Peru 2014: The floating islands

By Lisa Eurich

First off, I really enjoyed the very short but sweet stay we had at Llachon. The food was delicious (especially the fried cheese for lunch) and the families were very hospitable. I would definitely recommend a homestay at Calixtos hospedaje. Our mamacitas gave us little bouqets of geranium flowers and munyo. Our guide said the scent of munyo will help if we become seasick on our boat ride over to the Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca.

From what I understand, the floating islands are made of water bottles and reeds. Originally the people lived on boats to escape Spaniard rule and spoke a language that is now dead. Today they speak Aymara which sounds a lot like Japanese. Approximately 30 years ago, tour guides had the bright idea that they use bottles to expand their living area to create islands and that’s how we have the floating islands. Another example of how plastic has impacted a society!

We watched a demonstration on how they anchor and build the islands and then we went for a little ride in one of the reed boats. Not only do the reeds provide building material but they are edible as well. They look like giant green onions and when you peel the white root end liek a banana, you can eat the tender inside which was pretty much tasteless but a good source of fiber. We were curious where they went to the bathroom and what happens when you don’t like your neighbor (given there are only 30-35 people on each island). Apparently they just cut off the piece of island they live on and float to another side of the reeds. I suppose this would also be a good way to find a spouse. As for el bano, they have bathroom islands that contain eco-filters that they must boat to. Oh gee! I thought to myself, Glad we’re not staying here tonight!!

We had another rustic home stay tonight but this time we were staying on Isla Taquile. We would be slightly higher in elevation than last night and the highest for the entire trip. Taquile is a rock island and its inhabitants are konwn for their weaving skills. The men wear different colored hats that they make and which portray their marital status. We were told that when a man falls in love with a woman he gives her his “I’m single” hat and she takes it home to her family so they can test his skills. They do this by putting water in the hat and if the weaving is tight and right it shouldn’t leak. So, as the story goes, you don’t want a leaky hat.

For lunch we had quinoa soup and Canadian trout which is an invasive species that was introduced to Lake Titicaca many years ago and is now a dominant species so the locals eat a lot of it. As always, the food was delicious or in Quechua, “sumaq”. I enjoy speaking the few phrases I’ve learned because it brings a big smile from the locals. After lunch a few of us went for a walk in hopes of finding the market or town plaza. We followed the rock path that was built specifically for tourists in 2012 and goes from one end of the island to the other. We passed many sheep along the way and came upon a construction crew expending the path up a hill. I said “Illyenpencho” which is Quechua for hello but they just stared at us.

Shortly after we came upon a school with several buildings and a large field for soccer. Further beyond on the next hillside there were many buildings that we assumed were the main plaza. There was a little store that we peaked in to ask is places were open. We learned it was not and then discovered the store had beer so we purchased a bomber size bottle of Brahma beer for five soles. Sweet!! This was the best deal on beer we’ve come across and a nice drink for the walk back to our casas. This time when we passed the construction crewa man called out “Hello!” to us and several people waved. I guess we looked friendlier with the beer in our hands. Dinner was ready when we returned which was maize soup (that looked a lot like the quinoa soup) and veggies and rice. I love spicey food so I put a lot of picante in my soup and rice. The picante in Peru has always been very fresh and “muy rico”.

After dinner we gathered around the bonfire which is very fragrant because they burn eucalyptus branches. The men played traditional flutes and drums while we danced with the women by circling the fire as we spun. After a few songs we then sang to them a few American songs. They told us our visit would stay in their hearts forever and they hoped we would someday return to Taquile. I thanked them in Quechua “Uuspagadasoolkie” and everyone chuckled and gave us a big smile. Our host, Valentine, walked us home so we wouldn’t get lost in the dark night. The stars were so bright in the clean air and the moon looked like a cup. I would like to think it was a cup running over with joy and gratitude.

I love the fact that a place like this still exists. A simple place of love and respect with people who will open their hearts and homes to strangers like me and yet hold fast to their traditions. I am so grateful to have this unique experience and to share our very different cultures with joy and appreciation. I will sleep well tonight!