Living like a local on Lake Titicaca … trying say that three times at super speed.
Lake Titicaca is big-ass lake shared by Peru and Bolivia. To get to the Lake from the Peruvian side you have to travel to Puno, which I did from Cusco and it was a rather pleasant seven hour drive (one of my shorter bus journeys of my South America trip, would you believe it?)
There are loads of different tours of the Lake you can take – all available to book in Puno the day before, usually through your hostel or hotel – but I had prebooked myself onto a two day tour of the Lake as I was keen to do both a visit to the Floating Islands AND a homestay on Island Amantani. And oh boy – what an experience.
Starting the trip bright and early I was up at 6am, ready and waiting at my hostel reception to be picked up at 7am. But of course in typical Peruvian tour-guide style nothing was organised properly and I wasn’t picked up until 8.10am. Eventually I was on the boat for 9am, but not before being taken to a shop and told to buy gifts for the families we were staying with.
If I’d known we were expected to take gifts I would have made an effort to buy them something nice, some chocolates or a bottle of red, instead we were given five minutes to look around a convenience store with very limited options (I say convenience store, it was pretty much a stall at the dock so there wasn’t much looking around to be done). In the end I went for a bag of rice and two bags of skittles. Like I said, limited choice.
Before heading over to Island Amanti to meet the families, we visited the Uros on the Floating Islands.
Next stop, Isle Amantani to meet our Mamma’s and Pappa’s who would be looking after us for the next 18 hours.
The idea of staying with a local family can seem quite scary and daunting, I had no idea what to expect. But it ended up being such an incredible experience, one that really opens your eyes to a whole other culture, a whole other world. Living in hostels, playing beer pong, of course that is all part of the backpacking fun. But these types of unique encounters with local communities is exactly what I wanted to experience on this trip.
Our boat pulled up to the beautiful Island of Amantani mid-afternoon, by which point it had turned into a scorcher of a day. Little Backpacks in tow, we climbed off our boat and plodded over to the area where a group of men and women where lined up. Like a boy-girl segregation at a school disco, we all lined up on one side whilst the locals (all dressed in traditional Peruvian clothing) lined up on the other. Our tour guide then read out all our names, grouping us off with different Mamma’s & Pappa’s. I had come on this excursion with two Norwegian girls, Camilla and Julia, who I had met in Aguas Calilentes (that’s Machu Picchu town) a few days earlier, so I was grouped off with them. Okay, so we basically made our tour guide put us together, but he didn’t seem to mind.
We were to stay at the home of Julian and his wife Lucilla. They didn’t speak any English so Thank the Lord I wasn’t on my own as my Spanish wasn’t so great at this point (Lo siento/I’m sorry being pretty much the only Spanish phrase I had successfully mastered – typical Brit). Luckily, Camilla had pretty awesome Spanish skills so we were all set. Off we began on our little trek to their home; us three breathing awkwardly thanks to a combination of heat and altitude, whilst Lucilla tottered along in her sandals, knitting a garment of clothing as she walked up hill, wearing multiple layers and not even breaking a sweat.
The home of Julian & Lucilla was beautiful. It reminded me of some sort of French farm you would see on Build A New Life in the Country Abroad; a gorgeous rustic home with a courtyard in the middle and little crop fields outside. The three of us were taken to our room before lunch and we were delighted to see big beautiful comfy beds with layer upon layer of alpaca blankets. I wasn’t sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this.
Lunch was served up in Lucilla’s kitchen and THAT was certainly interesting. Stepping into the kitchen I felt like I was stepping back in time. Just look at how charming and rustic it is, the pots, the pans, everything …
When I initially walked into the kitchen, the OCD part of my brain did begin to panic about how hygienic food prep was here – Is it clean? Where is the food stored? – but the yummy aroma of Lucilla’s cooking quickly pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind, not to mention Lucilla’s very strict rule of making sure we all washed our hands.
