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Homestay and Soccer on Amantani Island

The next day, we woke with an eagerness for more ham, eggs, fruits and Peruvian coffee. After quaffing our fill, we loaded into a cart attached to a bicycle and hurtled through the streets of Puno. The dock was choked with tiny shops and a spattering of boats and tourists. We purchased some rice and flour for our future host family on Amantani­. We also met our guide for the Lake Titicaca portion, a young man with an aquiline nose and a pleasant smile. He introduced us to our boat: a wooden contraption with benches to sit on in the shade and an open deck on top. I was looking forward to a voracious sunburn.

We motored slowly to islands made of reeds, where the Uros people live and work year-round. The islands were spongy under my feet. The local women were selling their colorful goods, and small children ogled us as their schoolmaster lectured them in Quechuan. We took a small ride on one of the slim reed boats the people here use, and visited a few of the islands. We got to know some of the other people on our boat. My brother had already decided on the cutest (the two Australians). I listened to him flirt and enjoyed the sunshine.

It took a couple of hours to motor to Amantani­, and I dozed on and off as J.P., with his endless energy and guitar-playing, charmed the masses (our local affiliate, hearing my brother was a professional guitarist, provided him with a guitar for the ride). "Hey, Romeo" I said, "I'm trying to sleep here." He took the guitar to the upper deck, and most people followed. I was free to nap in the shade and enjoy the slow journey. The lake was endless, disappearing into the high Bolivian mountains on one side and into the horizon on the other.

We reached Amantani­. Children were playing on the rock beach, and women awaited us in their vibrant garments, fingers busily knitting. There were only younger boys and a few older men on the islands. Later, our guide would explain that Amantani­ is known as "The Isle of Women", as most men, after marrying, go to Puno or even Lima in order to make a better income. Women become the farmers, the harvesters, the chefs, the seamstresses, the homemakers, and humbly accept whatever money their husbands send home to them. Usually, our guide said, the husbands take another wife in Puno or Lima. They have two lives: their city life, their island life.

We met our hostess and followed her up to her small white home, which overlooked perhaps one of the most gorgeous views in all of Peru (of which there are many!) -- terraced farmland sweeping toward the glittering blue of the lake. It was remote and rustic and untouched by American capitalism: no televisions sets, no indoor plumbing. The family was one of the few that had a father present: he spoke Spanish (one of the few, most speak Quechuan), and we chatted with him about George Bush's latest blunders. I was surprised at how versed he was in recent politics, and found out that he frequents Puno for work. We were served the most delicious soup in the world and an egg tortilla that I devoured wolfishly. I had been warned that the food would be plain, but the meals tasted better than anything I had ever eaten. Maybe it was the elevation. The tea, made with coca leaves a mint-like herb that grows wild on the islands, was also fantastic. The coca gave me a kick in the pants that I desperately needed.

We reunited with our guide and our group and hiked up the trail to the city center: a cement futbol field (soccer, everyone, not American football) that doubled as a basketball court. The elevation made the five-minute hike feel like ten hours, but I couldn’t help but join in on the tourists versus locals soccer game. I was the only girl that played. Everyone else lined the benches. J.P. and I grew up in the Northwest playing soccer (we both started when we were 8), and were ready to boast our talent. Of course, despite the tourists winning 3-0 for the first ten minutes, we had lost 5-3 when the game ended 20 minutes in. The locals were patient, waiting for the effects of the elevation to settle in fully. Intelligent move. Team Gringo was exhausted almost immediately.

After the game, we hiked to the top of the mountain on Amantani to watch the sunset.

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