Manuel met me at the hotel early this morning and we took a local limousine - a man-powered tricycle cart - down to the dock. There were lots of stands set up selling goods, so you could buy things there to take as gifts if you were doing a homestay. I had brought some colored pencils and sunscreen from home, and bought some bananas there to share. We set out in a motorboat for the Uros Islands, which are the man-made "floating" islands. There are about 30 in total, and tours visit only a couple of these. We visited two separate islands. We learned about how the islands are built, and were even given a reed to eat! It tasted a lot like . . . reed. A boy and his sister then gave us a ride in a reed boat to the next floating island.
From the Uros Islands, we set out in our motorboat for a 3-hour ride to the land island of Amantani. Amantani is known as the female island, in part because most men leave to work in Puno or Cusco at a young age, while females stay on and run the homes and farms. Amantani Island was beautifully green and terraced - a mountainous peak rising from the waters of Lake Titicaca. The women in full traditional dress met us at the dock and took each of us to their homes for the nights. The wonderful thing about Amantani is that they have control over the tourism allowed on their island. Each family in the 8 different communities takes a turn accepting people into their homes, and I was overwhelmed by their graciousness and hospitality. My hostess was Velma, who I learned was 20. Amantani is a Quechua-speaking island, but some members of the younger generations have learned a bit of Spanish. It is really amazing how much can be communicated even when you don't speak the same language. The homes are very, very rustic - they are made of mud brick with thatched roofs and earthen floors, but it is certainly an amazing cultural experience. We all met up on the local soccer field for a locals vs. tourists soccer game. Surprisingly, the tourist ranks were bolstered by the arrival of about 5 strapping young lads from the UK who were all talented soccer players, and the tourist team scratched out a narrow victory. I then went with Manuel up the mountain to the ceremonial site of Pachamama, and learned about the three-tiered system of the Andean religion and philosophy. We stayed on the very top for sunset, but headed down as it started to spit a bit of rain. That night Velma dressed me up in full traditional regalia - wool pantaloons, a brightly colored red wool skirt, beautifully embroidered shirt, woven belt and embroidered shawl. My hiking pants and boots looked kind of out of place sticking out of the beautiful clothes they had lent me! We then headed to a cement building for our pena showdown! Two local woodwind bands had a play-off from the opposite corners of the little building, and the locals all took to the floor, dragging one of us along with them. We soon learned the dance steps and were whirling around at a dizzying pace. Much to the amusement of all of the locals, my belt kept coming undone and my skirt falling off - good thing for those hiking pants on underneath! Although I had done surprisingly well with the elevation change, the festivities soon had us all exhausted.