Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Amantani Island

We had glorious weather for our day of boating around on Lake Titicaca. It was a three hour trip from the Uros Islands to Amantani Island. Some people went to the top of the boat to hang out, some people stayed inside and napped.  I went to the back of the boat and took everything in. I wanted to experience everything as fully as possible, soak in every detail, remember everything. 

Luckily I got to the back of the boat and claimed a seat before the "selfie sisters." I think Susan bestowed that name on them. We don't know if they're sisters or friends or what, but they were absolutely obsessed with having pictures taken of themselves. Pictures of them together, or separately, didn't matter. I swear they will have 15,000 pictures of themselves by the end of their tour. They didn't seem interested in taking pictures of any of the beautiful scenery (unless they were front and center) or anything else. It was sort of weird, and a bit annoying after awhile. 

Well, in any case... When Ruben had introduced himself he had the rest of us introduce ourselves too. We had a couple from the Netherlands, a professional photographer from Italy, Susan and I from the US, a couple from Argentina, and I believe everyone else was from Bolivia or Peru. Most spoke Spanish. Susan and I of course didn't speak very well and the Dutch folks didn't seem to know any Spanish at all. In the couple from Argentina, the husband spoke quite well and his wife could understand English pretty well, but wasn't good at speaking it (sort of my skill level with Spanish!).  So Ruben put the Argentinians, the Dutch, and Susan and I together in a group and asked Tomas (the Argentinian) to translate for us!  I thought Ruben was supposed to speak English and tell us what we needed to know? Apparently he didn't speak English as well as we were led to believe. I thought it was a little unfair to ask a fellow passenger to translate for us, but Tomas took it really well. And I think it worked out well for us in the end. 

As we approached the island Ruben announced that most of the people would be getting off the boat at the first stop, and then the six of us in the smaller group would go around the island a little further to where our homestay would be. Then he insisted that those of us staying on the boat close the curtains at our seats so no one could see in. This was kind of annoying because we were approaching the island and wanted to SEE it! We asked Ruben multiple times why we had to close our curtains. The only answer we really got out of him was that they were celebrating Candelaria on the island and there were lots of drunk people and he didn't wan them seeing us. Okay, that's a little scary.  And then later that didn't make any sense: we'd be getting out of the boat and going onto the island where the drunk people were definitely going to see us!  So who knows. But as soon as we dropped Ruben and the other folks off we opened our curtains wide.  And there really weren't any people, drunk or otherwise, handing out on the docks anyway. Wacky. 

A few minutes later we pulled up to a second dock and got off the boat. We were met by Mama Sophia and her son Sebastian. They led us along the beach for a little bit and then up the side of the island. Wow. It was steep and it just kept going up and up. It wasn't even all that far up, I think it only took 5 minutes to walk down when we left the next day. But the elevation was high, the air was thin, and we were feeling super out of shape. We finally stepped off the stone path running through fields and houses to the complex of Mama Sophia's home. Below are a couple pictures of her place. 

View out our window. I think that's Mama Sophia's garden plot down there. 

Another view out our window. The rain across the lake got to us later that night. 

Susan and I were in the room in the bottom, the other folks were up top. Behind me is a mirror image of this building, but not finished for staying in yet. To the right is another two story living area, I think for Mama Sophia and her son. On the other side of all this were more buildings - a kitchen/dining building for one and a building for their guinea pigs. 

Another view. Corn and flowers. 

This is their donkey. Not sure what they do with it though!
The plan for the day was that Mama Sophia would feed us lunch, we would rest, then we would head for the main square of the island. We would meet the rest of the tour there and then climb to the peak of the island. 

The six of us gathered at the table in the cooking house.  Mama Sophia served a tasty soup, some kind of fried cheese, potatoes, and corn. I could hear music, the ubiquitous marching band, drifting down from somewhere over the fields. Oh boy!  Sebastian, six years old, was very precocious and interested in this group of tourists. He brought out a deck of cards and struck up a game of War with the Argentinian woman. The six of us talked and talked and didn't get around to napping or resting at all!

Soon it was time to head to the town square. Mama Sophia led us out to the back corner of her property, up some steep stone stairs into the next field, and then through barely discernible pathways through several fields, past a few small buildings and suddenly we were at the town square. 

The square was absolutely full of people and bands. There were three or four bands present and playing when we got there, and at least seven playing by the time I left! The square was so small the bands were standing right next to each other playing. Each band seemed to have it's own dancing group, in fantastic costumes, dancing and dancing and dancing. 

And drinking. Several of the groups were dancing in circles around crates of beer. They would open a beer and pass around the beer and a plastic cup. Pour some beer in the cup, drink it down, fling out the foam on the ground, then pass the bottle and cup to the next person. When the bottle was done, they put the empty in the case and opened the next bottle.  When their particular band stopped playing, everyone would go off to a grassy area to find a place to pee!

All ages were there, from little kids to old men and women. They have this particular dance where they spin from one side to the other and their skirts spin out. Many people were dancing (or playing in the bands) and there were many people watching too. I don't think I saw too many tourists there, but I also didn't feel like I stuck out as a tourist. That is, no one stared at me or made me feel like I was out of place. They sort of took my presence for granted...or they were partying too much to think about me - or the rest of us - being there at all!