The kitchen may have been mega old school, but there were no modern day appliances needed. Lucilla cooked up a real tasty lunch for us that didn’t disappoint. The conversation got a little awkward when the couple asked us why none of us were married or had any children. It’s a good thing I didn’t speak Spanish as I would have no doubt gone on one of my rants about how not everyone gets married and settles down.
We were also served Muna Tea, a Peruvian tea that is mint-like and tastes delicious. I’m not a huge herbal tea drinker, but I love peppermint tea, so this was right up my street.
After lunch, with bellies bulging with food, Lucilla walked us up the hill to a meeting point where we would be meeting the rest of our group and our tour guide for a hike upto Mount Pachamama. FYI – we only really saw Julian at meal times, it’s tradition for the woman of Isle Amantani to do all the cooking, cleaning and look after the guests. I did kind of feel sorry for Lucilla, she didn’t say much and it seemed her whole life revolved around looking after her husband and doing chores. But then who was I to judge? She could be looking at me thinking the same thing, feeling sorry for the life I was living, for not having a man to cook and clean for. That’s what this whole experience was about – I was there to see how these people lived, they were there to show me. And in return they learnt about our lives and how different we are. They asked us questions about our jobs, our homes, our travels. As Tim Burton wisely said “One person’s normal is another person’s crazy”
The Hike upto Mount Pachamamma was hard work, not necessarily because it was steep or rocky, but just because the altitude makes it hard to breathe normally. But it was worth it to get to the top and watch the sunset from 4,000 feet. It’s also tradition to build a pile of rocks at the top, and with these rocks you make a wish to Mother Earth, which we of course did. But as the sun began to tuck itself away for the night, you could feel the cool air creeping up on you and soon enough it was scarves and jackets on.
That night we headed to the local discotheque, yup you read that right. A disco. Lucilla dressed us up in traditional Peruvian gear (we looked dead sexy, just sayin’) and took us to a hall where a local band played Peruvian music. Beers were served for us tourists (although we also snuck some rum in our bags) and we danced the night away.
… or danced for like an hour. Island parties on Lake Titicaca aren’t as crazy as they are in other parts of the world. There was to be no all-night-raving for us. But we were happy to leave at 9.30pm as we had to be up at 6am. So we said Goodnight and took our rum up to our room for a cheeky nightcap. And that was the end of the night.
Or maybe not.
We may have accidentally locked our host out of her own house *hangs head in shame*
With the toilet being outside (as in outside near the crop fields, not outside in the courtyard) we had to keep popping outdoors to use the loo and it seems there was some confusion about whether the gate was locked. We thought it was locked, so we locked it back up, not realising Lucilla had gone back to the hall to tidy up.
The worst part was, as she banged on the gate door to be let in, shouting in Spanish, we didn’t know it was her and in a panic, thinking someone was trying to break in, we closed our door and hid! We actually hid!
Poor Lucilla, she spent all day treating us like royalty, cooking for us, cleaning up after us, chaperoning us to a disco – and then we go and lock her out!
The next morning, bright and early (and in a somewhat slightly awkward atmosphere) Lucilla served up breakfast. Pancakes. I was in heaven. I not only ate my own, but I scoffed Camilla and Julia’s when they were too full to eat theirs.
Lucilla walked us to the dock at around 7am so we could catch our boat and we said Goodbye. I wanted to hug her and say Thank you a thousand times over for her hospitality, but I didn’t want to scare this lovely timid woman, so a handshake and a few ‘Muchos Gracias Senora’ seemed appropriate.
The rest of the day was spent hiking and lunching on the Island of Taquile, taking in breath-taking views, walking around Inca ruins and enjoying the sun, before eventually heading back to the mainland of Puno.
What an experience!
I’d love to hear about a homestay you have done, let me know in the comments below or leave a link to your write up of the experience (hopefully you didn’t lock anyone out).
And please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions about my Homestay experience by either commenting, tweeting, or emailing me.