Well, now I’m back in Puno after an extraordinary journey around some of Lake Titicaca’s islands! It’s definitely been one of the most memorable things I’ve done on my trip so far.
We all got picked up yesterday morning by our guide, Roger, in none other than Puno’s traditional tricycles. It was a surreal experience to be driven through the busy little town, totally exposed to all the traffic and feeling every bump! After stopping briefly at some stalls on the edge of the lake to buy some food for our host families, we boarded our boat and set off for Taquile Island. I was astounded at the views I was rewarded with after hiking to the top of the island – not a cloud in the sky, and an endless stretch of clear blue water puncuated only by a few islands in the distance. We also had the chance to learn a bit about the culture of the people living on the island; I was intrigued to discover that it’s mostly the men who knit their traditional hats and belts rather than the women, who seem to knit and weave clothes elsewhere in Peru and Bolivia.
Again, as much as I enjoyed walking around the island, I couldn’t help but feel a little pang of guilt at the impact tourism has made there. The tour around was quite exploitative in my opinion; it seemed that a lot of the locals were hanging around for the purpose of being “on show” for the visitors, and a countless number of children were loitering, trying to sell bracelets they had made to us all rather than being in school. It was such a shame as I always try my hardest to minimise my footprint on each place I visit, and I felt that my presence on the island was not contributing to a more beneficial society for the people living there.
However, the homestay experience on Amantani Island was completely different and a hundred times more positive. When we arrived on the island, we were greeted by what felt like most of the locals, all of whom were curious and very friendly. They proceeded to lead us all up a steep incline to their “football pitch”, while a local band played behind us in welcome! The pitch was really just a concrete area with simple goalposts at each end and a stone building alongside it for social functions, but even in the middle of Lake Titicaca the passion for football is unmistakeable. I really enjoyed watching the match between a few of the locals and some of our group; Maria was superb in goals!
Following the football match, Ysabel and I were introduced to Ricardo, our host dad, and he took us to his family’s home further down the island. It was clean but very simple, consisting of two small buildings where the family lived and an extra little outhouse where Ysabel and I were to sleep for the night. The family lived without electricity and the toilet was literally a hole in the ground outside. I have to say that doing my business whilst looking up at the thousands of stars in the incredibly clear night sky was strangely liberating! Despite the obvious poverty they lived in, though, the family seemed quite content. Doris, the mother, cooked dinner for us (scrumptious quinoa soup followed by potatoes, rice and vegetables – they’re very big on carbs over here as they’re cheap and filling) and as we ate Ricardo talked to us about how tourism has helped the inhabitants of the island to supplement their incomes. Two of the daughters and the one son watched us shyly as we talked, but one of the little girls kept running around excitedly and laughing. She was called Rocío and I’ve never seen such an adorable little thing!
Then came the most unexpected and surreal experience of my whole trip: Doris dressed Ysabel and I up in traditional island clothing and took us back to the building next to the football pitch for a night of dancing! Seeing both locals and gringos in traditional outfits (men in ponchos, women in blouses and about a million layers of skirts) was hilarious, but a sign of real solidarity and the genuine welcome extended to us by the islanders. It really does seem that people who are perhaps not the most well off in the world are definitely the most generous with what little they do have, which is extremely humbling to see. One thing is for sure, I will definitely never forget the incredible friendliness of the people of Lake Titicaca.