It's hard to describe just how insanely loud the square was. The seven brass bands were playing at top volume and someone was playing some random music on loudspeakers and there were drums and noise makers. I noticed kids with aerosol cans spraying something at passersby and dancers. It seemed a little like silly string, but not quite. I got a look at a box of the stuff later - it was fake snow!  They were using it like silly string, spraying it at each other, kids chasing each other around with it. Wow. I'm sure that is not good stuff to get in your eyes or face...and a weird thing to have there. Some kids got me with it at one point when I left the square.  

Our small group met up with the rest of the tour and Ruben explained that we could either climb up to the peak of the island (Pacha Mama or Pacha Tata) or we could hang out in the square. Either way our host families would come to the square to collect us around 6pm.  It was around 3 at the time.  I decided I was tired enough and it sounded way too strenuous to climb the island, so I stuck around in the square. (Susan decided to climb the island.)  I just watched the dancers and listened to the music for awhile. At one point I thought about going back and went part way (this is when I got sprayed with the snow by some kids). Then I went back to the square for some more. I finally thought my ear drums might explode, so I decided to head "home."  I had to pass through a narrow area and there were a couple older kids spraying everyone with the fake snow. I braced myself for it. They saw me and I heard them giggling about the tourist, but they didn't get me with the snow. Phew!

I found my way through the fields back to Mama Sophia's. I sat in my room for a few minutes and then Sebastian poked his head in. We tried to have a little conversation, but he only speaks Spanish of  course and I couldn't tell everything he was saying. Finally he just motioned me to follow him. I followed him and he took me down to the guinea pig house. We spend some time there with him trying to catch one so I could pet it. I jokingly asked him if they had names, though I knew that wouldn't be the case. This was a food source for them! Then I told him I'd seen a big yellow guinea pig running around outside their enclosure. We went outside and just then I saw the yellow one running away to it's hiding spot. Sebastian spent some time climbing around in the brush and the stone wall trying to figure out where the yellow guinea pig was hiding. No luck. He led me up past the kitchen building and we looked at hiding spots over there. Then he led me back to the first spot and insisted I climb the stone wall with him and climb into the neighbor's field. I drew the line there. But I stood in the wall and watched him as he hunted around for the guinea pig. 

Then his mom started calling him. Uh oh. I got the sense he was not supposed to be in that field. He came back over and up to his mom. She changed him into a warmer coat and hat, which he seemed to be pretty annoyed about. Ah 6-year-olds, they are the same everywhere! I thought I could try to make him feel better by putting my hat on too. 

We were back in the courtyard with all the rooms. Sebastian set up a game for us to play. We each sat on one side of the courtyard.  It started with Sebastian setting up a bunch of toys by me: a couple chickens, a bear, a dinosaur, an Indian, and a few other random characters. From the other side of the courtyard Sebastian rolled marbles at the toys trying to knock them down. When the marbles were out, I would pick up the toys he knocked over and set them up on his side of the courtyard. Then I took all the marbles he'd rolled to my side and roll them back, trying to knock down the toys. We did this over and over for what seemed like hours. It was ridiculous and pretty fun.  Sebastian seemed to have a ton of fun. Mama Sophia came out and watched us for awhile and seemed to think it was pretty funny.  I finally called an end to it because it was getting too dark to see. 

We did another brief "game" where I got a little squishy ball wet in a bucket of water and used it to write things on the courtyard - mostly our names. Then I had him lie down on the ground and I traced his shape onto the pavement. He got a big kick out of that. It was finally too dark to see anything and then it was time for dinner. Mama Sophia had made another lovely meal.  Sebastian literally fell asleep leaning up against a table in the corner!

The party in the town square was still going on. We asked how long it would go on, and Ruben (who had stopped by for dinner) said probably till midnight or so. These folks know how to party! Unfortunately it started raining and that put the damper on most of the revelers. 

Mama Sophia cooking breakfast in the dining/kitchen house.

Guinea pigs!

More views from that first gorgeous day on Amantani.

Here's a view of the house from Sophia's garden.  Kitchen house on the left, then the two two-story tourist housing buildings on the right. Our room was the one in the center on the bottom. 
Another reason we were lucky in our housing: there were plenty of blankets on our beds. We wore lots of clothes, sweaters, and hats, and were actually pretty comfortable. We heard folks staying elsewhere didn't sleep well because they were so cold. It did get down to the upper 30s overnight!  In the middle of the night Susan and I both woke up to use the bathroom.  The rain had stopped and the sky was absolutely clear and there were tons of stars and a crescent moon. I stayed out staring at the sky until I was too cold and then went back in to bed.

We were up early the next morning for a yummy breakfast of Amantani-style pancakes - sort of a cross between American pancakes and crepes.  We walked down to the dock to our boat and headed around the island to pick up the rest of the tour. 

Heading back down.

Crops everywhere, right up to within a couple yards of the lake. 
It was the dawn of our last full day in Peru, and we had one last stop: Taquile Island. 

Below is the best shot I got of one of our boat captains, industriously knitting a hat with the tiniest knitting needles and most intricate pattern I've ever seen. I was pretty impressed to see a guy doing this...but then I learned more about the men from Taquile Island and I understood. More info in the next, and last, post!

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