The bus dropped us off at the terminal in Puno around 5:30 in the morning after a bumpy, cold 7-hour night journey from Cusco. Half-asleep and sufficiently dazed, we stumbled off the bus, grabbed our bags, and walked aimlessly for a few minutes until we were approached by a man trying to sell us a tour. Normally, I would graciously decline the solicitation in favor of exploring more options, but the man offered shelter from the cold and information that could help us learn about the area.
Ten minutes later, the salesman did his job and convinced us to book an overnight homestay with a local family on Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru. Lake Titicaca – the highest commercially navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet – boasts a majestic, deep blue color that enchants the soul. The lake is shared by Peru and Bolivia and was believed to be the genesis of the world to the Inca people. Today, Lake Titicaca remains an important spiritual place to the indigenous people living on and around the lake.
I’m convinced we took the slowest boat in Puno in route to our destination. I had to continually urge “Timmy the Tugboat” to keep pushing forward as other boats sped past us. Slow and steady didn’t win the race, but we eventually made it to our first stop – the floating islands of the Uros people. The Uros people live on small, floating islands fashioned out of reeds. I wondered if the U.S. presidential election results had reached them yet…Despite being an oft-frequented tourist attraction, the architecture of the floating islands was fascinating. Plus, who couldn’t love this smile?
Timmy the Tugboat continued onward towards Amantani Island, our lodging for the night, in his typical lopsided fashion. After 2 hours or so, our group was welcomed to the island by half a dozen indigenous women. The guides huddled for a few minutes, discussing how they were going to match the tourists with their host mamas. During the timeout, I told Stefanie and Jackie that I would approach our host with arms wide open. A big bear hug. The matching process reminded me of Big/Little reveal in sororities, but with less screaming.
I approached our host mother, Rufina, as I had planned. Much to my dismay, she gave me a lukewarm embrace and extended a peace offering by patting my stomach a few times. After witnessing my failed attempt at bonding, Stefanie and Jackie opted to go with a more formal handshake. Rufina, standing at about 4 and a half feet tall, led us down the beautiful trail to her home. Upon arrival, we were introduced to the rest of her family. The family was very kind and gracious throughout our visit. They cooked us wonderful food and made us feel right at home. There were even baby sheep roaming around the premises.
Later that afternoon, we hiked up to the island’s peak, Pachamama – or “Mother Earth” in Quechua. The vista offered stunning views of the lake and the surrounding agricultural landscapes. We were also blessed with a beautiful sunset at the sacred spot.
After dinner, the host families organized a local party for their guests and dressed us in traditional attire to ensure the full experience. The men cut a rug in their Peruvian Ponchos, while the women danced the night away in their bright skirts and white blouses. It was a beautiful sight watching people from around the world intermingle on the dance floor. Everyone put aside their inhibitions and joined hands in traditional dance formations. Smiles abounded and the teenage band kept everyone moving on the dance floor.
The next morning we bid farewell to our host family and returned to the dock, where Timmy the Tugboat was waiting for us. He took his sweet time returning to the shores of Puno, but this time I had a different perspective. I appreciated the slow pace, as it allowed me to take in the wonderful views of Lake Titicaca from the top deck of the boat and reflect on all that I am thankful for.