Haphazard Travels, Tribulations, and Triumphs
The last few days have been eventful, but not in a a-whole-lot-of-crazy-stuff has happened, but more in a need-to-compute way. So I got up early on Friday to get the bus down to the docks and get on my boat for the Isla Taquiles. We stopped first at the Islas Floatanes, a group of human-made floating islands constructed out of reeds. The base latyer of the islands are the roots of the reeds which form a boyant sort of peat. On top of this the islanders stack layers of reeds log-cabin style. They also build their homes and boats out of the reeds. (Though now they also make use of wood boats, of course). What I found the most interesting was that given the decriptions I had heard I had pictured a group of larger floating islands out on Lake Titicaca. In reality, they occupy a very shallow area of the lake, where the reeds grow, and anchor themselves to the reeds on either side of the main channel. In this way they are more of a river society than a lake society. They also use trout farms built into the centre of the islands. We spent just a little over an hour there. It was a gorgeous day and the sun is very intense at almost 4 km elevation. From the Islas Floatanes it was just over a two hour ride to the Isla Taquile during which time I discovered out of twenty some people on the boat, I was the only one staying over night. The island itslf is hard describe. Physically it is over 6 km long and completely covered in terraces. The people are so nice and very soft-spoken. Total pop of the island is around 2000, with at least a 25% being children. The people are know for their knitting and the men wear caps that show both marriage status and social position while the women wear dark or light skirts and different pom-poms to do the same. The island rises almost 900 m above Lake Titicaca and has many ruins and the like as well. I knew going into this part of the trip that bunking with the family would involve somewhat basic accomodations. Let me skip ahead and then come back. After a lot of thinking I came to the conclusion that, by Western standards, these people live in complete povetry but that to judge them that way would be unfair and misleading. So when I describe the home withhold judgement. It was two seperate building witha central courtyard maybe 3 metres across. We accessed it by climbing up and over some rocks, there was no direct trail access. When I arrived, lead by the oldest child, his two younger brothers were playing around. Only the oldest owns sandals (made out of old tires), and all three were very dirty, which is unsurprising on an island without running water or electricity, or even wells. The buildings had tin roofs with the ceiling being tarp paper. My bed was quite nice (and I suspect, perhaps nicer than their own... my room certainly was). The floors were compacted dirt and my pillow a chunk of Foamy wrapped in linen. The outhouse was a toliet but had no hole (because of the solid rock a few inches belwo the surface), so it has to be emptied every few days by bucket. I had brought, as per Chel's suggestion, fruit as I mentioned last time. When I pulled the bag out of my backpack and gave it to the mother, the reaction they had is hard to describe. The closest parrallel I can think of is Christmas with younger kids, but there was something far more genuine about it. That a bag of tangerines, oranges and apples can make people so happy is sad from the perspective of our society (or at least wrapped in feelings of pity and condencension), but it was actually quite inspiring. As I spent the next 24 hours on the island the more I saw convinced me that these people are both aware of the benefits of modernity (many homes sport small solar panels for radios/TV), but also the value of their way of life. After the other tourists had left, the island was utterly serene and peaceful. The dinner I ate with the family was simple, but tasty and filling. The kids play a lot of hide and go seek and a lot of kites. EVERY kid seemed to have a kite. I guess what I'm saying is that the Island really demonstrated to me that lack of stuff is far less important than strong community ties, families, and a genuine happiness in what they do have. It was really a beautiful experience. I stayed up late that night, partly to watch the stars, partly to get away from the brothers fighting over who should go to sleep first next door to my room. (The walls are paper thin and don't reach the roof). I have only seen the stars better once before and if it hadn't been a half moon, I'm sure this would have topped it. Even at half-full the moon was so bright that I could see a dark shadow where I stood and the mountains across the lake, in Bolivia! I woke up at 5 to watch the sunrise but found that it was already starting to glow over the horizon so I ran up to the high point on the island, 25 minutes away. Man, that hurt! But I made it with 15 minutes to spare! It was gorgeous, and when the sun finally did peak over the top, it was dazzling bright. The rest of the day was spent wndering around the island and then waiting for my boat. I saw the boat I had arrived on and was sitting on that but they moved me onto another boat that was leaving sooner. Unfortunately, this apparently was the anti-social broken-engine boat. Those two factors made for a loooong trip home. At the Hostal I had another first, my first electric shower. Sounds iffy, eh? Basically, the shower head is a big unit with an electric grill in it, the cold water passes through it, is ''warmed'' up and the comes out. Needles to say, it is not going to prduce boiling hot water, especially at high rates of flow. Regardless it was much appreciated. Dinner was the best yet. 20 soles (7 dollars) (more than the hostal I am at), it was three courses with coca tea. A first for here, the presentation of the courses was really top-notch and they tasted great. I tried the local trout as my main. Good, but it has a very definitive flavour picked up from the lake. Tomorrow it is off to Cuzco, to start working my way toward Machu Picchu!