As they see the boats coasting in towards their island homes they race to get themselves ready to greet their white faced visitors. They sit patiently along the shores of this lake, nestled in the middle of the Andean Ranges of the mountains at 3810 meters above sea lever, dressed in finely sewn white blouses, multi-layered thick black skirts. They fling black shawls with intricately weaved designs stitched in bright colours of red, yellow, blue, and purple. As they wait they weave feverishly chullos (wool beanies) to give to their wide eyed guests. As the strangers arrive to the island
their white teeth grin wide as they greet them with giggles and quick jokes under their breaths in Quechua. They happily shake the hands of the arriving intruders to Amantani Island and guide them up the steep hills to their humble houses.
At their houses, built from red earth adobe bricks, there are rooms specifically put together for tourists. Lights lit by efficient solar power, local decorations, and heavy Alpaca wool blankets occupy the space of the rooms. The rest of the house is more basic. The walkways are pieced together by plywood and creaking nails. There is no running water, and the toilets – yes there are toilets – are flushed by dumping a bucket of water into the basin. The smokey kitchen is based by a dirt floor. The clay-made oven is filled with sticks of locally cultivated shrubs, and topped by iron pots and pans. A Lake Titicaca homestay has become more than a travel experience, it is an experience in life as a rural Peruvian.
Before dinner visitors are given the option of joining the local soccer matches, or climbing to the top of the Island (4100m) to enjoy the sunset. Although those who climb will be rewarded with a great sunset, how often do you get a chance to mix it up on the soccer field at 4000 meters above sea level? The games generally start out calm, and sometimes the visitors take a lead early in the game. However, as the altitude begins to suck the life from unaccustomed gringos, the locals usually pull away and finish off with an inspired victory.
As groups sit down to eat they are generally amazed at the food that can be presented to them in their homes here on the World’s highest navigable lake. Although the generally food consumption of locals is completely vegetarian, it is not without a fix for your taste buds. The two course meal starts with a potato and vegetable soup using local spicing and all locally cultivated products. The main course consists of rice and a potato pasta filled with vegetables. The fine meal is finished by a cup of the delicious mint flavoured Munay Tea which is famous in the Andes of South America.
Following dinner the entertained guests are dressed in the traditional garb and brought our for a night of dancing at what the locals call the IncaTec. There is no Lake Titicaca homestay that is complete without a dance. The host wont let their giggling guests sit for a second as they grab them with their dry worn hands and drag them to the dance floor for one of the 15 minute songs – which can obviously be a challenge at nearly 4000 meters above the ocean’s tides. The band plays and signs away at their pan flutes, drums, and guitars with rhythm and character as fit foreigners try to keep up to their host family mothers, sisters and fathers.
As guests rest their head’s down for the night they are often shocked by the calm that exists here on Amantani Island. Here there is no rush of traffic, no blaring music and, really, no noise at all. The only light that works its way into the rooms is brought by the stars and moon that seem to shine brighter here than anywhere else. The calm is eery at first, and then it has a way of nostalgically bringing visitors a romantic sensation of a world of ease, tranquillity, and simplicity.
When morning arrives, and visitors are awoken by the piercing light that pushes over the glimmering waters of the lake around 6am guests often look out at a shining world of water that surrounds them in awe. They work their way down towards their anchored vessel after a pancake breakfast, ready to make their retreat for a land more recognizable. But as they do so, most feel as though they’ve been there for weeks. And although they only met their host families the day before, they often hug goodbye as if they were long lost friends or re-united relatives. The bright faced ladies wave fiercely as the boat begins to fade off
into the horizon, and the guests on board wave back just as excitedly. Amantani Island is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Peru, but what will keep drawing people back to this island haven isn’t the scenery, it’s the beautiful people who greet visitors into their homes with arms wide open, fully willing to offer every little bit of what they have to offer.