Travel Journal

The People of Lake Titicaca

In the morning we were picked up by All Ways Travel, a local recommended tour company. Our guide was Miguel and there were 8 of us on the tour.

The boat took us first to Uros, which is a group of islands made of reeds---no it is not a typo, they are really made from reeds! The people that actually live on the islands fled from wars in the south a few hundred years ago, They devised a technique of using reeds secured to the roots that are encased in dirt, layering until the surface is solid and floats--and voila! you have a habitable island. Homes are built and the people lead a simple existence based on fishing and tourism. We got a demonstration of the island building method, were invited into their homes (this island had 3) and were "dressed" in traditional costumes for pictures. Then we loaded onto a reed boat, treated to a rendition of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and then were paddled to the next island for "snacks and toilet" stop.

Amantani Island, where our home-stay was organized, is a 3 hour boat trip. We settled back for the ride, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful views around the lake. Upon arriving, we were introduced to our home-stay "mother", Valentina. She was a 40 year old single woman who has lived her whole life on the island, looking after her parents and sister's children. Our home for the night was pretty basic, a tiny room on the second floor, with a double bed and small table, with the bathroom outside and down the stairs.

We were fed a lunch of fried cheese and vegetables, then we met up with the others for a cultural stop at the islands library and a hike to the top of the island's tallest hill. The air is thin (at 4000m) so going up a hill had us going very slowly and gasping for breath. At the top were some temple ruins and we witnessed the sunset while we circled the temple structure three times counter-clockwise--a practice believed to bring good luck!

Coming down, we were told that the villagers had a surprise planned for us after dinner. Valentina fed us a basic vegetarian meal (corn soup, 2 kinds of potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers) then pulled out some traditional clothing and proceeded to dress us. We were then taken by the niece along the dark path to a building with a large empty room. The other tour participants (also dressed in traditional clothes) and some villagers arrived. It looked like some kind of social gathering as people sat down on benches on either side of the room. Then a trio of musicians arrived and the party began! The villages got us all up dancing, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in a circle. It was fast, furious and fun! For a short time, we all lived in the moment, as members of a Andean community letting loose after a day's hard work.

Later back at the room, Len was experiencing breathing difficulties and couldn't sleep (so I didn't as well). Every time he lay down and doze off he would wake himself gasping for air. It was a miserable night, and we wondered if we would survive the next day's activities. But we did.

After a pancake breakfast, we said our goodbyes and the boat headed back to Taquile Island. This island is more on the tourist circuit so there were other tour groups exploring the island. We walked for an hour up and along a beautiful stone trail to the main square. There was a men's (!) knitting cooperative selling their handiwork. Apparently the men all learn to knit and the women weave. Miguel our guide led us to a private home, where the owner demonstrated how they make soap from a plant. The soap is used to wash wool (and sometimes hair). We also learned about the cultural significance of the knitted hat and woven cumberbund that the men all wore. We were then offered a delicious lunch of curried quinoa soup, trout and vegetables. It was one of the best meals we've had in Peru!

We returned to Puno that afternoon with a better understanding of the unique cultures of the people of Lake Titicaca and more appreciative of all the conveniences and choices we are blessed to have at home in Canada.