This morning I eat a fantastic breakfast--the Q'elqatani cooks eggs to order!--and then get picked up, along with several other travelers from various hotels in the city, to be transferred to the Puno dock. Before we board the boat we have a chance to buy fruit for our host families on Amantani Island. We make our way to the end of the dock where several small boats are waiting. Our group clambers aboard one boat--there are 13 of us, plus a guide. We take off across the blue expanse of water.
We stop at the floating reed islands of the Uros people. The islands are made of the piled up and lashed together reeds that grow along the shores of the lake. Their houses and kitchen buildings and even some of their boats are made of these same reeds. It's strange to think that I am standing on a man-made island of thin reeds. The people are colorfully dressed. One woman takes me into her small, spare home. It is one room, but very clean and neat. She grabs a dress and hat from a pile in the corner, and helps me to put them on. I am several inches taller than most of the Uros people, and the dress is too short. My hiking boots look very classy beneath it, I'm sure. The woman asks me if I am married. "No, estoy soltera," I tell her. She braids my hair and begins attaching some brightly-colored bobbles to the ends. Apparently the number (or perhaps the color?) of the bobbles signifies a woman's marital status. I walk back outside to see that the other tourists are similarly garbed. We laugh and take pictures of each other before extracting ourselves from the colorful costumes. Then it's back to the boat for the next two to three hours across the open blue water of Lake Titicaca.
I sit up on the top deck, letting the wind blow my hair and the sun dazzle my eyes. Snow-capped mountains show faintly purple in the distance--Bolivian mountains, on the far side of the lake. I remember the report I wrote on Bolivia in 5th grade, remember learning about Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. At 11, I never dreamed that one day I'd be skimming across the high waters I read about in the encyclopedia.
An island looms to our right, and another, larger, to our left. It is the larger island, Amantani, to which we are headed. We disembark and make our way along a stone path up the side of the hill. Several men and women from the island are waiting for us--our host parents! We are divvied up; my papa is named Teodoro. He leads me further up the steep path to his home. There are no cars on the island, no wide roads, only these stone paths making their way through the communities.
Teodoro's home is much larger than I expected. I am led to a room with three beds, all covered with thick blankets, as it gets very cold here. He leaves me to rest and settle in before lunch, and I test out each bed to find the most comfortable. Later, the youngest son, Brian, comes in to wake me up, while the oldest son, John, brings me a sumptuous lunch--soup fried cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, and muna tea. After lunch we hike up to the local school to meet up with the rest of our boat group for a brief explanation of Amantani Island culture and history. Then, as the sun slips down the sky, we are free to hike up to the top of the island to visit the Pachatata (earth father) temple and watch the sunset. A half moon rises in the east over the darkening horizon, and the lake spreads out below, glimmering in the fading light. As the stars come out I walk slowly back down the hill to where Teodoro and Brian are waiting to lead me back to their home.
We eat dinner in the small, dirt-floored kitchen, a candle-lit room warm from the fire. Filimena, the mama, has made a delicious meal and I eat it eagerly. We talk a little--as much as my broken Spanish will allow--about our lives. After dinner, Filimena leads me to another room to dress me in local garb--this seems to be the popular thing to do around Lake Titicaca! She gives me two skirts, a shirt, a hat, and shawl, and the layers feel good against the night's cold. We all walk down to a large community building, where many of the other tourists are waiting, similarly dressed. A band begins playing lively music, and my hands are grabbed by a tiny Amantani man and I am led into the whirling dance. Most of the tourists are not terribly talented, but we have fun anyway, dancing around the crowded room, then holding hands in a long wavery circle and dancing outside around a flickering bonfire that throws up sparks into the dark night. I stumble a bit along the uneven ground, but am steadied by the hands holding mine on either side. Suddenly, I am exhausted, and Teodoro appears as if by magic to lead me back to the house. I go to bed immediately, snuggling under the thick wool blankets, and sleep better than I have this whole trip.