14 November 2012
Star gazing on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca, Peru
20% of the world today does not have access to electricity. That’s 1.4 billion people according to the World Bank. After a 4-hour boat ride on Lake Titicaca, this is what I experienced on the frog-shaped island of Amantani – and no running water either. I didn’t necessarily decide to sleep there for that experience alone, but also to enjoy the peacefulness and the nature of the island, somehow reminiscent of the Mediterranean shores in southern France or Italy.
The first boat stop had been the floating islands of Los Uros: they are man-made islands and they really are floating on the lake (see the corresponding post with pictures). Let us plunge into the atmosphere (to be honest, I am not very satisfied with my piece, I wanted to write something more interesting, perhaps more funny, but I procrastinated too long over my drafts and eventually decided to just let it out). If you are not interested, that’s okay, you can still simply enjoy the pictures and the commentary added directly to them.
Our little 20-passenger public boat headed straight to Amantani, located about three hours away from Los Uros. It was a pleasant ride on the calm lake Titicaca: the sun was burning while the air remained cool, even cold at times – after all, we were at 3,800 metres above sea level. Most passengers dozed off a little, the noisy but monotonously regular humming of the boat's engine lulling each of us. The helmsman sat steadily, his gaze fixed on the horizon, a faint smile on his face expressing content, perhaps even simple happiness. We were sometimes awaken by the sudden rocking of the boat, as otherwise inexistent waves suddenly came crashing in, waves created by higher speed private boats chartered by agencies conveying tourists who were ready to pay much more (and unfortunately and maybe unconsciously at the expense of the inhabitants of the island who consequently got a lower share from the agencies than what they received directly from us).
The almost perfectly round Amantani island looked like a frog with two big eyes staring at us (see the picture in the album) as we approached the shore. Excitement started building up on the boat... until the boat suddenly stopped: we had run out of gasoline! The helmsman didn’t panic even though he reached out to his phone while calmly asking us to get off our bench. Still startled by the sudden stop, we promptly obeyed while he slowly retrieved an extra tank of gasoline stored inside the bench’s storage area. I never really knew whether that was actually planned or not, as he didn’t explain anything.
As we set foot on the island, feeling by that time quite hungry – it was 2pm – we were silently welcomed by the women of Amantani, shorter and stouter than those of the city. Shy smiles could be perceived on their sun-tanned and wrinkled faces. To ensure a fair share of tourism revenues, hosts on the island would take turns in welcoming tourists, and we were thus each of us assigned, on the spot, to accompany one specific hostess. All happened very quietly, almost silently, as Spanish was not necessarily well mastered by the local population who mainly spoke in Aymara.
A simple vegetarian meal consisting of different sorts of potatoes – there are said to be 3,000 varieties in Peru – and a soup was served to me in my rustic room (see pictures). Everything was quiet. The bed was very welcoming for a quick nap, for a necessary stop in my busy life. It would soon be interrupted by my hostess, silently arranging her knitted production on my bed. The charm had been broken and I felt sorry for this lady, for this return to the harsh reality that some people do not have the choice but to explore multiple opportunities to make a living. Yes, it was at the expense of a more genuine connection but, after all, I was a tourist, this was a touristic place even if the number of tourists probably didn’t exceed a hundred a day on average, and I had read how poor those people are. Maybe will I take the time to call the mayor to encourage the inhabitants to get directly – and only – paid by end customers, and refuse any intermediary who apparently pay barely enough to cover the cost of meals – knowing that I paid directly 30 soles (about 11 dollars) for 2 meals, a breakfast and the night.
But the magic of the place quickly returned as my hostess offered to guide me to Pachatata, Father Earth, an Inca sanctuary located at the highest point of the island. I followed her on her toes, somewhat relieved I was forced out of my room, for I would easily have slept and missed out on the views of the tranquil, glinting blue-intense lake.
In fact, all the tourists were flowing towards the top of the island, like little marching ants, for, however close the top seemed, it still took a healthy hour and a half to hike up there. My hostess had left me in the company of another guide, a lovely and oh-so-cute six-year old elf, a little girl who had to walk an hour every day to get to school on the other side of the island. She was bustling with the energy of children of that age, sometimes running along the path before panting a bit with her tongue out, and then darting off again, when we tourists were slowly walking, feeling our hearts beat faster because of the high altitude.
Take a look at the lovely hat this little girl was wearing (see picture in the album): it was full of secret treasures, for this is how Magdalena, our little elf, was storing her nickels and a sweet or two – a gum that sometimes fell to the ground when she was munching it, but that didn’t deter her from putting it back into her mouth – it made us all laugh.
As we reached the top of the island, the Inca walls and terraces became more and more apparent and narrower (see pictures). Another hill, with Pachamama or Mother Nature at its top, echoed Pachatata in the distance. We arrived just on time for the sunset, a special moment, dominating the entire island, far away from everything (despite catching a faint mobile signal from the shores of the lake). The bitter cold enveloped us immediately as the sun disappeared behind the distant mountains. The sudden darkness of the crystal-clear skies was soon lit by what seemed like all the stars of the universe.
It didn’t matter anymore that a mere candle light was accompanying my lonesome dinner. I was rich with new experiences, novel sights, simple smiles and if I was sad for deeper reasons of my own, I was happy to be alive.