AUGUST 2011 NEWSPAPER COLUMN

BUCKET LIST TRAVEL TALES
ADVENTURE #2


As I left off in my last column we are heading to Amantani Island near the Peruvian- Bolivian border on Lake Titicaca and, after a 3 hour boat ride, we arrive at the very steep island. At an altitude of 3200 metres, and only seeing a pier here at water level, we know an uphill climb is about to start our adventure.

After a Sublime fuel stop (Sublime is the national chocolate bar of Peru), we start our hike up the side of the island. The promise of lunch and meeting our host families awaits us at the top of the island. As we wind our way up and around the side of the island, the views are stunning. Our group sees the sun sparkling off the water with the mountains of Bolivia in the background. The path we followed was quite unique with mosaic rock patterns and gateways every few kilometres. The gates signify passing into a new community, and each community has constructed and decorated the gate and the path in their own unique styles. These paths are the main traffic route on the island so we pass horses, sheep, women dressed in the local costume selling crafts, children going to school, ladies carrying the daily produce and feed for the animals. It was a very colourful journey, which distracted from the lack of oxygen as we climbed closer to 3800 meters and made it a little easier to stop for “photos” whenever we became winded.

We rounded a corner and came into the neat and tidy main square on this side of the island; we were surprised at how quite an empty the area was. We wondered if they were not expecting us or if we were early? As Javier, our local guide, disappeared behind a door, we relaxed and enjoyed the view. Several minutes later, several doors flew open and a few people came rushing out and pointed us in the direction of where they came from. This was one of our host families and our stop for lunch. As in typical Peruvian houses, there was a large multipurpose room on the main floor and a local store in the corner. On the other side, our group was greeted by a long table set with locally made clay dishes, vases of flowers and a cornucopia displaying some of the local fruits and vegetables. Our hosts quickly sent us up the basic wooden stairs to the courtyard so that we could clean up for lunch.

It was a lovely little courtyard, with several bedrooms surrounding it, and we wondered which of us would be staying here. As we went back down for lunch, we were greeted by the family’s energetic and very curious three year old son. This was a perfect opportunity to practise our Spanish, or so we thought. Of course he doesn’t understand a word of Spanish as he speaks Quechua, the native language of the island. The children here won’t learn Spanish until they start school. Our first course for lunch arrives, sliced queso fresco (fresh cheese) with potatoes which proves to be both simple and delicious. The typical round bread that resembles a pita is also on the table. Next is soup, which is a main staple at most Peruvian lunches. We all heartily add a spoonful of ‘Salsa” or chopped red onions and chilli to the bowl; we are quickly learning the ropes.

We are amazed again at how delicious they can make a simple vegetable soup taste. After a steaming hot mug of coca and mint tea to aid in digestion and altitude, we are ready to meet our families and see our new home for the evening.

My roommate and I were paired with a lovely family of four that lived just around the corner from the main square. Our hostess, Eunice, was waiting for us and we were shown into the courtyard and given our choice of rooms. The rooms were clean and simple and we couldn’t have asked for more. We dumped our packs and sat down for a moment to relax and take it all in.

Eunice then showed us the bathroom complete with porcelain flush toilet and shower. Something we were a little baffled at as these islands do not have running water or electricity. They rely mostly on solar panels to provide any lighting or power for them. My travelling companion just happens to work for a solar panel manufacturing company, so our host father was very interested in discussing this. My Spanish skills were put to the test with this topic, and we were very surprised to learn how expensive it is for them; for example, one halogen bulb is at least three times the cost here. To our surprise, also on the island there is a solar powered internet cafe with a fast connection. And it may be hard to believe, but our Blackberries had full service.

After relaxing for a little while and then purchasing some of the beautiful hand knit hats our host mother made, it was time for our group to meet in the main square for a sunset hike to the top of the mountain. We happened to be hiking the night of a full moon, and we made it to the top just in time to see a beautiful sunset over the lake and watch the moon appear. We made offerings to Pacha Mama at the islands Temple of the Sun, shared in a toast and headed back down as it was starting to get chilly and it was almost time for dinner. Our host mom was busy cooking when we returned, and Pamela, her six year old daughter, had returned from school. We had brought gifts for our host family of flour, sugar, rice and oil; we had also stocked up at the dollar store on bubbles, puzzles and crayons. Pamela was quite thrilled with these goodies and we started to work on the puzzles together.

Soon enough, it was time for another delicious dinner cooked over the family hearth. We started with quinoa soup, followed by a vegetable stew over rice; all of which were both filling and delicious. A hot cup of tea ended an enjoyable family meal getting to know our new friends. After dinner, we chatted more about our lives and they shared all about their lives and culture as well. I was lucky enough to have a few quechua lessons, which is our host families first language and I am slowly learning it. Our host father had this great book that the children use and we had a fun language lesson. Before long we realized we were going to be late for the local fiesta, which was being held in our honour. However that is an experience that you can read about next month, or you can join one of our Bucket List Adventures and experience it for yourself.

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