It is with great pleasure that I do not need a disclaimer for my safety and well-being for this particular blog. Everything went completely according to plan. It was better than I could have even expected it.
TomO and I have been spending our time in Puno, a decently sized town just outside of Lake Titicaca, the world´s highest lake still navigable by boats. However, yesterday’s adventure out of town may have been one of the greatest cultural experiences from this trip thus far.
It began with boarding a colectivo boat to the Islas de Uros. An unguided boat ride took us to the center of the famous man-made floating islands. Through my unyielding persistence, I was able to locate a family willing to let me stay in their home rather than sleeping in a secluded hostel.
Their names are Alduerdio and Karina, a couple of newlyweds living on the 15 year-old man-made Isla Q’ota Uma. Alduerdio and I met in the capital of the islands where he told me that we would be permitted to spend the night at his lovely reed hut. In gratitude, I gave him a small thank you offering of rice, toilet paper, spices, and other commodities which he graciously accepted. We took his reed boat used primarily for tourism back over to his island under one condition; that I got to help paddle.
We arrived at their island to find ourselves living the life of the Uros. Alduerdio is a taxidermist who stuffs and sells the 10 birds a week he is permitted to capture from the lake. Never seeing a taxidermist at work before, I must say it was a bit distracting. However, I was quickly able to understand his passion through his explanations. Katrina is a traditional, patient, and soft-spoken woman of beautifully detailed embrodery and reed crafts. I worked on a little ankle bracelette of my own from the twine given to me by Alduerdio. Together, the three of us sat in the soft reeds working on our projects in the glorious afternoon sun, talking of their ways of life (while TomO took a nap).
Alduerdio and Katrina had just been married this past year. Katrina, in her soft, sweet voice, explained to me the marital customs of the Uros. When a couple decides to get married, they must first live together on the same island in the same house for three years. If everything goes well, they then celebrate with the three day matrimonial ceremony. Not a bad idea if you ask me.
They explained to me how the reeds, tortoras, are used in every way possible. One type of tortoras are used to make huts and boats while another having cotton-like similarities, is used for stuffing pillows and even Alduerdio’s birds. Even more so, the flowers of the reeds make a tea that not only aids in digestion, it’s also just taste plain delicious. All reeds were used for kindling for cooking and lining the floors of their islands. Generations of knowledge of how to live off the reeds had been passed down to the families living there today.
Once Alduerdio finished working on his birds, he told me it was time to get ready for dinner. He walked inside the hut and retrieved a huge rifle. This gun looked like it was from the Revolutionary War. And when he told me the handle of the gun was 300 years old, I realized I wasn’t too far off with my assumptions.
We took off in their motorboat and headed for the high reeds outside of the village. Laying out 350 feet of fishing lines, Alduerdio explained to me we would retrieve it at sunrise for the following morning’s breakfast. We continued to drive around the reeds where we came upon our dinner; duck. With one steady shot, dinner was retrieved. We returned home where we prepared the duck over a traditional clay crafted fokon and make duck soup for four with vegetables, potatoes, and even the rice I brought them.
After a few cups of ‘flor de tortora’ tea and some sweet bread for dessert, we decided it was time to retire after a well spent day. As we looked out onto the lakeside city of Puno, we noticed something different. All of the power was out in the massive city. After turning off our solar powered lights, we laughed at the convenience of sleeping in the reed huts for the evening instead of the luxurious city.
Alduerdio woke me around 4 am to retrieve the nets for breakfast. The sunrise slowly greeted the morning as I rowed the boat backwards while Alduerdio retrieved the fishing nets. We caught over 20 fish of different shapes and sizes. Returning to the island, we found Katrina beginning to make Pan de Uros to accompany the fish. A simple fried bread with the familiar taste of funnel cake was just the treat to start the day. Again it was my job to keep the fire going for breakfast as Katrina prepared the fish. I watched Katrina in complete awe descale and rip out the intestines of the tiny fish with a swift and familiar motion of her thumb and forefinger. I would be a liar if I told you I didn’t let the fire go out after watching this event.
We spent a few more hours on the island talking with the neighbors, making friends with a little girl who wanted to french braid my hair, and hiding from a boatful of some new toursits to the island to maintain the indigenous cultural atmosphere. We then said goodbye and thank you to Katrina for her wonderful hospitality. Alduerdio took TomO and I back to the capitol island where he requested I leave him my email information in promise to write me when he soon set up his email account. We said our final goodbye as we watched him drive off in his motor boat, wondering of the odds of us ever actually hearing from him again.TomO and I finally encountered a non-private tour boat back to the mainland a few hours later. We discovered how worthwhile my persistence of a homestay was when we met with other tourists who had spent the night at the hostel. Once we returned to Puno, we grabbed our final belongings from the hostel and headed for the bus station to our next destination, Cusco. Little time was spent in Cusco, it was all for the preparation for our next high intensity and slightly perrilous journey though the five day and four night guideless trek though the Salkantay Glacier Pass to Machu Picchu.
Stay tuned friends, this next blog will require the disclaimer (sorry Mom).