Allin llachu! That means hello in Quechua, which is the native language of the people on the island of Amantani…which is where we spent last night with a host family! Let me take you back to the beginning of yesterday…
We woke up at the Totarani Inn, which was so good we booked another night for our return to Puno. There was a steaming hot shower in our private bath and exceptional service. We requested a garden view room so that we couldn’t hear the honking from the street (no need for stop lights when you can honk to let people know to get out of your way). We arrived late our first night and it was dark, but so convenient that a little bakery was right across the street. No need to navigate a new city in the dark to get some grub! The next morning, we had a lovely knock on our door to let us know that breakfast was downstairs. We were offered tea and coffee, eggs and toast. We were also allowed to store our big backpacks while we left for the tour for a day and half. We booked our second night with Alberto (he really was the sweetest man ever) and went on our way…it was hands down the best service I’ve ever experienced at a hostel/inn. I highly recommend it if you’re staying in Puno!
Our tour guide picked us up right from our hostel. This tour was also phenomenal. We booked through Mystery Peru Tours, but don’t worry nothing about it was mysterious. They communicated with us very well through email and even called us the night before to confirm our pick up location and time. They also gave great advice about what to pack and what to expect. The tour we were on was the day and a half tour that takes you to three islands on Lake Titicaca and you spend the night with a host family on one island (Isle de Amantani). For one person this tour costs $85 and includes: pick up and drop off from hostel, transportation and entrance fees to all three islands, 4 meals and accommodation with your host family…but at the end of it all the experience is priceless. The tour picked us up right on time and we made our way to the port to catch our boat to the first island. At the port, Katriena and I purchased a few toys for the children in our host family. We didn’t want to arrive empty handed, so we found a cute coloring book and some toy trucks (we didn’t know if there would be boys or girls and most families only have two children at the most, so we were prepared)! We also stocked up on water, fresh fruit and bought some gloves because it was cold. Stepping onto the boat I immediately knew this was the tour for me. The reason being, there was a gentleman playing “ob-la-di ob-la-da” on a guitar and pan flute (like Manny’s in Modern Family!) inside the cabin of the boat. It’s like he knew I was arriving and needed a little Beatles and pan flute to start my day!
Our tour guide for the trip was Esteban. He was awesome…so friendly and really kept an eye out for Katriena and I. Whenever we would stop to take pictures and get really far behind the group, he would always wait for us and make sure we were there. Our first stop were the islands of Uros and I was not prepared for what was to be experienced. The islands are known famously as “the floating islands” and that’s because they literally are floating islands that were man made from reeds! People live on these islands, in the cutest huts, with the most spectacular reed boats to get them from island to island or onto the main land. Each island also has a little tower to climb onto (also made of reeds) that they use for communication from island to island. To say I was blown away is an understatement. This instantly became the coolest, most unique place I have ever been to in my entire life. We pulled up to an island and got out to listen to Esteban explain the locals lives on the islands and how the islands are built and maintained. I couldn’t retain all of the information, but the second I get home I’m buying a book that explains everything because that’s how interesting it was. About 8 families live on each island and there usually aren’t more than 4 people in one family. As I was sitting on a bench made out of reeds, listening to the presentation, I noticed the cutest little boy and girl and began taking pictures of them. The little girl (who’s name I later learned was Sarrah) came over and started playing with my hair and my heart melted! Her mother told her to take my hand and show me their home. As soon as she did, the little boy (Victor) came running over to grab my other hand! They brought me into their home which had a double size bed and beautiful tapestries along the wall. It was only big enough for the bed and a few extra feet to enter. The mom then had me and Katriena dress up in some of their traditional clothing!! SO COOL! I was geeking out hard core and couldn’t believe I was standing where I was and doing what I was doing. We took some photos with the family and then hopped on their reed boat for a ride to the “town center”. This was another floating island with a cute little cafe and bakery where you could buy the local bread and some sweets. I just still couldn’t get over the fact that I was walking on an island…made by men…using reeds…unreal.
I was sad to leave the floating islands, but we had to move onto our next stop, which was an hour away by boat, the island of Amantani (where we would be staying the night). When we arrived at the island, the “mamas” came down to greet us. We were assigned to Elizabeth’s family along with a sweet girl named Helene, who is French but living in Chile for school and speaks fluent Spanish (thank god!). The local language on Amantani is actually Cheqchua, not Spanish. Most of the locals can speak and understand Spanish, however. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated to be staying with a host family and not know the language well enough…however, I realized I’ve retained much more Spanish than I thought I did and I’m getting more comfortable using it as the days go by!
When we got there, we met the family and went straight to their house. There are no cars on Amantani, but many steep hills! The walk was lovely and it was nice to walk through the little community. We walked up the main stone path for a bit and then took a little dirt path to their house. When you open the gate to their home, you enter into a square, dirt courtyard that has other rooms off of it. One small room was for the toilet (it appeared that the toilet was there only for the tourists staying with the family but we weren’t sure where they used the bathroom). Another room was the kitchen and eating area with a small wood burning oven, gas stove (the size of one you might bring on a camping trip) and a table with chairs. When we ate with the family, they sat on small stools and had us sit at the table. Up a flight of stairs were the bedrooms. The family had a room for them and their daughter and then there were two separate rooms for tourists to stay in (each with two beds). Many families on the island bring in tourists as their income and they seem to really enjoy it.
