Lake Titcaca borders Peru and Bolivia. It was here that we were to visit the families who live on the islands in the lake and stay the night with them.
We headed first to the Isla Nativa Taquile which required a 3 hour boat journey to get there. This was a quaint island where we were to have lunch but to get to the food required a long uphill climb to the town´s square. We thought it would be good preparation for the ever looming Inca Trail but after a quick burst we soon slowed to a steady pace in order to keep breathing! The walk was worth it though as it wound through fields where locals were working in traditional dress and the view over the Lake was very impressive. Finally reaching the main square we had a few minutes to get our breath, admire the buildings and local dress before we set off again, climbing higher to reach the restaurant where we would have lunch.
The view here was fabulous and the weather was warm enough to sit outside and thoroughly enjoy the sight. Sparkling blue water met rolling hills and fields. Lunch itself was local fish, sublime in taste, and we had the chance to try the local version of coca cola- Inca Cola! It was a yummy lunch and we were loathed to leave but we had to take a further boat journey to reach the island where we would stay with the night with the locals. A steep climb took us back down and we were off to Luquina.
Here we were met by the locals playing instruments to welcome us to their island. We were given some notes on the Quetchua language to aid our stay. We tried to use this to say hello but not sure how much sense we made! First the band led us to a local school where we were to play football; local vs visitors. They had the advanatage of being accustomed to the altitude, while we had to switch players every 5-10 minutes due to exhaustion! I have never really played football in my life, in fact I think I have only kicked a football twice, but I did give it a shot. The locals were good and soon our local guides joined the visitors' side to try and even out the skill. Locals came to watch, again, in traditional wear, including the children so it was as much fun watching them as it was the game.
With the sun setting it was soon time to meet our respective families. We were split into pairs and each pair would have their own Mamma or Papa who would look after them during the stay. I was paired with my roommate Dawn, and we were introduced to our Mamma who took us off to our home for the night. The houses were spread over the hillside and unfortunately for us our house seemed to be the furthest away - at the very top! Struggling to keep up, we wound around fields ploughed and seeded, over mud mounds, past brick houses before nearing crawling to the top of the hill to our home. We were greeted with a mud brick building. The main area was to the left and then a room specially built for visitors to the right of a tiny courtyard. It was a clean room, albeit simple. Solid beds were covered with brightly coloured rugs. Our Mamma left to cook us dinner. We followed her and asked through mime if we could help. After a bit of confusion we got agreement and followed her to the ´kitchen´. This was not in either of the two buildings but round more to the right. This was a dark mud brick room. In the far corner was the wood burning stove which accounted for the all smoke and darkness. On the other side of the small room was a bed. By the stove was our Mamma´s mamma who I think welcomed us. We were seated on the bed and given some carrots to peel. Behind was a tiny chick, walking around and pooing quite happily. Soon our Mamma´s daughter, a three year old girl, came to say hello. Our Mamma´s sister also arrived with a tiny baby. Soon we realised that we were to play childminder. We had brought gifts for the family including food and toys for the children so the toys came out and we were required to play. In between playing we peeled the carrots and some very soft, slightly old potatoes.
The family ignored us for most of this time then suddenly we were led out of the kitchen back to our room. Here we were given water to wash and waited. Soon dinner appeared - quinoa soup followed by pasta, potatoes, rice and veg! All the carbohydrates. We were supposed to meet back with our group at about 8pm for a dance, but, not getting dinner until about 7.30, we then had to rush to get dressed in some traditional clothes. Wearing our normal clothes underneath, on top we had 5 layers of coloured skirts, tied extremely tightly on a full stomach, with a black top clasped at the front and a belt wrapped tightly around. On our heads were placed the traditional bowler hat and on our wrists some tassles. This took about 10 minutes (mainly because I had only been given 4 layers of skirts and needed one more, so all the layers had to come off and start again).
Being at the top of the hill, of course the school was at the bottom so we had to make a dash to be at the dance in time. It was pitch black as we wound our way down, and we had no idea what we walked on or how we got there! But slightly late we arrived! Everyone else was there, the women in our party dressed identically to us, whereas the boys had just been given a poncho and an extremely fetching man bag. This was a satchal worn over the front, brightly coloured with a great many coloured pom poms. It was hilarious. A hat capped off their outfit.
Like any school dance there were benches around the edge of the room which we had to sit on. First we watched a traditional dance. We were then told we had to repeat it. There was a look of horror! To ease us into it, they asked the children (also traditionally dressed) to perform the dance once more which we could then follow. The dance was fun and the children obviously took great pride in performing it, even if it did end in a fit of giggles and them running out the room. It was then our turn. We were paired up, behind two locals who would lead the dance. Men on the right, ladies on the left. As we followed our lead it was mainly dancing from one side to the other while swinging our tassles around. Unfortunately our clumsiness led to hitting each other on the head or hats falling off. It was like a line dance and fun.
After this we watched another dance before it being a free for all. Our hosts led us into the circle and danced us round. A man who asked me to dance did not look best pleased and proceeded to look around the entire room the whole time! We also began to realise why we had so many layers of skirts as it enabled us to spin round in bright colours whilst maintaining a certain amount of dignity!
The dance ended abruptedly. It was supposed to end at 10pm but by 9.30 we were sweating our way back up the hill. As soon as we got in our room the heavens opened and the rain poured out and maybe that was why the dance had ended early. Despite everything it had been extremely fun. One last mission for the night though- the toilet. This was in a separate mud brick house, with just a sheet of plastic for the door. It was also a bucket flush. It is easy to forget in our modern world that this is how some people live all the time.
The next day we were due to meet with our group at the pier at 8am. We were told we were to be woken up and breakfast served. By 7.45 no one had appeared. We wandered out thinking to make it ourselves. During our stay we had not seen any of the men of the house but an old man wandered into the kitchen into the kitchen in front of us and shut the door. Suddenly our mamma flew out to bringing with her food- it was obvious we had been forgotten. We wolfed it down and were whizzed off down the hill late. Luckily our boat had waited and with a quick goodbye and thanks we were off. The homestay had been interesting to say the least!
Our next stop on Lake Titcaca was to the floating islands and one in particular - Uros. The islands are built from reeds binded together with the surface covered in cut reeds, preventing people from sinking through to the water. It was a very unique experience. The houses too are made of reeds and have various decorations. The reed totora is a cattail type rush growing native in the lake. Its dense roots support the top layer, which rots and must be replaced regularly by stacking more reeds on top of the layer beneath. The islands change in size, and more are created as the need arises. The reeds dominate everything from the ground to the buildings and even to the food. The islands are quite beautiful and could even be moved to different parts of the lake! We were given an explanation of how they were made, why, and how the villagers live on them. It was fascinating and very different to anything I had seen before. The houses were basic and clean and powered by solar due to a gift. We had a boat tour through the islands and could see the schools etc. A very different way of life.
Then we were off back to Puno. It had been an incredible couple of days and well worth it. However, something much more important was looming. The Inca Trail