Home stays and bad backs...

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Our day seeing the Peruvian islands on Lake Titicaca started with a bike ride on a pedal-powered taxi. After a short ride to the docks from our hotel we climbed on board our boat for the trip to the island of Taquile. The Taquileños, as the people of Taquile are known, are famed for their fine handwoven textile products, said to be among the highest quality in Peru. By boat from Puno it takes about 3 hours to get to Taquile, mainly because the boats cruise at a speed which can only be described as leisurely! However, the speed of the crossing sets you up beautifully for the pace of life on the island itself. There are around 2,000 residents on the island and the main occupations are spinning, weaving and farming. The Taquileños also still speak the Inca language, Quechua, as well as Spanish. There are no roads or cars on the island and walking is the only mode of transport, as we were to find out!

After landing on the island we started the fairly tough hike up to the (only) town on the island. On the way our guide pointed out some of the sights on the lake, the day was clear enough for us to see all the way to Bolivia. Our guide also stopped and showed us muña, a local mint-like herb which is said to aid breathing at high altitude. We all took some of the herb and after rubbing it between our palms inhaled deeply. The effect was instant and very similar to sucking a menthol sweet, an instant clearing of the nose and head. Suitably refreshed we continued on and up, dodging the occasional herd of sheep, until we reached the town. The town itself is small and geared very much to tourists. There is a craft shop on the Plaza de Armas where the local textiles are displayed and can be bought - interestingly, on Taquile it is the men who do all of the knitting - but apart from some restaurants dotted around the square that was about it. We had a look around the craft shop and also the town hall which had a very interesting exhibition featuring photographs of life on the island taken by locals, before retiring for lunch at tables looking out over the lake. Lunch was vegetable soup followed by locally caught trout with rice which was delicious. We also had tea made with muña, the local herb, which I found tasted much better than the coca tea we'd been drinking on the mainland.

During lunch our guide also explained the local traditions regarding dress. The Taquileños all wear clothes that are made on the island and there are three types of hats worn by men on the island, one for singles, one for married men and one for the island's leaders. As well as the hats married men also wear a belt woven from wool and their wife's hair (I kid you not!) which is supposed to remind the man of his wife and his responsibilities at all times... I don't know whether the belts work, but we were also told that some of the men on the island wear single men's hats when married, although given the number of people on the island I doubt they are able to get away with anything regardless of which hat they wear!

After lunch it was back down to the boat for the shorter trip across to Amantaní island where we would be spending the night. On the way down we marveled at how the locals appear to be totally unaffected by the altitude, we passed at least 3 men carrying 2-3 cases of beer on their backs uphill at a pace I would have struggled too much carrying nothing.

Like Taquile, Amantaní is another small island populated by Quechua speakers. About 800 families live in six villages on the 15-square kilometer island which is terraced and planted with wheat, potatoes, and vegetables. Most of the islanders are vegetarians as large-scale fishing is not practised and the animals on the island are raised for sale rather than consumption. As on Taquile, there are no cars on the island and you get everywhere by foot. As part of our tour we would be staying overnight on the island with one of the local families and it was fair to say that Fiona and I were quite nervous about the whole thing, I for one had only decided to go the day before having finally shaken off the worst of my altitude sickness.

On arrival we were met by a local man who spoke with our local guide to arrange who would be staying with which family. We were then introduced to Lusmila, the eldest daughter of our family for the night. Lusmila's house was about 15 minutes walk from the dock (uphill, of course!) where we met her mother, father, grandmother and 5 brothers and sisters. After putting our bags in our room we came down to mingle as best we could given the language barriers, our Spanish is terrible but Lusmila's parents and grandmother only spoke Quechua requiring further translation. We'd been given a sheet of basic Quechuan expressions but after asking people's names, ages and saying the view was nice we'd exhausted all the useful ones and had to resort to our terrible Spanish. Fortunately, Lusmila's younger brother, Diego, and younger sisters, Stephanie, Doris and Vanessa were all under 10 meaning that games and fun rather than chat were the order of the day, particularly the delights of bubble wrap which they had a great time popping once we'd shown them how.

After our initial hellos we had a date with the island's local football team as challenging the tourists to a game (and soundly beating them) is clearly a popular pastime on the island. Fiona and I attempted to stem the tide of goals as left-back and goalkeeper respectively, but with the altitude and the fact that the opposition had about 15 years on us (and could actually play quite well!) it was a hopeless task and we eventually lost 4-0. The football also caused some problems for me as I yanked my back attempting one of my more speculative attempts at keeping the ball out of the back of our net. With Fiona having run around for 30 minutes and knackered herself out in the process, we were a rather quieter and slower couple who returned to our family for dinner before the evening's entertainment, a local dance in traditional costume.

As a gift to our family we took some food staples recommended by our guide: rice, sugar and mandarins. As well as the food we brought books for the children and a game which John and Jane had kindly given to us (the family they were staying with had grown-up children). The game was a simple memory one with pairs of cards mixed up and placed face down, each player taking a turn to look at two cards and try and find a match. After some initial explanations on how to play (cue a lot of poor Spanish and some charades from us and quizzical looks from the children) we eventually managed to explain the game sufficiently to enable us to play with Stephanie and Doris. The elder of the two, Stephanie, was clearly very bright and took the game very seriously winning each time we played. Her younger sister, Doris, was equally bright but more interested in being mischievous pretending to lean over the game to see what was going on but actually turning over the cards nearest to her to try and cheat! Needless to say she was spotted every time much to her and our amusement and her older sister's annoyance.

Dinner was a very tasty vegetable soup followed by vegetable stew and rice with more muña tea. The girls had been made to put the game away while they were eating, but it was clear that they´d been told they could play again once dinner was over as I've never seen food put away so quickly. Having showed their clean dishes to their mother they were then up and playing the memory game again. We couldn't play any more though as Lusmila had to help us put on our traditional costumes ready for the evening's dance. I just ended up with a poncho and a hat whereas Fiona got the full complement of skirts and a jacket as well as her hat and a shawl. Unfortunately, putting on my poncho was as far as I got with the dancing as my back decided that it had had enough for the day and I ended up flat out in bed. Fiona therefore struck out on her own for the dance with Yusmila while I popped some nurofen and got some rest. Fiona had a good time at the dance and returned with our local guide who wanted to check that I was still in one piece. Having convinced him that it wasn't serious and I just needed some rest (I've done similar things before) Fiona and I had a good night's sleep under our locally woven blankets.
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