Poncho Dancing

Trip Start Jul 31, 2006
Trip End Aug 24, 2006

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Waiting for us as we left the hotel in Puno was a convoy of rickshaws. Armed with just a daypack and an open-mind, we doubled up and jumped onto them. Puno has very narrow streets and it is a lot more advantageous to have a means of transport that can weave through traffic.

And thatīs exactly what the rickshaw drivers did.

Peddling like madmen, they somehow weaved us through the traffic successfully. It became a race for them (and us). Who could get us to the port the fastest? Regardless of what place we arrived in, all of the drivers were panting for breath afterwards. I honestly donīt know how they do it day in and day out. At such a high altitude and with Puno being on a hill, I am amazed by what they are subjected to.

We boarded an awaiting boat and readied ourselves for a three hour trip upon Lake Titicaca. As we ventured along the highest navigable lake in the world, we passed a number of reed islands... (we visit these tomorrow, so Iīll explain them then).

Eventually, we docked at the natural island of Taquile. This island is unique, in the sense that many of the inhabitants have retained much of their traditional culture. Their style of dress and their culture are quite a bit different than the rest of Peru. Itīs amazing what isolationism can do to oneīs culture.

Wheezing and puffing and panting... we started our ascent up the cobblestone road towards the main centre of the island. Along the route, kids had staked out their place. Like little lemonade stands, each one tried to sell us something along the way. The girls were very passive-aggressive in their approach. They always whispered... as that is part of the culture... but they were still quite persistent in selling their wares. Most of them tried to sell us a bracelet for 1 sol, or some type of plant. I finally crumbled... right at the end of our stay on the island... and bought a bracelet on my way down to the boat.

While on Taquile Island, we spent a little time in the main square, had trout in a restaurant, and then rambled our way down the other side of the island to catch our boat.

Next stop: Amantani Island. Once again, another natural island... but this is where we spent the night with a local family.

Upon arriving, we entered a mini-plaza which was surrounded by women in black head coverings and brightly-coloured outfits. These would be the people billeting us for the night. We sat down in a line and it felt as if we were being auctioned off as slaves. "How much for the tall lanky Canadian?"

So I wasnīt on my own, I was paired up with Steve, our guide, and Juan, a Mexican guide whoīs been spending time with our group. Fortunately, they are both thorough in Spanish and it made discussions easier with our host family. Even though the family speaks Quechua at home, they also speak Spanish fluently.

Aleja, the daughter, met us and we ventured ever so slowly up to her house. The set up of the house was kind of interesting. It reminded me of Spain. It didnīt have a main door, but a courtyard where you could access any room in the house. Despite the numerous doors (which are extremely tiny in height), we only saw three rooms within the house... our bedroom (with a Chuck Norris sticker posted on my bedīs headboard), the kitchen (which was dark and where we ate with the family), and a room that had been made into a store.

It was kind of funny... after having a nice meal of maize soup and a plate of rice with potatoes, they took us to a room we hadnīt been to yet. The "store" room. Along the one wall were all the things they had sewn and were selling to their guests... as well as beer and water. They closed the door and made us look at the items. I bought the toque they provided me when I first arrived. Although more expensive than the ones in the markets, it seems to be a better quality than most.

Prior to sundown, several of us played soccer with some of the locals. Clearly they were better than us and also well acclimatized to the altitude, but we outnumbered them. I think we won. I didnīt play the whole game, as I was gasping for breath after running about for 20 minutes.

And lastly, the big event of the day was the dance. Our family dressed us up in traditional ponchos at the homestead, and soon after we ventured up to the community hall. All the foreigners were dressed to the nines in the islandīs traditional outfits. Now that we kind of looked the part, we were ready to party. A local band played and our homestay ladies stuck around as they would be our dance instructors.

They grabbed us to dance after every second song, and we were subjected to traditional Peruvian dancing. I say "subjected to", because each song was about 15 minutes long, it was hot, there were only three different dance moves you were allowed to do, and from time to time they had us link hands and run around the room. These tiny local ladies were deceiving. They just about yanked out my arms on a couple occasions.

Although it was a very cold evening, a warm bed with five or six blankets awaited me. I could also rest easy, knowing Chuck Norris would quite literally look over me that night.
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