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balance (2): better now

Friday, November 16, 2007

better now

while i still think peru is highly overrated (i would choose the similar mountain culture of nepal any day over peru), i did manage to get over my morosity and have a good time on my trip to the islands on lake titicaca.

24 people on a small boat is usually a nightmare for me but it was surprisingly cozy and i got to know everyone in my group pretty quickly- a couple of cute japanese guys, a hippie couple, some nice old women from utah, and a large group of french people. our guide, marita, was really intelligent and funny and narrated in both spanish and english. we navigated through the thick reeds poking up from the water to the uros islands first. these islands are actually made from the (totora) reeds, mashed together and floating upon (we measured) 38 meters of water. it's a strange way of life. the islands are always disintegrating and the people have to constantly replenish their piles of reeds. when you walk upon them there are spots in which you feel like you will fall through. there is also always the risk of fire- apparently there have been a few horrific ones there in recent history. nevertheless, they carry on building their houses, boats, and various knicknacks from the dried reeds. they even eat them! it is sort of a peaceful life- drying and stacking reeds, fishing, cooking, rowing the kids to school, weaving, and taking pictures with the tourists. it did have sort of a zoo-like atmosphere to it though. i stopped and chatted with one girl (belinda) for awhile, and she developed a desperate little fixation on me that made me a bit uncomfortable. she was trying out her sales pitch on me as they all do, but it went beyond that- she had such lonely eyes. she was 18 and i got the feeling she wanted to get out into the world and see new things like i was seeing. i wondered sadly if that was a negative effect of tourism to these parts.

uros islands

anyway after a little ride in a reed boat with a puma head, we jumped back into our motorboat and headed to amantani island. to be honest, there was nothing much spectacular about this island, except for the fact that we planned a homestay with the local families. when we docked the boat we were met by dozens of fat, rosy-cheeked women in their traditional costumes. we were divided into groups and each group was sent off with their "mother". i was assigned an irish girl named julie who was also travelling solo. our mother was a crone, and not especially friendly. she tramped off and we followed uncertainly, across various fields and through several garden gates. we finally arrived to a modest clay house of two stories, with a nice garden overlooking the lake. i had been worried about the quality of accomodations, fearing a hole in the ground, but julie and i actually shared a nice room, and the beds had thick alpaca blankets. the bathroom even had running water which is one step ahead of my house in thailand!

my room in the homestay

julie and i sat on the beds and chatted for a bit (she was a pretty conservative irish catholic gal but nice enough). not sure what else to do, i napped until mama knocked on the door for dinner. we peered our heads into the little dark kitchen room to see a woodburning stove and some benches. the papa (who seemed to like me a lot) and a shy son and daughter were already eating. mama brought out some really delicious soup, potatoes and cheese pancakes, and tea made with fresh cut herbs. it was the best food i have had since i got to peru! julie and i walked around a bit after dinner (such a quiet place! no vehicles, no animals, no electricity- the stars were amazing!)... then mama called us in to dress for the "fiesta". we had to wear their traditional clothes! they were thick petticoats with a wool skirt over them, an embroidered white shirt with a wide woven corset-belt (couldn't breathe), and a black shawl embroidered with bright floral patterns. i felt like an idiot. none of us had working flashlights or candles, so we traipsed over the fields and gardens again, this time tripping every couple of steps in the very dark dark. the candlelit community center was full of similarly ridiculously dressed people (from our group). the boys were all wearing woven ponchos and colorful hats. there was a cute little band of local boys playing and everyone was pulled up to dance. the songs were interminably long but it was a pretty fun time overall. after a few giddy rounds julie and i forced our mama and papa to make our exits, and we went back "home" to sleep very comfortably.

mama and papa on amantani island

me and papa at the dance

the next morning, after another delicious breakfast of fried pancakes and herbal tea, mama (who we realized was just shy) walked us back to the boat (knitting a hat along the way) and waved us off. our group re-grouped and off we went (on a rather scary ride in big waves) to the next island, taquile. taquile was more modern than the other islands, with really nice houses, restaurants, and farms, all terraced along the hillsides. we took a 2-hour walk all around the island as marita explained the traditions of these really insular people. it was quite peaceful and beautiful, if not very spectacular. we had a big lunch of grilled trout and potatoes during which a nice man modeled the local dress, and then we tromped down 500-so steps back down to the dock for our boat ride back to puno. it had been such a nice couple days that everyone in the group said affectionate and emotional goodbyes to each other as we headed off to our respective hotels.

taquile island

i reached my hotel (puno terra) to find they had given my room away to a tour group despite the fact that i had made a reservation days before! it wasn't that big a deal but i really needed a shower and it was pouring rain and cold outside, so i just plopped down and refused to leave until they did something to compensate me. (not usually like me). the unapologetic manager got really frustrated with me but i was pissed off that they treated me like my patronage wasn't important. i told her she had the only rooms with internet access in them in the city and i wasn't leaving until i got one. an hour later, after pleading with me to leave before the tour group who was getting my room arrived, she finally agreed to pay for a room at a very snazzy hotel down the road. it didn't have internet but it did have a huge, hot bathtub with a headrest, and luxurious beds with down comforters. i fell into mine quite pleased with myself and slept wonderfully.

enjoying one last night in puno and then off to bolivia in the morning!



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