On 25 August I pop on a bus to Puno and have dinner with 3 of my fellow travellers before getting a good nights sleep. It´s an early start the following day as we need to get to the port to board a boat to Uros Island in Lake Titicaca. LT is not only South America´s largest lake, but also one of the world´s highest navigatable lakes. There are various Islands dotted accross the lake ranging from those made from reeds, and even more remote rural isles where you can see villagers living without powered heating and hot water as they have done for centuries.
We head first to Islas Flotantes, the beautiful floating Islands of the Uros people. We are greeted by four large women wearing bright pink tops, huge puffy black skirts, smiling faces and cheerful singing. You can definitely sense
that this is a tourist spot and people are coming here daily to experience the beauty and simplicity of this way of life. We learn that the reeds have to be replenished 3 times per month and that the Islands are often split when its inhabitants have disputes that can´t be resolved. We walk around the little straw like huts and bounce around, the locals don´t wear any shoes; apparently the reeds are good for their feet and provide a massage. Some people take a pleasant boat ride, I sit and relax in the sun watching a man sitting in a hut on his mobile phone, its a funny world. Their lives are very simple here, and fishing is not what it used to be. Years ago they had more than 20 species of fish in the sea but now only 3 following the governments decision to introduce trout from America (or Argentina I can´t remember) that ate everything else ands wiped some species out.
From here we continue our boat ride to Amanti Island, this time we are greeting by women again wearing black puffy skirts, red tops and huge black scarves on thier heads than hang down freely towards the hem of their skirts. Some of them are carrying things on their backs wrapped in colourful fabrics that tie just below their chins. Many women carry their babies in this way, I am now very used to seeing this having been in Peru for three weeks, at first it was quite a sight. They do not wear socks and wear simple black sandals that cross over their feet once, there is so much dust, so many rocks and uneven paths I´m impressed by how they have adapted to the environment and wonder what they think of out huge hiking boots and expensive equipment.
Me and one of my fellow travellers follow one woman back to her home where we will be spending the night. Following a 30 minute walk up hill in the hot sun with our belongings on our backs and bags of fresh fruit in our hands we arrive at a simple home, various rooms arranged around a dusty courtyard with the toilet greeting us first which is a few yards ahead of their home. There are three children in the family aged 5 – 10 who are very excited to see us. We hand over the fruit and crayons for them to use and play with the
children. They have some good quality school books covering Spanish and mathematics, they seem better off educationally than the children in my school in Cusco city. We freshen up for a lunch of soup, three types of potato and fried cheese. It tastes good and washing it down with some fresh herbal tea is even better. At 4pm we meet the others and start an hour long walk up Pachamama (mother earth) mountain. I thought my trekking was over with Machu Picchu! At the top we´re rewarded with a spectacular view of the Island and can see Bolivia accross the sea, beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance. We stay until sunset and descend as night falls with the moolight guiding us.
The family give us chips and rice for dinner, so many carbohydrates! We´re cold, tired and hungry so it tastes great. At 8pm mother dresss us in traditional local attire, big fluffly skirts and blouses complete with scarf, and we meet the
others in a local meeting space for a party. We have a fantastic live folk band and dance like the locals, this is much fun! I can´t stop giggling as we take each others hands, spin round in our colourful skirts as the music speeds up. The little boy from my family insists on dancing with me for two numbers, he twists my arms back and forth and we move around the room, then all joining hands to form a huge circle that worms around the room as we laugh and sway with the music. It´s great to hear the traditional music and be a part of the community learning their traditional folk dance. After an exhausing evening we go to our simple beds and have a well deserved good night´s sleep.
In the morning after a breakfast of herbal tea and lots of fresh bread we bid our families farewell to again board our boats, this time to Taquile Island. This 7 sq km Island has been inhabited for years and feels like a world of its owm. The
islanders speak Quechua, continue their tradition of weaving as they have done for years, and remain unchanged despite technological advancement in the modern world; its like stepping back in time. The men wear floppy wollen hats and the colour tells you if they are married or single, and the women wear multilayered and coloured skirts, we are told often up to 10 on weddings and special occasions.
We enjoy a beautiful walk around the Island and stop for lunch with the most spectacular view overlooking the sea, we´re in heaven. The group decends to the port to return to Puno, but me and my three friends follow a local woman for 45 minutes to her home, as we´re spending one night on Taquile Island, and I´m so pleased we are. During the walk home we barely bump into anyone, and pass a school with a few children playing in a playground dressed in bright uniforms. The sun is hot and we can´t wait to arrive, our bags are weighing us down. It´s like being in the countryside with homes scattered here and there. Our house is great, and so are the children. Delfermo is 22 and comes to our room to greet us, a good opportunity to practice some Spanish! He is wearing a Daddy Yankee shirt and this opens up a topic of conversation, the music we have loved dancing
to in Cusco, he also like reggaeton and salsa music. We follow mother to the beach to find a beautiful spot with no one there but us, a beach all to ourselves we´re in heaven again. After some time splashing around and enjoying the heat we head back upto the house. I decide to go for a wander on my own and hear techno music so follow the sound. I end up at another house and see a young teenage girl washing her hair with a bucket of water in the courtyard, her sister waves at me and I shout “hola!”. I hear rocks ruffling behind me and see Delfermo being followed by a young pretty girl, his sister Nathalia. She´s rushing along carrying something huge on he back wrapped in a huge blue sheet of fabric, and a white platic container on her front, ah its water. I offer to give her some help and my hands almost drop to the floor with the weight! She is 11 years old and so strong! I carry the water as far as the gate to the house where she takes it off me as I´m struggling so much! At home we kick a
ball about in the courtyard and get to know Nathalia. She is so sweet and full of energy. I buy a purple wristband from her that she has woven herself. We sit in the room next to the kitchen to play some cards and invite Delfermo to join us. We teach each other games and this is much fun! Ustairs Delfermo has left some music playing, its techno again, very popular here it seems. After many game, exchanges of rules and shuffling techniques its time for a lovely dinner of two kinds of potato and fish. We play some more then go to bed for another night on Lake Titicaca. The wind blows all night but we´re warm in our beds with many layers of hand woven blankets to cover us. We awake in the morning to the sound of bleeting sheep and beautiful sunshine. I take another look at the water, what a view I will miss it!
After a breakfast of fruit, pancakes and granulated coffee we meet the older son who is married and lives nearby, and great grandma. We all embrace and wave goodbye. We walk back to the little square on the Island and walk down 500 steps to the port to get on a boat back to Puno.
Its been 2.5 fantastic days exploring Lake Titicaca, and what has made it magical is the interaction and relationship I have built with the families. I am reminded again that language is not everything, on these islands we can be rid of our social status, material possesions and backgrounds and just be people living side by side with what we need; clean water, food and shelter, warming our hearts with loving, sharing and respecting one another. Yet another memorable and satisfying experience on my journey.