October 26, 2011
We stayed at a nice hotel in Puno and our tour started at 6:30 am. For the first time in quite awhile, I was a tourist. It was kind of nice to not have any responsibilities and just enjoy things. (Or so I thought...) We were dropped off at the harbor and loaded onto a boat with about 20 people. And off we went into Lake Titicaca.
First of all, it is located at about 12,000 feet. They call it the highest navigable lake in the world, whatever that means. It is WAY bigger than I thought it would be. You definitely could not see the other side in some spots. Since I am used to Lake Michigan, it wasn’t quite as beautiful, but it was still impressive.
Our first stop was one of the floating islands of Uros. It seemed like there were about 100 of them. They are squares about 30 feet on each side and had about five little reed houses. As we approached the group of islands, I noticed right away VERY bright clothing on the locals. We kind of circled around then finally pulled up to an island. All the locals were waiting on the edge yelling hello in their language (not Quechua) and greeting everyone. I was the last one off. I could tell right away something was off.
The feeling of walking on that floating island was really cool, and I immediately fell backward and lay on the soft reeds. It was like a huge waterbed. We went over to an area to sit and get a demonstration of how the islands were built and what life was like for the people who lived there. The process is really amazing, the islands last about 20 years and are built on the roots and layers of reeds. They also eat the insides of the reeds which tasted a little like cucumber. After the demonstration we broke up into five groups and each visited a house. We went into Diana’s house, a single 19 year old girl, who lived in there with her family. I tried to ask her as many questions as possible to see what life was really like there and not just be a total tourist. I found out she finished high school. All the children have to take a boat every morning to get to school. Life on the island is fine, but she does want to travel someday if she can get enough money.
After hanging out with her, each family set out some items to sell. That is how they make their money, they depend totally on tourists. I bought one of her weavings for my little sister, and chatted some more. She said some days no boats stop. I wonder how the drivers choose which one to go to with each tour group. There was a fleet of about 10 boats in our little tourist armada.
Our stay was short and we had the choice of riding a reed boat to another floating island with stores and tiny restaurants on it. The money for that ride is split amongst the families. As we pulled away, the people started singing songs, one traditional song then a bunch of touristy songs like “Row, row, row your Boat” and crap like that. Then they yelled, “Hasta la Vista Baby”. The second island was really just to get us to spend more money, then we were off on a 3 hour ride into the lake to visit a permanent island.
That visit really affected me. I totally understand the life for the people of the island. They put on a show every day to make money. They are happy, and live on a floating island for goodness sakes. They have food, water, medical treatment, education, and shelter. BUT, the “show” they put on is ridiculous. It is sold as real and the tourists eat it up. Do people really think that it is real? I assume they act that way because that is what the tourists respond to. I was embarrassed. I came to two conclusions from that visit. First, don’t do that. Second, you dropped 10 grand on a flipping vacation you could have gotten for $1.50 in internet charges from google images. I don’t ever want to be someone who simply sees the surface of a people. I want to know who they are and how they live. What are their struggles and triumphs? What is really going on? I can now understand how people can travel and not be changed. They can take pictures and retell how they saw the “strange island people”. They can waltz through places and never really get to know anyone. I hope I do not do that on my trip home.
During the long ride, I chatted with the tour guide in Spanish. When he found out I was a math teacher, he laughed and said Peruvians know how to party but don’t like to do math. Really? I hadn’t noticed.
Ana and I had a great conversation while riding on the top of the boat. It was beautiful looking out over the vast waters. Of course it made me think about home, Lake Michigan probably has huge waves right now and soon the shores will be covered in ice.
We then arrived at the island called Tequile. We hiked up the steep hill into town. The people there have a cool system where they wear hats to designate their age and relationship status. The color and position of their hats and the size of the tassels on their clothing tell you this information. That would be great in the States to know if someone was in a relationship or not before even talking to them.
There was a very old man in the plaza sewing a hat. I greeted him and asked him his name in Quechua. I was pretty happy about this, I am sure not very many tourists have ever done that. But then he started talking to me in Quechua and I had to tell him in Spanish I didn’t know any more.
The ride back took forever, but Ana and I traded embarrassing parent stories which was a great time. Overall I was glad that I got to finally see the famous Lake Titicaca.
That evening I went to the ATM to take out money for the rest of the trip. My card was declined. I called VISA that night and found out someone stole my credit card information and it was cancelled. They can send me a new one but I can’t use it for cash or for internet purchases, pretty much the only things I use it for. I don’t have a PIN for my debit card, and my ATM card I left in Lima. So, no cash for Johnny boy. Hmmm…, not good. I guess I will just borrow some until I can get that ATM card back. Awesome.