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Amantani, Taquile, and Puno

Valeria knocked at our door at 6:50. While we were getting ready she brought breakfast to the room: potatoes, hard boiled egg, bread, and muna tea. We went downstairs and said goodbye to Elias. We got a picture of him and Valeria in the courtyard. He gave us their address and asked us to recommend them to others. We certainly will, as they were the perfect hosts! We plan to send them photos that we took while on Amantani. Valeria walked us down to the dock (it was much easier going down the mountain with our packs than it had been going up) We gave her some Tic Tacs and she seemed quite happy. She shook our hands at the dock and we got a photo with her. We boarded the boat and the women stood on the dock and waved to us. The boat left at 8:20 for Taquile, and we waved to Valeria as we pulled away. We talked to some of the other tourists, and it seemed that they had a much different experience than we had. Some of them just stayed in their rooms the entire time and their meals were dropped off by the families. Some of them didn't even eat the food. We were quite thankful for our experience, because it was truly magical. These people are authentic and generous. In this particular village in Amantani, they have only had tourists for the past four years, and it is strictly regulated, which keeps it more pure. The main village in Amantani has had tourists for many more years. Sitting in the kitchen with Valeria and Elias was wonderful. We were able to communicate and laugh together. We were able to see how they go about their lives in such a simple manner, taking care of the necessities. And they are just so genuine and happy. There is a lot to be admired about the inhabitants of Amantani Island, and we hope to return there again sometime. We hope that it remains as unspoiled as it was on this trip.

We arrived at Taquile Island at around 9, and took an hour hike to the top of the island. We got a great view of Amantani in the distance, and saw how high Pachamama is...we hiked that! We felt really proud. It was sunny and cool, so it was a nice hike, although steep. We arrived at the top of the mountain where the Plaza de Armas was. We bought some chocolate, Oreos, etc. and browsed in the cooperative shops. Taquile's main industry is tourism. There were some beautiful items in coop, but they were expensive (150 soles for a tapestry). Luckily Carlos had told us that the best place to by woven tapestries is Puno, so we held off). Henry explained to us about some of the native crafts. We went into a nice, candle-lit chapel, and then into a small Taquile musem. Quite a few children asked for money and candy here, a side effect of the tourism industry.

We took a short hike to the restaurant. Craig got the all inclusive meal (quinoa soup, fried kingfish, french fries, rice, and tea for 10 soles.) I wasn't all that hungry (altitude) so I got just the fried kingfish, french fries, and rice for 8 soles, and a Fanta. After lunch, we used the restroom (the only real pit toilet we encountered, outside of Amantani). As we were walking back into the restaurant, a young man approached us and asked if we were the Smiths. It was Vidal! He apologized for being late: he had been on a bus to Puno that had broken down in the middle of nowhere. His cell phone battery died and there was no public phone service. He couldn't get in touch with us nor could he contact Milagros. When a new bus came along, only the women and children were allowed to go first, so he had to wait yet again. He arrived in Puno around 8:30 on the morning that we departed...just minutes after our boat had left. So he stayed in Puno overnight and then caught the first boat to Taquile to meet us the next morning. It was amazing that he met us there, and we were quite impressed. We walked with Vidal down 540 steps to the docks. A supply ship had just gotten in, and the locals were carrying supplies up the steps. We couldn't believe it when we saw an old man carrying a Singer pedal sewing machine and its table on his back up 540 steps!! We boarded our boat and left the island at around 12:55. We spoke to Jeroen and Sascha from the Netherlands on the ride back to Puno. There are some of the Uros floating reed islands where they do not like tourists. The tourist boats drive by but do not stop there. In fact, our boat had driven through just a week before. Apparently the inhabitants don't even like the boats driving by, because they started building a new island right in the boat's path! We and another boat got stuck, and it took some negotiating (and all of us to stand in the back of the boat) to get free.

We arrived in Puno about 3.5 hours after leaving Taquile. Vidal got us a cab and we went back to the Q'Elqatani hotel. We took an hour to shower and freshen up and then met Vidal in the lobby. He asked what we wanted to do. We said we wanted to change money and buy a woven tapestry. We went to a money change house, which gave us a better rate than the banks. However, as we had known, U.S. bills need to be pristine in order to be accepted. Our bills had started out pristine, but took a bit of a beating. One $20 had a very tiny tear in the corner (no paper missing, just a little tiny rip) and they would not change it. They tried to negotiate and offered us the equivalent of $19. We said no thanks and kept that bill. But other than that changing money was easy. We walked through the gorgeous Plaza de Armas, and then Vidal took us to a small market to look for tapestries. They didn't have the kind I wanted, so he took us to a larger market. It wasn't a touristic market, and I found a woman selling blankets. Higher quality blankets cost 25 soles. (Compare to 150 soles for very high quality on Taquile). We bought a green one for our living room wall. We also bought a pink one for Craig's mom and a blue one for my mom. We went to another small market and got hats and gloves for 5 soles each (the hats were supposed to be 6 but she gave us a deal). We went into a gift shop and bought some more souvenirs for us and our family. They claimed to take Visa, and we tried to use it, since we didn't want to spend our cash. They had a manual credit card slider, but it wasn't calibrated, so it didn't make the imprint. The clerk ended up rubbing it over the carbon paper with a pen for the imprint to come out. It took a long time. Then she ran down the street to call in the credit card over the phone. She came back and said it had been rejected (she must have just gotten the number wrong, as we were able to use the card later in the trip), so we just sucked it up and used cash. Would have done that from the get-go if we had known. Then Vidal asked where we wanted to eat and we told him to choose someplace he likes. We walked inside a restaurant and saw Jeroen and Sascha, and they invited us to join them. We had some great conversation and a lot of laughs. Craig had alpaca en vino and I had a vegetarian lasagna (in its own little crock in a red sauce with lots of cheese). At around 9:20 we said goodbye and headed back to the hotel. Before falling asleep we flipped through the channels and came across "The Osbournes" (a show we never had a chance to see at home). The funnist thing was that it was completely uncensored. The audio track was in English, and the f-word was flying. They only censored the Spanish subtitling.

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