After the floating islands we went on to Amantani, one of the more famous islands of Titikaka. The local population speaks Quechua and some Spanish. About 8,000 people live on the island, in two or three communities, in pretty simple conditions. While most/all have electricity, it is primarily through solar energy and limited. There are no roads on the island, so no cars. Or tractors, for that matter. Subsistence farming is the bulk of their economy, supplemented by tourism, and they do everything by hand. My host mother told me that she only goes to the mainland once or twice a year to buy necessities, like rice or some flour. Everything else she needs is here on the island.
We both thought the island was absolutely beautiful. After we landed our guide passed us along to our host family. We and another couple went with Flora and her family for the night. She led us along a path, mostly uphill, to get to her home. I was told that there were basic, basic conditions on the island, so I was pleasantly surprised when she stopped in front of a relatively large home with a dish bolted to the roof.
Their indoor bathroom was tiled, and the beds we slept in weren’t terribly uncomfortable. It really wasn’t bad at all. Flora, the mother of the family, was sweet and made sure we had a good lunch (quinoa soup) and then took us to the base of the large hill on the island, which our guide said we would climb. I wasn’t very excited about the climb in high altitude, but I soldiered on.
The view really was great from the hill (we were at 13,000 feet up there) and we got to watch the sun set behind the clouds on the other side of the lake. Along the hike up local women had set up shop. It was a little embarrassing to be huffing and puffing halfway up the hill, only to find all these Quechua women sitting on the side of the path with all the luxury items she had lugged up by herself (beer, water, candy, coke) and will have to bring back down.
At the top of the hill was an ancient religious site dedicated to Pachamama, the mother earth goddess. Every year the community gets together and celebrates her by offering a llama sacrifice and throwing a party because spring/summer is coming. We wandered back down the mountainside before rain fell, and made it back home just in time for supper. Finding our way through the dirt paths and across the wheat fields in the dark was very hard. We kept stopping and asking locals for directions. Eventually, our “mother” Flora found us and led us the rest of the way home.
Dinner was rice and potatoes, with some cilantro seasoning, and afterward we went outside to look at the stars. What little electricity is used at night is used indoors, so the sky is almost completely free of light pollution. We were able to see the Milky Way, Orion, and a host of other constellations we were not familiar with because it is the Souther Hemisphere. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
At 8 pm the community hosted a little party for the tourists. I asked Flora how often this happened and she said whenever tourists stay overnight, the party happens. This week it was three times. I think I would get pretty tired of the same party happening three times a week, but I guess they do get paid to make it happen.
Flora dressed both of us in traditional garb, which was a lot of fun. I put the clothing on over my own, which kept me warm in the cold lake air. Jordan wore a poncho and a hat over his clothes, and we shuffled off after our host mother and our fellow homestay couple.
The get-together was in the multi-purpose building a few minutes’ walk away, so we followed Flora and her flashlight. We were the first to arrive. Flora is the first Latin American person we have met that is not only punctual, but early! As other gringos and locals trickled in, a few bought beer while the others sat and talked until the music started.
A few teenage boys played local songs for us (we all tipped them later) and a few of the locals showed us simple line dances. We had no idea really what we were doing, but the dances were simple enough that we got the hang of it. The Peruvians could dance all night long if the wanted, but after a five-minute song most of us were winded and needed a break.
Our host family had two little girls, a six-year-old and a four-year-old. The younger one came to the fiesta with us and was the life of the party. She danced and played to the music, her formal outfit making everyone laugh.
The next morning we had breakfast and left pretty early, going on to Taquile.
Taquile is similar to Amantani in that the people are mostly indigenous and speak Quechua. The people (around 2,000) live according to the ancient Incan way of life and practice Catholicism, though they also worship Pachamama. On Taquile the men knit (not the women!) and they have very precise clothing and hats. On the island we got treated to a 20-minute discussion on what the different colors and types of hats mean. Unfortunately, I can’t remember it all. They also live very simply, just like those on Amantani.
Lunch was included in our tour, and Jordan ate an omelette while I ate lake trout. While people on Amantani are used to tourists and don’t mind photos, the people of Taquile do. They believe that the flash from the camera disturbs their children, causing them to sleep poorly at night, or even stealing parts of their soul. So we didn’t take many photos of the island here.
After hiking across most of the island to get a look at the beautiful scenery of the farmland and the lake, we got back on our boat at another island port and made the return voyage to Puno.
All in all, the two-day/one-night trip cost the two of us 250 soles and included all meals. We booked through our hostel, and later I found out just walking into a tour office will get you a better price, like 200 soles total. However, the experience was great, and I’m glad we paid the extra amount to spend the night on one of the islands. That made everything worthwhile.
We spent one more day in Puno, resting, before moving on toward Cusco.