few possessions other than the house itself and a donkey. It really made me appreciate what I had.
Next, my host father walked me to the dance at the center of town. On the way, he lent me a traditional hat and poncho to keep warm. I thought it was a nice gesture, but I later would find out that all of the tourists wore the same clothing. The dance hall was a basic room with a few lights, some chairs, and a makeshift bar stocked with Cusqueña, the local beer. Soon after I got there, a band walked in and started playing. Everyone began dancing and having a good time. After an hour or so, the locals were all yawning. I don't think they were used to staying up much past dark. When the dance ended at 9:30, I was once again led back to my room, and I went straight to bed.
The photo album for this entry is here.