I love traveling because I get to see and experience things I would never see at home. Off the coast in Puno, on Lake Titicaca (hehe, remember laughing at that name when you were a kid, but you had no idea where it was? I can’t believe I have been there now!) the locals escaped the Spaniards like a million years ago (hey, you didn’t come here for a history lesson. That is what Wikipedia is for) and created their own “islands” and live on the lake, on floating reed islands! Unfortunately now, most live back on the mainland and travel to the islands daily to put on a “show” for the tourists. Despite the floating reed islands being super touristy, they were still really really cool. The reeds were really plush to step on, though I don’t know if I could sleep on them. The whole thing is super nuts.
The tourists take motorized boats on the lake and they move so slow. Each ride took like 2-3 hours, even though the islands look a lot closer then they are. After the floating islands, we took a 2.5 hour ride to Taquile Island, which is the 3rd biggest island on the lake. The biggest island is technically in Bolivia, so I didn’t go. Taquile has a decent size population. We hiked up a very long hill to the “town square” and the guide explained facts about the island and people. We had a meh lunch. Typical high elevation food, but I was so not hungry and the food just kept coming! I was so used to just eating very small meals, that anything larger then one course was always too much for me. Oh well. While we waited for our food, the guide explained the clothing that the guys and gals wore on the island. On Lake Titicaca, the guys are weavers and create their hats and belts and they all mean something, of which I can’t remember what. Typical stuff, married, single, looking, etc. There was lots of tourist stuff to buy in the town square and the views of the lake were pretty amazing! Then it was back on the boat for another 2 hour trip to Amatani island, which is the 2nd biggest island on the lake, and were everyone does their homestay.
The home-stay on Amantani is quite touristy. They have the whole evening mapped out for everyone. After a pretty decent hike up to your homestay (with all your stuff, so pack LIGHT! It’s only one night with no shower, there is no excuses), I spent the afternoon watching the locals play some of the other tourists in a game of soccer. Then my guide lead me on a hike up to Pachamama, one of the two hills on the island to watch the sunset. It was quite a hike, but well worth it at the top. All along the route and at the top, there are people selling stuff and kids trying to get everyone to buy their crap, but I just shoo’d them away every time. If you feel bad for shooing people away, this is not the place for you. Thankfully, I don’t mind, so it wasn’t that annoying for me. The sunset was fantastic, much better then I thought it would be! Also, this is apparently were all the Australians are hiding out! There wasn’t a single one on my Inca Trail tour, which the British couple and I commented was odd, as they are known for being every where! I wish I had brought my flashlight as it got quite dark when we were walking back down the mountain to the homestay. Dinner was in an hour and I was pooped and cold, so I crawled into bed and took a nap until then. My room was super cute. I had the room to myself. It had a bed with tons of blankets and a table and chair. Not expected, but it had electricity, which I was surprised with. They only had an outhouse, which was a bit of a shlep and BRING YOUR OWN TOILET PAPER! I can not say that enough.
When we arrived at the homestay earlier, I was given a cheat sheet on Quechua words. Since my guide was fluent in Quechua, Spanish and English but I arrived at dinner before him, it was slightly uncomfortable, but not too bad. The home stays are totally used to people and know about our cheat sheets, so they know what questions to ask. The one thing that kind of shocked me the most was that when they (or anyone actually) would ask me where I am from and I would say “United States” in English, they would give me a quizzical expression, they had no idea what I just said. It wasn’t until I would say it in Spanish (thanks growing up in Los Angeles!!) that they would understand me. I don’t know, I thought that was kind of odd. But that could be the selfishness talking. Otherwise, since they know what to ask me, I thought I did pretty good until the guide arrived in figuring out what they were asking me. Dinner was large and pretty good. I don’t know, as these high altitudes, I can’t eat very much in one sitting and all the portions are HUGE! I ate soup, some potato and a little rice and veg.
After dinner, the women of the house came and dressed me in traditional Quechuan garb over my every day clothes for the dancing that all the tourist and home stay locals go to in the village hall, which sort of reminded me of a high school gym. The guys get to just wear ponchos, but the girls, we are decked out in heavy skirts and tops and scarves, to keep warm because it’s so cold. It’s very funny and I started chatting with another tourist in the hall who said something along the lines of “this is their way of making fun of us” which is probably true, but I didn’t care. The whole thing was so freakin’ touristy, which is something I kind of blah at, but here for some reason, I didn’t mind. I know this is how most of the island make money during the winter months. I am not much of a dancer, but it was fun, everyone dancing in huge circles. Reminded me a lot of dancing we do at Jewish weddings and B’ Mitzvahs. Dancing descends all cultures! Also, dancing keeps you warm as it was totally freezing, even with like 10 layers on. Tip: Bring some change to tip the band, which I forgot and felt really bad about because they were really good. After that long day, we came back to the home stay and I had one of the best sleeps I had in a while. It was pitch black and kind of cold, but the blankets do a really good job keeping you warm.
The next day, I got up for breakfast, which was smaller this time. Just one pancake and tea, which is perfect for me. Then it was time to kayak! Thinking back to the day before, thinking how long it took to get from on island to another, just on the motorized boat, I couldn’t imagine how long it took to kayak from one point to another! It took a little over two hours to kayak from Amantani Island to the Llachalan peninsula, which is technically part of the mainland. The trip was very nice and peaceful and it was fun to be that close to the water and play chicken with the boats on the lake. Paddling kept me very warm! Once we got to the Llachalan peninsula, we took a motorized boat back to Puno. After all that paddling, I was pooped and all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel, take a shower and rest for the rest of the day. I was also burning out from Peru at this point.
Moral: The home stay was a highlight of my trip, something I knew I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize I would like it that much. It was just the right amount of home interaction with time to myself. The layout and décor of the room also helped a lot. It was a lot better then I thought it would be. I liked mixing my travels up and I think doing the Inca Hike and kayaking on Lake Titicaca were two good activities. People raved about Colca Canyon, but more long term hiking? No thanks. I think I chose well.