Started the day at 6:15am (12:15pm UK) with some FaceTime with Polly, Owen & Jake – yehhhhh 🙂 Sadly, missed Louie as I guess he was entertaining his hareem of girls outside church after the service… he uses all my jokes you know!
We set off from the hostel at 8:00am – in the pedal driven version of the Tuk Tuk! It was a great experience. Mike & I sat in the double seat situated at ‘the front’, our backpacks sat behind us in a trough, & behind that sat the driver. With a minimum amount of gears I have to take my hat off to him – his leg muscles must be huge! Bigger than Roger Smith’s & Matt Noble’s combined I would imagine! He effortlessly pedaled us through the streets of Puno town – very quiet at this time of day, & of course it was a Sunday – to the port, where our boat awaited us.
We settled in to the boat, removed our backpacks, chose our seat… then had to get ourselves together again because we’d somehow managed to get on the wrong boat…! When we found the right boat we repeated the exercise – & being very British about it, chose exactly the same seats we had chosen on the first boat! We do make me smile sometimes…!
A 3 hour – very slow – boat ride would see us to the Island of Taquile, pronounced Taquila but without the ‘a’. As we travelled the colours of the clouds were amazing. We went from a clear blue sky, to ‘cotton wool’ clouds, to sweeping clouds as the wind came in, to lastly a mixture of black rain clouds & white clouds – we hoped t.he black ones were going to stay away! Taquile is a beautiful island. As we approached it we could see the whole of the island was covered with the terraced fields we had previously seen in the valleys, but the island was literally covered in them. Beautiful sunshine greeted us as we docked & disembarked.
We had about a 2 hour trek ahead of us to reach our final destination – the restaurant for lunch. The menu at the restaurant was simple – fresh water trout or an omelette. A simple choice for most of us – Trout 🙂
Lake Titicaca has 4 types of fish in it: carachi, suche, trout & king fish. The first two are native to the Lake, but are very small fish & not really of any use from a sustenance point of view. This is why trout & king fish were introduced to the lake in 1946 – since then both breeds have flourished & now provide the people of the Island – & the other Islands within the lake, as well as the mainland towns around the Lake (including The Bolivian towns), with a plentiful supply of fish. No commercial fishing is allowed on the Lake, this way the Lake will remain self-sustaining.
I had packed a full load in my backpack – I hate being cold &, as a young boy scout was always taught to ‘be prepared’. Consequently I’d brought just about everything from my main bag. It was very, very heavy. But I figured, well, I better get used to it – the 4 day hike to Macchu Pichu is going to be hard going & I’ll be carrying a similar weight (the porters will only carry 6kgs – which is the equivalent to a sleeping bag & my toothbrush!). So I opted not to leave my backpack on the boat & instead carry it for the 2 hour trek. I was really pleased with how well I got on actually – I mean obviously I wasn’t feeling too talkative as I gasped for air, but each time I stopped my recovery was quick & I was able to really enjoy my surroundings. I got some fantastic scenic shots.
We arrived in the Plaza Major – church, tick. It was a hive of activity, wall to wall tourists (tut!) 🙂 Children were running around everywhere in traditional costume, all clamouring for the gifts of fruit we had brought to give them. Some of the more cunning would take a piece of fruit, hide it, then put their hand out for more – because there were so many &, if it doesn’t sound wrong to say it, because they all looked the same, it was really hard to tell who’d been given fruit & who hadn’t!
It wasn’t until the crowd had died down & jumpers started being unfolded, that we were able to see which children had been the most cunning! It was great fun though.
We headed off again. As we walked I chatted to our guide (Juber – very nice guy) about the Island & how it worked. The Island basically works as a community. Not everyone on the Island chooses to be part of that community, but 60% of the islanders are. They live totally off the fruits of the island. There is no electricity, it is all solar power. The water in the Lake is fresh water, so they have a permanent source of water. The island is covered with terraced fields, so there is an abundance of land in which to plant crops – just about anything can be grown there. Where money is needed, their income comes from tourism – tourists have to pay to visit the island – also there are others trades, like the restaurants, which provide an income from tourism.
The island in ‘run’ – coordinated would probably be a better word – by a group of leaders. The leaders are elected by the community of the island. They are 6 in total, with one ‘overall’ leader. The leaders administrate the way the island works & how the workforce of the island is paid – the community provide the work force too & the leaders are included in this workforce.
The island has a list of ‘jobs’ – whether farm hand, restaurant cook, waiter, farmer, seller of tourist goods etc – & these jobs are all done on rotation. So one week a person may be cooking in a restaurant kitchen, the next they may be selling alpaca scarves in the market place – even the main leader! It’s a great way of doing things & there is no one more important than another – they are all equals. In return for their labours, the people receive a basic income – but as our guide pointed out, they have no real need for money. Although they aren’t rich in monetary or worldly terms, they have more than they will ever need & are kings of their own land.
An amusing story Juber told me was that for the last World Cup, a number of the islanders clubbed together for a Sky subscription so that they could follow it. Terrestrial television just doesn’t work out here – at all – so Sky was the only option, but it is very expensive. So they clubbed together & bought a kit from Puno, installed it (I saw the dish, bolted to one of the tin roofs!) & enjoyed the whole World Cup. Once the competition had finished they had no further use for it, so just stopped paying! I mean, (a) who’s going to go all the way out to Taquile Island to chase them & (b) how are they going to find them! There are no streets – it’s just fields, trees & huts!
