With a description such as “the tallest navigable lake in world in the Andes Mountains”, it is tempting to believe that Lake Titicaca is an idyllic pollutant free mass of calm water. However, looking at the water around the Uros Islands in the Bay of Puno, the impression is more like a dumpy river bank in an industrial town. Luckily, the idyllic descriptor started taking over as we left the bay and entered the less frequently traveled part of the lake. Here the water was that perfect blend of blue and green and the mountain scenery continued to mesmerize me.
I didn’t get snapped back to reality until we made our final approach to Amantani, the second island we were to visit on this tour and the one where we would spend the night with a local family. I was disappointed to see that it was actually a real island and not a floating one. After visiting Uros, I had gotten my hopes up about sleeping on what I was imagining to be, a giant waterbed. I was also slightly embarrassed with my ignorance in assuming that all of the islands were floaters. However, my disappointment and humility soon dissipated after stepping onto the sturdy island and joining another traveler, Jane, to meet our host family for lunch. After hiking up the slightest elevation, one was already presented with a glorious view that was a perfect mix of rugged mountains, serene waters and plenty of sunshine.
As we entered the house and were shown to our room for the evening, I experienced my second shattered expectation for the weekend. The house itself was a lot swankier than I had originally imagined and the beds were actually nicer than those in most hostels I’ve stayed in. When I was told, “stay with a local family”, I was gearing myself up for some very rustic conditions and was already patting myself on the back for being able to rough it. This setup however, would earn me no street cred amongst the backpacker crown. The one saving grace for me though was the toilet bowl you had to pour water down to flush. I’m sure I’ll have more opportunities in the future to sleep on bouncy reed beds.
The Hike to Pachatata
After lunch with our families, we headed to the main square in town to meet for a leisurely hike up the island to watch the sunset. On the Quechua inhabited island of Amantani, there are two main peaks, Pachatata and Pachamama, which mean “Father Earth” and “Mother Earth” respectively. We climbed up Pachatata, which turned out to be one of the most grueling hikes I’ve done to date. Though honestly, I can’t tell you whether it was grueling because, it was a really steep climb or because I’m getting old and I’m miserably out of shape. I like to joke about how out of shape I am and my stubborn refusal to join a gym, but this hike left me seriously reconsidering the addition of just the slightest bit of exercise to my routine.
The reward for my exertions was well worth the effort though. From the peaks, one could see both Perú and Bolivia. I stole away from the crowds to have some quiet time and meditate for a little while. I’m pretty sure I was chilled to the bone at this point, but the breeze on my face felt amazing after the long hike. Before I left the U.S., Tanyatook me through the first level of Reiki to help me wipe my slate of emotions clean and mentally prepare me this trip. The breeze on my face felt exactly what I imagined as she described the train ride down a dark tunnel and I spent the next 15 or so minutes going through the seven chakras. I like this mind exercise. It focuses my brain power just long enough to derail my train of thoughts from whatever stressful destination in which they were heading. And somehow, this all works much better when you’re at the top of a mountain rather than your bedroom.
The Fiesta for the Tourists
After our hike and dinner with the families, the final event of the day was a “traditional” fiesta in the community building with music, drinking, dancing and more gringos dressed up in traditional Peruvian clothing. When the mother-daughter of the host family offered clothing for me and Jane to dress up in, I was still feeling bitter about earlier events in the day, and politely but firmly declined the offer. I really didn’t believe that I would actually miss out on an “authentic” experience simply by not wearing the same clothes as everyone else. She didn’t push the matter though, which led me to believe she wouldn’t have tried to hustle me for money later on, but as I said, I really didn’t feel like I missed out on anything.
We arrived at the fiesta fashionably late with our host father as the rest of the crowd were already tapping into their first beers and engrossed in a fast-paced circle dance. We quickly joined in and while I normally enjoy this type of fun dancing, I wanted nothing more than to sit back and enjoy a cold beer before going to bed. The day was long and the unexpectedly steep hike stripped away any impulses I had left to frolic about the place. I actually quite enjoyed the people watching aspect of this event. There probably about 30 other tourists that night and it was actually kind of nice to be amongst fellow travelers again. The gringo guys were probably the most entertaining. They were dressed in giant ponchos and had no rhythm so they ended up looking like a bunch of frolicking stoners with forties in their hands.
After the party wound down, our host father brought us home and we walked along the tiny streets with nothing but a flashlight and the moonlight to guide our way. Before calling it a night, I enjoyed one last view from the island gazing up the stars. I think this was legitimately the first time I had seen a starry sky in the southern hemisphere and wanted to savor the moment.