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Lake Titicaca

Written on: Monday August 13th, 2007

A journal entry from: Bolivia, Peru, and the Galapagos!

After spending one night in Puno at Hotel Italia, we woke up early to catch a boat to explore Lake Titicaca yesterday. But first, to get to the port, we all hopped in two-seater bicycle taxis (I don't remember what the locals call them, but they are all over town). Once at the port, we all purchased gifts for the families we would be staying with that night on Lake Titicaca. I purchased a bag of flour, some dehydrated milk, and two cans of fish for 13 Soles (Peruvian currency), which works out to about $4US. The most annoying thing about this port visit, however, was the guilt trips that they put on all the tourists. Common shouts from vendors included "Your host family would really love this!", "Don't forget about the kids!", etc. It was obvious that the stores at the port were really only for the tourists, as the island families probably shopped elsewhere when they needed to come into town.

With our supplies purchased, we all hopped on our boat along with our Lake Titicaca tour guide who was named "Clever". Clever was a native from the area who was very knowledgeable about all of our stops, he also spoke several languages: Quechua, Aymara (both native languages of the area), Spanish, English, French, Italian, and a little bit of German. The boat was a spacious wooden boat with an inside seating area and rood seating area. It was powered by an old Ford truck engine and the top speed didn't seem to surpass about 10 knots. The boat was owned by a cooperative of 6 island families who all profited from our trip around the lake. This is in contrast to the super quick yachts with leather seats operated by the bigger travel agencies who probably gave little back to the lake community.

Our first stop was the island of Taquile (pronounced tuh-KEE-lay) which has about 2000 residents from 6 different villages. They rarely marry outside the island and their lifestyle is simple and mostly untouched by western civilization (besides tourists, modern outhouses, and a few solar panels). We disembarked and walked about 40 minutes to the main square at the top of the island. The scenery was spectacular and the walk was tough (soley because of the altitude, which made us all worry about our upcoming trek on the Inca Trail). We encountered many locals along the way, all dressed in their traditional garb (which Clever claims they wear everyday, not just for the tourists, but I have my doubts, since the people on the next island only wore it for speical occasions). We arrived at the town square at noon along with about 300 other gringos. It was a disappointing scene in comparison to our lunch stops in southwest Bolivia. We ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake and had a lunch of lake trout, french fries, salad, and quinoa soup. For drinks, I had Inca Kola (which tastes like bubblegum soda) and some fresh tea (seriously, the stuck a branch from a shrub in our cup of hot water, but it was delicious!). The food was great, but it cost about twice as much as the same thing would have in Bolivia.

After lunch, we trekked back down to our boats which had moved to the opposite side of the island, and headed for the island of Amantani (pronounced uh-mahn-ta-NEE, population about 4000 among 8 villages) where we would spend the night. Amantani is very similar to Taquile, except the traditional dress varies slightly and there are far fewer tourists. Once there, we broke up into group of 2-3 and met our host families. Louise, Fiona and I were greeted by Rosalia who walked us uphill to her home. Rosalia was 10 years old and dressed in her island's traditional garb; she was adorable!! We walked uphill about 40 minutes before arriving at her home, though we stopped about 5 times to catch our breath, this little girl was a speedy walker! Once there, we met her mother and one of her younger sisters. The mom had prepared some tea (same as we had eaten on the previous island) and fresh popcorn as a snack. They also offered us woolen caps that they had knitted. We had previously been instructed to wear the hats so that our families would be able to recognize us on the island (and also, we were told we could buy the hats for about $7US each if we wanted, and of course we did because we'd feel guilty otherwise). The home we were staying at was very clean and in good shape. It consisted of a small stone courtyard with four buildings: the guest house, the family house, the kitchen, and the outhouse. All the structures had a phenomenal view of the lake. Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures here, cause it felt too awkward. The one surprise was the outhouse. It was pristeen inside and didn't smell at all. It was almost like a real toilet, in that after you were done with your business, you scooped some fresh water from a bucked and dumped it into the toilet bowl to flush.

After a short break, we all went to the village meeting hall to watch the gringos versus the locals in a game of soccer (the locals won). We then returned home for dinner, where we met the rest of the family. The mother prepared us soup, rice, a potato and onion entree, and tea. The food was delicious, but we all sat in silence because there was a huge language barrier. In their homes, the Amantani people speak Quechua, but they learn Spanish once they are in school. The father (Nicholas) spoke Spanish, but the three of us gringos spoke only enough Spanish for very basic conversation. After dinner, they dressed us up in the traditional clothes and we returned to the village meeting hall for a fiesta where we all danced for a couple hours before returning to our homes to sleep. We woke in the morning to a breakfast of pancakes and tea before heading downhill to our boats for our return to Puno.

On the way back to Puno, we stopped at the floating islands of Uros. These islands (about 40 in total) are not far off the shore of Puno and are crafted out of reeds from the lake and the people there had been living on them for hundreds of years (the reeds obviously are replenished frequently as they easily biodegrade). It was quite an amazing site, and I was impressed at how the locals had managed to keep their homes authentic while still being an obvious tourist trap. There wasn't much for us to do on the islands besides ride in a reed boat and shop at their jewelry stalls. Apparently, there are similar islands away from the tourist path where the people live a bit more traditionally.

And now we are back in Puno at Hotel Italia for one night. While it was super interesting to experience how the locals live, I am very happy to be back to real flushing toilets and showers. We leave for Cuzco in the morning, which is our base for our trips to the Amazon basin and Machu Picchu in the coming week.