Sunday, July 12, 2009

Family Time on Amantani Island

After a three hour boat ride on Lago Titicaca, we arrived on Amantani island where 800 Quechua families live in adobe houses on small farms. Most of the people grow quinoa, wheat, potatoes or beans. There is no electricity or cars on this 4-mile-long island. The locals run a collective whereby they bring tourists to the island and house them on a rotating basis to supplement their traditional lifestyles.

Clay and I were set up with the Quiespe family to spend the night and experience their way of life. We first met 23 year-old Maria Luz whose adorable son was always close behind. Her mother, Benita, was the main cook and handicraft designer of the family. The women were both beautiful with long dark braids, large cheek bones and big smiles. Luckily, they all spoke Spanish so we could converse and really get to know them. We were shown to our charming, spacious room through a four foot blue Malcovich door and shortly after were greeted by Alonso, the man of the house. He was very gregarious and immediately welcomed us into his family. "Our family is 5, but now it is 7," he said. Their son Americo was away at school in Puno and Ruth Maria, their 13 year old daughter, would return later that night from a sports match at the nearby island of Taquile. Alfonso was eager to take us around the house. He showed us the different potatoes they grow- in Peru there are hundreds of types of potatoes- in addition to beans and corn. We saw his flock of sheep and the section of the house he is currently building with adobe bricks. The house had one small solar panel which gave them the little electricity they needed. The whole place was very charming and peaceful.

We went to the small kitchen for a lunch of quinoa soup followed by cooked potatoes and a cheese and vegetable salad. We ate alone at the small table but made conversation with the family. Benita brought us fresh mint for tea and then showed us her small collection of stitched hats and bracelets of which we bought several. It was then time to explore the island. Alfonso offered us a ride up to the temples on his and his neighbor´s horses. Clay and I greeted our not-so-friendly stallions, mine named Torpedo and Clay's yellow horse oddly named Chocolate. We were soon being guided by their owners up the steep cobblestone paths while the horses received frequent smacks from sticks- no wonder they were not the friendliest of beasts. The ride was not so relaxing but we were grateful to avoid an hour and a half uphill hike and to be the first at the temple of Pacha Tata.

Pacha Tata and Pacha Mama, Earth Father and Mother Earth, are the pre-Inca temples sitting on the two high peaks of Amantani which are dedicated to fertility. The large hills are covered by small square farms enclosed by four foot stone walls. On the steep stone stairway up to the temple, we were immediately greeted by adorable local children selling bracelets. We bought what we could with what we had left after Benita's wares. At Pacha Tata we enjoyed the beautiful views of the island and the lake. According to legend, if you walk around the temple three times and make a wish to Pacha Tata, it will come true. After making our wishes, we sat to watch the sunset across the lake. We walked up the next hill to the Pacha Mama temple and watched the moon and stars glow as everything else grew dark. Under the moonlight we walked back to Alfonso's house to greet the family for dinner.

Dinner was another delicious quinoa soup and vegetable platter followed by coca mate. Ruth Maria was excited to take us to the main plaza to dance to traditional folkloric music. When we went upstairs to throw on more layers, she followed. She threw a thick wool poncho on Clay and when I bent down to receive my poncho, I realized it was a beautifully embroidered blouse and that I was going to be wearing a traditional Quechua woman's outfit! After the shirt came a thick, red skirt falling in folds to mid-calf, an embroidered striped belt tied high around my waist and a black head scarf embroidered with flowers. All of the clothes were made by Alfonso and Benita and I felt very honored, though bulky, wearing them. We were off to the plaza where a 5 man band played songs with drums and pan flutes while other gringos in traditional garb danced in circles with their new family members. Ruth Maria was a great dancer and we had fun improvising moves and twirling in our skirts.

The next morning, after delicious wheat pancakes, we said our goodbyes to our extremely generous and warm hosts. We took some pictures and shared hugs. We could not say gracias enough for the wonderful experience we had and as we pulled off the dock we waved goodbye to Amanatani and the Quiespe family.


Addie said...

So Sweet! Boy, those people make yall look like giants...what a unique experience to have.

Bett Addams Williams said...

It's uplifting to see that the world has some many bright eyed people & that tourism brings you to them and you bring them to us! Muchas gracias!