Homestay on Lake Titicaca
Women of Amantani wait for their homestay guests to arrive.
At 11,500 feet, Lake Titicaca, shared between Peru and Bolivia, is one of the highest lakes in the world.
For $14 I arranged a 2-day tour of four islands on the Peruvian side of the lake through the Hostel Monterey in Puno the district capital. This included boat transportation to the floating islands of the Uros Indians, a homestay and three meals on the Quechua-speaking island of Amantani, and a half-day tour of the Quechua island of Taquile.
Tourists are picked up from their hotel and driven to the Puno docks. There I joined a group of 15, mostly Europeans. The 40-foot boat had an upper deck for viewing the blue lake, the islands, and the snow-capped mountains.
After 20 minutes we arrived at the floating islands, where 300 Uros Indians live and fish on the manmade islands made entirely of reeds that grow in the lake.
Two and a half hours farther by boat and we arrived at Isla Amantani, a Quechua-speaking Indian community. The island rises out of the lake like a small mountain, and the houses are clustered over the island in self-governing villages. At the dock we were met by the women of the community, all wearing the same colorful local costume: black skirt, black shawl, and colorful embroidered blouses. Tourism and it's impact on the community is carefully controlled. There are no hotels. You must stay with a family. The families and villages rotate taking in tourists.
Our guides assigned us to families. I was paired with Philip, a middle-aged Frenchman from Chamonix in the Alps who spoke only French. Our host family spoke Quechua and Spanish. The guides spoke Spanish as well as other European languages. Our hostess, Teodora, guided us up a steep hill to the family farm where Philip and I shared a second-story room with outside stairs. The outhouse was out the back. "France looked like this 100 years ago," Philip said.
After a rest and lunch we were invited to the village square for a soccer match between the tourists and the Peruvians, and then on a sunset hike to the top of the island.
After our dinner, there was a fiesta in the village in honor of the tourists in the community center. With our host family we made our way in the dark following the music and met all our friends from the tour.
The next morning after breakfast we sailed two hours to the island of Taquile, another Quechua-speaking community, for a walk around the island and a meal at one of the village restaurants. The villagers make their money from serving lunch to the tour groups. Again tourism is strictly controled. Few tourists stay on Taquile overnight.
Three hours later I was so impressed with the islands that the next day I took a short trip back to marvel at the unique lifestyles of the islanders and how they have preserved their way of life, language, and distinctive dress and how they have been able to control development and tourism and benefit from it. I felt I would like to stay on the islands and settle down.