I didn’t realize how long I hadn’t seen a full body of water until I arrived at Puno and stood at the port of Lake Titicaca. Somehow everything we’ve been looking at for the past month has been mostly very… solid. So standing at the port and not being able to see what was on the other end of the horizon was quite a refreshing change.
We bought our round-trip boat ticket to Isla Amantani for a super cheap S/30 (USD 5). Unknown to us, this included a free stop at the super commercialized but fascinating reed islands of Uros. I was actually quite annoyed with this detour because I’d mistakenly thought that all the islands (including Amantani) on Lake Titicaca were reed islands, and that Uros was the only super touristy one. Then I realized that it was probably impossible for a reed island to support “ruins on top of a hill” (Lonely Planet, 2010).
Anyway, the reed islands are pretty cool. Walking on them is like being on one of those big bounce castles because they’re so spongy. The islanders place about 5-6 meters of reed on top of these fibrous rocks and then anchor them to the bottom of the lake. They have to be changed every 6 months when the reeds begin to rot. The islanders build everything out of the reeds- their houses, their look-out posts, their boats… Some of the boats definitely look like they would fit in perfectly in our Chingay parade.
A mini-representation of how the reed islands are built!
Islanders singing the tourists away
It's pretty amazing how everything floats.
It took an arduously long (3 hours!) boat ride before we reached Amantani. Just before we arrived, our captain took down all our names so that he could assign us to the different homestay families on the island. We were lucky to be assigned to Senora Josefina and her uber cute son, Nelson, but not so lucky that their house was up on the middle of the island, which involved us walking up a very steep slope with our 20kg backpacks and 5 kg daypacks (no porters this time :/). At a certain point, I was wheezing so hard I thought I was going to have an asthma attack. It definitely felt harder than anything I’d done on the Inca Trail. Sheesh.
Josefina and her husband, Senor Martin, have 10 kids, although 8 of them are now working in other Peruvian cities, leaving 9 year-old Nelson and his 15 year-old brother, Alex. We had lunch with them and they were extremely amused when WB put a handful of muña tea leaves into his tea-cup. (You’re only supposed to put 2 stalks.) They were laughing so hard they had to leave the room. After lunch (and a siesta!), Nelson brought us on a hike to see the ruins of Pachamama, which, guess what, was right on top of the island. More wheezing ensued.
The hike up to Pachamama; WB teaching Nelson English.
Halfway up the island, we suddenly heard someone shout, “la luna! (the moon!)”, and we turned to see half the moon peeking over the hill leading up to the Pachatata (Father Earth) ruins. It was the brightest moon I’d ever seen. I was quite stupified at this point because just behind me, the sun was slowly setting. It was the first time I’d ever seen the sun set and the moon rise simultaneously.
Getting up close and personal with la luna (:
After dinner, we went to the nightly “la fiesta” with our host family, dressed in the traditional Amantani garb. However we left after 20 minutes because it was overwhelmingly touristy. They were playing “Hey Jude” on their banjos. Not cool.
With our host family; Josefina, Alex, Martin and Nelson (:
The day started off pretty sketchily because our boat to Taquile was experiencing some engine difficulties, and it was was rocking so hard that WB and I were afraid it was going to topple over. Being kia-see we were the only ones who wore our life-vests, lol. We arrived at the Taquile port not looking forward to the 500 steps we had to climb to get to the center of the island. A French lady on the boat was kind enough to help me with my daypack but WB made it to the top with both his heavy bags! Having sufficient sleep the night before definitely helped. The captain of the boat also helped us to ask ard for a place to stay at night and we ended up staying with señor Cesar. The hospitality that we received was tremendous.
We went to the town central to watch the celebration for the Fiesta de San Diego but before that could happen, we bumped into the other volunteers from TNT! It was such a great feeling meeting them again (: We learnt something interesting from their guide: on Taquile, all the men wear chullos but the color and type of chullo they wear indicate their social status. Married men wear fully red chullos while single men wear red and white chullos. They also have pom poms at the end of their chullos and if a single man puts his pom pom on his left shoulder, it means he’s looking for a partner! Married men also wear intricately woven belts, half of which are made out of their wife’s locks. All the us looked slightly put off at the mention of this. Haha.
Family reunion (:
After lunch we watched the different communities dancing in the main plaza. They have really elaborate costumes with colorful headgear and their dance kinda reminds me of the Turkish whirling dervishes. The women also have incredibly slim legs hidden beneath their billowy skirts.
Fiesta de San Diego!
The conquistador-inclined community.
Then we walked down to the ‘playa’ and on the way met a Singaporean who’s been living abroad for many years. Her accent was unmistakeable nevertheless. We were excited because she’s the first Singaporean we’ve met in the past 2 months. We later bumped into her family again whn we stopped at a restaurant for drinks. She called us “adventurous Singaporeans” and we talked about how much we miss laksa and hokkien mee.
Then WB and I spent an hour hiking up to the top of the island through the Andean terraces. On the way, I was extremely overwhelmed by the urge to poop and after much deliberation, I chose a spot behind one of the terrace walls and did what I had to do, but all the while I couldn’t stop thinking about how great life would be if every poop job involved a view of a vast lake and snowy peaks. So after the deed was done, I made sure to make a stone offering to Pachamama to thank her for being so damn beautiful.
We waited at a little stone sanctuary at the top of the mountain for the sunset. It got pretty cold at ard 4:30pm and we could hear the wind breathing through the rocks. The sunset over the surrounding islands was beautiful, but it was the moon rise over the frozen lake and Bolivia’s Cordillera real that really stole the show. I’m pretty sure that for now, it’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever witnessed.
Moonlight over the frozen lake. Amazing.