A Butterfly Across Peru: Lake Titicaca Vanessa Malandrin
Homestays are one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a different culture while giving back to the local communities, as one traveler shares in her personal experience.
The islands of Amantaní and Taquile, of Lake Titicaca, are just three hours by boat from Puno, and yet one feels as if they are in a completely different world upon arrival. These islands were quite isolated from the mainland until the 1950s; to this day you won’t find any cars or motors, ATMs, electricity or running water. There are no hotels or resorts at all, but rather homestays, as the local inhabitants manage tourism by themselves at a community level. Every family has one or two bedrooms available for tourists and the community leaders ensure that all of them are involved in rotation. However, the amount of tourists who decide to spend a few nights on the islands are few, despite cheap prices and an unforgettable experience.
I arrived to Amantaní without having done any booking in advance. A few women in traditional costumes had gathered at the pier waiting for boats like mine to arrive. When the tourists disembark, the community leader decides who is going to host whom; I easily managed to have a room all by myself. It’s very safe to walk around the island and the landscape is amazing: from the top of the highest hill (4150 m, or 13600 feet) you can see the Cordillera Real in Bolivia, capped in snow. Just remember to get back before it gets dark, as there is no light on the streets and it’s very easy to get lost.
It was a bit harder to find a place to stay in Taquile. I couldn’t understand why, until somebody explained that the day before my arrival there had been a wedding and everybody was still in bed with a hangover.
If you don’t like the idea of a jump in the dark, it’s also possible to make a booking in advance on their website.
Disappointed in having missed the wedding, things were looking brighter when I realized that I had arrived just in time to attend to the celebrations of San Isidro (May 15), a Spanish saint who devoted his life to agriculture and prayer. It’s a big day for the locals and there were two different bands playing music in the square from the early morning. I sat on a corner, watching the people dressed in colorful costumes entering the little white church for the mass. When they left, the church’s floor was full of coca leaves and they explained to me that it’s because men would exchange them with each other as a sign of friendship.
An enormous wall made of red beer crates stood in the square, where the authorities of the island sit. It’s quite unbelievable, if you think that all that beer has been transported from Puno by boat and then carried by the people all the way up the hill, on a steep slope.
The central moment of the celebration is a dance along the square, which is interpreted as a prediction for the next agricultural year. For the festivities, there are two men disguised as women and a pair of bulls dressed up, each of them dragging a wooden plow; the men dance after the bulls, acting as if they were sowing the fields, throwing around petals, corn seeds, little potatoes and pebbles. The two teams represent the lower and the upper part of the island and they compete to see who will have the best crop in the following year. However it doesn’t look like a competition at all, as they are very relaxed and they often stop to rest and to have a drink. Yes, they drink a lot!
In Taquile you’ll notice plenty of women and men of all ages knitting or weaving beautiful textiles. Their value is now internationally recognized, since as of 2008 Taquile and its textile art have been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO).
Spending a few days in the homestays of these two beautiful islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca and buying their original artisan crafts, you’ll make an important contribution to the life of these unique communities.