So one of the things I really wanted to do here in Peru was a homestay. I had no idea really what to expect from one. I only knew it sounded pretty sweet. So Chris and I signed up for yet another tour and hit Lake Titicaca to stay with a family on the island of Amantani. Getting booked on a tour is really the only way to get to do one of these homestays. It was at once one of the coolest and weirdest things I have ever done. Oh, and utterly exhausting.
We headed out from Puno, the gateway town to the Lake yesterday morning with about twenty other people from around the world.
We were the only Americans. We boarded a boat on Lake Titicaca and headed for the Uros islands. The one and only highly interesting trivia tidbit of this blog•Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest in South America. It sits in the Andes mountains at about 3,800 meters (or 12,460 feet for us Americans). This means that the air up here is thin and the sun is mighty powerful. Sunblock is not optional. If you want more tidbits about geography and history, I suggest visiting my sisters blog at www.travbuddy.com/chrisrae. She is much much better at documenting these aspects and since she is so good at it, I leave it in her hands. My forte lies in offering my skewed and naive observations. :)
Chris gets her shoes shined by some local boys.
We landed on the Uros islands, which are man-made islands that the Uros Indians weave together out of reeds and live on.
We all stood around awestruck for a while. I had no idea these islands existed until I got here to Peru. You would think that this is something that any cool geography teacher would throw in when they teach you about Lake Titicaca. But I am very sure my geography teacher, Mr. Hooper, never mentioned them or I would surely have remembered. Anyway, the islands are made from a layer of reed roots and then several layers of the reeds themselves. When you walk around on them, the islands are kind of squishy and soft. Our guide explained to us how the islanders make these islands and then we were invited to visit their homes. One young man came up to us and said, “Hey lady. Come and visit my house.” How could I resist? The house was made of reeds as well but was surprisingly modern in comfort and conveniences. They had solar panels which meant electricity to run a tv and a stereo. He was especially proud of his tv. After we visited homes we were invited to view the local handicrafts. Of course. What would any tour be without the chance to ogle and barter over handicrafts? You get the feeling that these islands are kind of a tourist thing and that at the end of the day they all hop in their motorboats and head back to their comfy homes in Puno.
The floating islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca made of reeds.
But the guide (and my trusty guidebook) insists that these people actually live on these islands. Oh and yes, they anchor them down. I asked. Because I was worried that otherwise they would be drifting all over the lake.
The Uros locals demonstrating how the islands are made. A layer of dead roots, several layers of dried reeds and then they build their dwellings with reeds as well.
We visited two islands and Chris got the chance to hop into a reed boat for a ride from one to the next.
After our visit to the Uros, we headed to Amantani Island, where we were to meet our host family and be put up for the night. This amazing terraced island is home to the Amantani people who speak both Spanish and Quechuan. Unfortunately, I do not speak either.
When we met our host family, I have to admit I was nervous.
I had no idea what to expect. We were introduced to “Mama Andria,” the lady of our household and without much ado, we were off and following here up the steep, steep, steep hillside. Did I mention that it was steep? We climbed to her community about 45 minutes up. It was hard. Incredibly hard. Hiking at this alititude•well, I can only liken it to climbing stadium stairs while trying to breathe through a straw. All of the other tourists were struggling as well, so I didnt feel so bad. We stopped quite a bit. I am sure Mama Andria was silently laughing at us.
The reed boat that Chris got to ride in from one island to the next.
When we got to her house I was so incredibly relieved. She showed us our room which was obviously rustic•no electricity, no running water•but quite clean and confortable. We met the rest of the family•Gregorio, Andrias husband, their daughter Julia, Gregorios brother, Sylvestro and his daughter Celestine. There was also another woman who seemed to appear and disappear now and then.
I am guessing that was Sylvestros wife. And there was a cute little tiny old man with no teeth perched in the corner of the kitchen who was never formally introduced but who I can only guess was the grandfather. Since we didnt speak each others languages, there was a lot of sitting around and smiling at each other. Because smiles are universal.
Reed homes on the island.
A couple from Germany was also posted in this house with us in another room. They were equally as fascinating as our host family. They seem to belong to some sort of spiritual group, a cult in my opinion, and they are on an eternal quest for all things mystical. They regaled us with tales of hallucinogenic experiences in the rainforest and their “Master” a woman from Idaho, of all places. Highly entertaining.
Our family made us lunch, which was good and filling and then took us back down that infernal hill so that we could meet up with our guide and hike up to the very top of the island to see some ruins and watch a sunset.
Most of the Peruvian people, in addition to being Catholic, also still honor the Pachamama, the Mother Earth. One of the temples was built in her honor. The other temple was in honor of the Pachatata, the male counterpart to Pachamama. There is a high belief in the duality of male and female here. Our guide took us up on this steep, steep, trek and near the top, paused to talk about the importance of these beliefs. He also talked about how several Peruvian cities, including Cusco were built on a very precise mathematical line by the Incas and that this island sat right on this line. This excited the hell out of the German couple who were totally grooving on the mystical aspects of the ruins. I was just stunned silent by the scenery. The sunset was simply incredible.
Inside one of the reed homes. Check out the entertainment system over Chris´s left shoulder.
On the way down, we stopped and some of our group members tried picarones, which are fried donuts.
They reminded me a lot of the fry bread that my Native American students are fond of at home.
A schoolhouse on the Uros Islands!
Back at the homestead, we crawled in bed for a late siesta. Before long, our host family was knocking and chattering anxiously in Spanish and it only took a minute for Chris and I to gather that our compatriots were missing in action. We were not any help so the family sent out a search party. Right about dinner time, the couple showed up. They had stayed behind to visit the second temple and soak up some of the energy of the place. They had no idea how worried the family was. When they wandered into the courtyard, Andria threw her arms around Kendra, the German woman, she was so happy to see her.
They fed us a huge dinner of rice and potatoes and then, oh happy day, they dressed us up in their native dress in preparation for a dance in the town square.
We looked absolutely ridiculous. I was amazed at how warm the skirts were. We headed down looking like utter clowns to meet up with all the other tourists, also dressed to the hilt, in time for a big town dance. The host families took turns whirling us around and making us dance in huge exhausting circles. If there was any doubt that I was going to have a hard time sleeping, this was going to take care of it. But boy howdy, did I look good.
Me inside a Uros Island Schoolhouse.
After much dancing and carousing, we were marched up that infernal hill once again and put to bed. In the morning, a fantastic breakfast of pancakes, lots of pictures and goodbyes and we were marched back down to our boat.
The homestay was phenomenal.
The family was so incredibly friendly and the island was stunning. I would absolutely recommend this experience to anyone who is visiting Peru. The Amantani people were so incredibly hospitable and I did learn a lot about them, regardless of the fact that I did not understand them.
On Amantani, all of us tourists trekking up the hill to meet our host families.
Our day today consisted of another stop on the Island of Taquile and lunch and then a long boat ride back to Puno, where we are killing time waiting for our bus to Cusco, where we will chill for several days before heading out on our Inca Trail trek. I was initially worried about acclimating in time but our time on the island really helped break my poor sad old body in for this trek.
We are hitting Cusco just in time for their Winter Solstice festival, Inti Raymi, which is like the carnivale of Peru.
I am sure in Cusco we will also be able to check out the nigh life. We did stop in one disco a couple of nights ago but we had to get up early so we didnt stay long. I have noticed that at this altitude, I catch a pretty decent buzz fairly quickly. This means in Cusco, I will be a pretty cheap date. In the meantime, one more late night bus to catch. I cant wait.
The island of Amantani, and the community where we stayed.
I will post pics as soon as the camera batteries are recharged.