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Memories of Isla Amantani, Peru

Isla Amantani, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Isla Amantani, Lake Titicaca, Peru

It’s been many years since I spent a month in Peru with my two sons and my sister Kristin’s family, so Memories of Isla Amantani, Peru, is lifted word-for-word from my journal. The island lies in Lake Titicaca, the highest fresh-water lake in the world, and is one of my favorite places in the country. I’ve kept a journal since I was 12. Sometimes I wonder whether I, like seemingly everyone else these days, should write a memoir.

From Puno on the way to Cusco, July 17, 2008

“If this is impossible to read, it’s because we’re on the bus from hell. The seats are broken, there are no seatbelts, the suspension is shot, and we have 7 hours ahead of us. We opted for the local direct bus rather than the tourist bus that made stops along the way because the tourist bus cost $45 per person including admissions and the local bus cost about $8.

We spent the past 4 days on islands on Lake Titicaca, Isla Amantani and Isla Tequile.

A communal effort building a house on Isla Amantani

A communal effort building a house on Isla Amantani

Both had red, rocky terrain that rose steeply from the shore, with stone or sand footpaths linking adobe houses schools, the market, tiny stores selling candy, drinks, eggs and central plaza. There was no running water, and everyone hauled water from open wells up the steep slopes. Toilets were outhouses, holes in the ground, though where we stayed toilets had been installed over holes in the ground but you still flushed them by pouring in water. Cooking was done with a propane stove or over a fire. Electricity was limited or nonexistent.

On the way to the islands we stopped at the so-called “Floating Islands,” where communities lived on matted reeds in reed houses. They originally moved to the reeds to escape fiercer people, and there are still families who live isolated just as they have always done, but  the families we visited were there purely for us. Being an architect, Kristin found it fascinating, and I was glad they were able to make some money from tourists.

Floating Island on Lake Titicaca

Floating Island on Lake Titicaca

Then it was on to Amantani, the more primitive of the two islands. We stayed with a woman who went by Gladys and her 9-year-0ld daughter. Our 2 rooms were simple, built specifically for tourists, with beds and a table, a wood-plank floor, and candles for lighting. Gladys made us soup for dinner, trout the second night, pancakes for breakfast….

The daughter of Gladys, the single mom where we stayed

The daughter of Gladys, the single mom where we stayed

I liked watching the village life, the people were all shyly friendly and greeted with an “Hola” or “Buenas tardes.” They wore traditional dress, the women in full colorful skirts and embroidered black shawls. The children played with balls, tops, marbles. I don’t think people bathed much–why would they, with no bathrooms, no running water, and no hot water. Even we didn’t bathe for 4 days.

Life on Amantani was about the things you had to do daily to survive–haul water, cook meals, herd sheep, gather eggs from chickens, wash clothes by hand and hang them in the sun to dry, weave or knit clothing (which, amazingly, they didn’t try to sell to tourists; in fact, there were no goods produced for tourists). In a way, it was like camping, busy but so much less stressful or busy than our technical lives. And although our stay seemed primitive, and not hygienically clean, we met a couple who had it far worse. The old woman they stayed with (all accommodations on the islands are homestays) kept 7 guinea pigs in her kitchen [guinea pigs are a delicacy in Peru], along with cats, and there was feces on the floor and flies everywhere.

Herding sheep across Amantani's central square

Herding sheep across Amantani’s central square

Tequile was more heavily touristed, mainly by day trippers. There was a communal store selling handwoven or hand-knitted hats, gloves and shirts. We hiked, first to a school where a teacher invited us to visit and classroom and then to stone ruins dating from 100 B.C. The ruins were magical, neglected and empty. Peru, perhaps, has so many ruins, something 2,100 years old isn’t special.”

Our hostess, Gladys, accompanies us to the boat to wave goodby on our departure

Our hostess, Gladys, accompanies us to the boat to wave goodby on our departure

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