We came to the restaurant & sat down to enjoy our trout – absolutely delicious. Perfectly filleted & beautifully grilled. Another surreal experience as we sat there, on the edge of an island, half way across one of the largest lakes in the world, looking out across a waterscape resembling an ocean, with islands visible beyond & Bolivia to the right! Amazing.
What wasn’t amazing was the sight of the dark black clouds getting nearer… & nearer… & nearer! Then they arrived! So did the wind – real wind! As we all scrambled to get inside, the waiters rushed to take down the ‘awning’ over the table & clear away the pots before they blew in to the sea. As we stood inside the heavens opened. It was great!
Once the storm had passed we headed down to the port below where the boat was waiting to take us on to the peninsula town of Laquina Chico, where we would be home staying.
On arrival we were greeted by representatives from the families we would be staying with – all in traditional local dress – & a live band! 2 binquillos (like large recorders), a big bass drum & a snare drum – they followed us up the hill as we walked to the football pitch where we were to have a six-a-side game with some of the local children…! I felt a bit like royalty 🙂
After formal introductions to the band – & our families – Angel asked for volunteers for the football game. As only 3 hands went up I felt compelled to put mine up, even though I hate football & didn’t particularly want to run around like a fool for half an hour at over 3800m! Still, it was good fun 🙂 I spent most of it leaning over with my hands on my knees, gasping for breath. I’ve never been a sportsman & at this altitude it wasn’t a good time to start! After a few killer tackles – of which I was quite proud (mind you, the child was about 10!) – I finally ended up on my backside & it was time for a break, so I went in goal. Rene proved to be the star player, scoring most of our goals. John got one in too! Angel just kept kicking the ball into the next field. I saved a few goals (& let a few in between my legs) & soon we reached the half hour full time mark. 7-4 the final score, the locals winning – which I don’t think any of us were surprised by!
Next was the dance….
Our families dressed us all in their traditional costume & we received our training – which involved a bit of a side step to the left, then a side step to the right, while moving forward & shaking your pom poms 😐 Men down one side, women down the other, then meeting at the top & repeating it together holding hands & returning to the beginning by dancing down the centre aisle. Then we had to perform for the locals. What a sight we must have looked – Mike, John & myself looked like ‘the three amigos’! – which I suppose we are, except there wasn’t a charoot in sight!
As the dance drew to a close, we collapsed into exhausted heaps ready for the final hike to our home stay homes.
Our family had 7 – yes 7 – children. From what we could make out, their names all began with J. There was Jenny, Jinny (that was confusing!), Jason, Juber (pronounced Huber), Miguel (ok, I know he wasn’t a J, but maybe he used his middle name), a little tot that we named Junior, & I can’t remember the other one’s name – he was a teenager & all we got was a grunt!
After half an hour of madness with the kids when we arrived – magic tricks, funny faces, funny noises, party blowers, sweets etc – it was time to eat.
It was difficult to get the layout of the place clear because it was dark, but from the low light (there was electricity here) it appeared that opposite the little hut we were to sleep in were the family’s main living/sleeping hut. I say hut because that’s essentially what they were – mud & stray constructed walls with a tin roof. Between the two huts was another far smaller hut & in this was the eating table & the ‘kitchen’. The ‘hobby & oven’ consisted of a large cut-out in the wall, within which were various wood fires with bricks around them, on top of which stood various pots. The ‘kitchen’ was basically a cupboard with a shelf above it – the shelf was for food, the cupboard for the pots. Peeling & washing happened in bowls on the floor.
After we’d peeled the children off the ceiling we all sat down to eat – ‘mama’ (the mother of the house) sat in the corner, not at the table & ‘papa’ (the father of the house) was sleeping. We had a delicious soup to start with followed by a vegetables with rice. As I was still a bit full from the trout I didn’t manage to finish my mains, but Angel had told us in advance that our hosts wouldn’t be offended if we didn’t eat everything.
Mike’s Spanish saved the day really – we’d have been stuffed without him. Jenny studied English at school (they have a school on the peninsular that they attend – 2km away – which they walk/cycle to every day), so she knew some English words. The other children knew Spanish too, so between us we muddled through. Mama knew the odd word of Spanish but no English – the native tongue there is Aymara & after a certain age (of which she was past), you need to speak Aymara to properly communicate with them. We had been given a ‘crib sheet’ of words & phrases, but the words just didn’t stick & in the end we (John & I) just kept staring helplessly at Mike!
It was a tiring day all told – made more tiring by the football match & dancing – so the opportunity of an early night was very attractive. I think lights were out by 8pm & sleep very quickly followed. Apart from the odd bray of the donkey, oink of the pigs, cluck of the hens & the snorts & puffs of John, it was a very peaceful evening – & warm. It was to be the best night’s sleep I’d had since we’d reached high altitude.
Tomorrow we’re off to the floating reed islands of Uros which we’re all looking forward to.
G’night all. Gb 🙂