After we got settled, our host mother made us lunch – delicious quinoa soup (which I’ve eaten every day since being here and love every minute of it), rice, cucumber and tomato salad, and potatoes with fried cheese. It was absolutely delicious. As we were eating lunch, their daughter (Joselina) came home from school. I felt more comfortable conversing with a child in Spanish so I asked her what her name was and how old she was and where she just came from (she’s 7 and so adorable). We gave her the gifts and she seemed to really like them! After lunch, we helped with the dishes (which I found out later were washed with a soap made from one of the plants grown locally-thumbs up for being organic) and then asked Joselina if she wanted to take us for a walk. All four of us (our new French friend, Helene, included) walked to a little basketball court and played fútbol with Joselina and…a bouncy ball. Then, Joselina stole Katriena’s glove as a joke and made her catch her to get it. It was adorable and a beautiful bonding moment, but Kat was a little tired after that!
By 4pm we had to meet up with our tour guide and the rest of our group to do a hike up the island. It was very steep and chilly, but absolutely worth every step when we got to the top. I should also mention that as soon as we got to the top, my digital camera died…thank god I had my phone camera, but it just wasn’t the same. Anyways, we stood at a temple that looked over the entire island. On one side of the temple you could see Bolivia and the snow mountains, on the other was Peru. With the wind whipping our faces, we watched the sunset and I did some yoga to worship the moment and show gratitude…it was so peaceful. Side note: Katriena posed with a stick (wand) for a Harry potter moment…those are always necessary and welcome on our trips!
Going down was much easier than going up! When we got back to our host family’s home, we relaxed for a bit before dinner. We were able to talk with Helene some more and learned that she was only 20 and has been living in Chile for 6 months studying at the university. She is already fluent in Spanish…I think my next move will be living in a foreign country for half a year just to learn the language – what do you think, mama? 🙂
Dinner was at 7pm and again we had delicious quinoa soup (quinoa is grown on the island) and rice with a little potato stew on top. At this point the sun had gone down and the temperature had really dropped. I was wearing my thick Christmas socks, leggings under my pants, a tank top, a t-shirt, two long sleeve shirts, a sweater, my coat and a hat and gloves. I was still so cold. After dinner, we sipped on coca tea (which is served after every meal) and chatted. By 8pm it was time to get ready for the party the locals throw for the visitors! Elizabeth dressed us all up in beautiful, traditional clothing and led us to the local gathering place, which was indoors and warm. There was a lovely band playing music and all the mamas started dancing and grabbed us to join them! The traditional line dance was very easy and it was beautiful to see all of our skirts twirling. When dancing, you’re supposed to hold hands with the people on either side of you and shuffle while swaying your hips and arms…Katriena added a bopping-up-and-down portion to the dance which made it difficult to hold her hand and to not laugh…but you know what they say: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and that’s exactly what I did! I bopped around the hall with my smoochies and I loved every moment of it 🙂
When we got back to the house we gazed up at the stars for awhile. I mean it when I say I have never seen the sky look so brilliant. Stars were exceptionally shiny and everywhere! I wanted to lie on my back and eat the sky. Pete Mumford, I bet you’ve never seen stars like these! After gazing, we went straight to bed – we were all so exhausted, but I think what we all really wanted was to get under the thick blankets we knew were waiting for us! Thankfully, it was a very warm sleep. I wore all of my layers to bed and didn’t wake up once because of the cold! It was also a major success to not have to get up in the middle of the night to pee!
The next morning, Kat and I got up extra early to watch the sunrise. We watched the sunrise over the Snow Mountains (across the lake in Bolivia) and it was such a beautiful way to start the day. It was also really nice that the window across from my bed had the perfect view, so we snuggled to watch it rise some more under the warm blankets. For brekky we had pancakes and coca tea and it was sinchi sumaj (‘very delicious’ in Quechua)! We had to say goodbye to our family 😦 so we snapped a photo all together and said ripushayqu (goodbye)!
The next, and final stop on our tour was La Isle de Taquile. It was about a 1 hour boat ride to the island and when we got off we immediately started hiking to the top! Along our hike, we stopped at the local marketplace. I purchased a few locally made goodies and we continued on our way. Every arch along our path was immaculate. Every look upon the lake was breathtaking. It really was one of the greatest hikes I’ve ever been on. We hiked up to a restaurant for lunch where we had a beautiful spread of bread with picante salsa, fish, rice, an omelet and veggies…followed, of course, by a hot cup of coca tea. I didn’t think it could get any better until we started our descent…down the famous Incan stairs!! Side note: praise ikea we were going down them and not up them because they were steep and rocky. We took some amazing photos with the famous arch and beautiful lake and mountains in the background. I just didn’t want to leave it was so beautiful. I seriously think I would be content living on that island for the rest of my life. When we got to the bottom our boat was waiting for us (Kat and I were obvi the last ones on) and we headed back to Puno.
Amazing tour número dos = a very happy Nadia and Katriena!
One thing we realized is how quickly we take hot showers for granted…which is what we enjoyed when we got back to our hostel!
The 28th is Peru’s Independence Day so every town and city is decorating with flags and having parades and little celebrations. We decided to head out into Puno and explore the city a little bit. We walked through streets lined with flags and found a really cute restaurant…and guess what we ordered? ALPACA! And it was delicious! I know, I know, I’m a vegetarian. BUT my rule is that when I’m in other countries I ALWAYS try native dishes. I obviously am not trying things with chicken, beef, pork, etc because I know what those taste like. But, if alpaca is something they eat regularly in Peru, than I shall try it. YOLO.
Exotic meats Katriena and I have tried together: kangaroo (Australia) and now alpaca. Next on our list…Guinea pig, which is a delicacy here so stay tuned for that update!
Here are some pictures from Lake Titicaca and, of course, our dinner tonight 🙂