As we boarded our "ship" on Monday morning, none of us knew what to expect. Our guide Samuel was back to take us out onto the highest navigable lake in the world- Lake Titicaca. We were able to walk out the back doors of our hotel directly to the dock , making sure we didn't step on the wild guniea pigs running all over the lawn and pathway. Our boat had more than enough room- could hold 40 passengers, but we were the only 6 on board, plus a captain and our guide. Our first stop was the reason this Lake was on our itinerary in the first place- the Uros Floating Islands.
The Uros people moved into the shallows of the lake to escape attacks from the Colla and Inca. They created floating islands by cutting layering the tall reeds. They made huts, houses, and boats entirely out of these reeds. And they continue this ancient lifestyle today, with the added benefit of tourism dollars flooding in from all over the world. Samuel said when he was growing up there were around 16-20 islands. Today there are around 100. I imagined the Uros to be a few huts with maybe 10 families calling them home. The community was way bigger than I had ever imagined.
We pulled up to an island where colorfully dressed women waited on the edge waving to us. Walking on the island was an experience- you sink into the reeds as you walk. We sat in the outdoor "living room" as the president of the island we were on greeted us and our guide translated. They showed us on a small scale how an island is made and then gave us a taste of the reed- they eat the insides.
We were then split up and went into a family home (5 different families lived on this island). A woman named Julie picked me and she took me to her house. Inside the small hut were 2 queen mattresses on the floor. In our made up language I figured out she has 5 children and they all share this little room with she and her husband. There was a lump in the middle of one of the mattresses and she explained to me it was her husband catching up on sleep because he was out early fishing. I think they had 1 solar panel they had hooked up to a single light bulb and radio. This was the only solar panel I saw on her island. I recognized some pictures she had hanging above the bed- unmistakable LDS "art". I pointed and asked her- "Mormon?!", in my best accent. She said "Si!". Mind blown!! We high fived after I told her my whole group was Mormon too.
Because of the new info from Julie, we had our guide translate and ask questions about other Mormons in the Uros. Turns out there was a Mormon church building on the Uros. We asked if we could see it. They said they would take us over there. So after they all sold us stuff (be sure to take your $), we got into a traditional Uros reed boat and Julie and another man from her island started rowing us across the lagoon to the island where the Mormon church was.
When we arrived in the new island the few locals started running around, putting on traditional clothes and uncovering reed tables with more stuff to buy. You could tell they weren't expecting visitors. We ended up talking to "Elisa", who in her broken English and our bad Spanish, was able to tell us about the church. Turns out there were 60 families in the Uros attending church on the island, but something happened and they had to start going to church in Puno. She said there are only 5 strong families who still go to church now. Some of the families would like to go, but can't because they don't have shoes for their children and you have to have shoes to go in Puno. She was so happy we came to visit her and we were able to meet her sister and daughter. We would love to help them, but with no modern communication on the islands it would be nearly impossible. We said our good byes, of course after they sold us stuff, and got back into our big boat. I will remember her and my experience in the Uros for a long time.
Our next stop was 3 hours away by boat, so we played cards to pass the time. The lake is huge, and although we were on the water for guts, we only saw a small portion of it. We arrived at Amantani Island for our homestays and were greeted by two locals dress in traditional island dress. We brought small overnight bags and gifts for the families we were staying with (rice, sugar, oil, fruit). We hiked up the steep island (enough with the hiking already!!) to our homes, where we were shown our rooms. I am running out of words, so I will let the pictures do the talking...
They fed us, dressed us up like locals, and then showed us some of the things locals do- grinding flour, spinning wool, sowing fields. They work very hard and it shows all over them.
After the activities, we started our hike (again!!) to the highest peak on the island. We could seriously feel the altitude, as the top was 13,490 feet. From the top we watched the sunset and then headed back down for dinner.
After dinner, they organized a fiesta with musicians and dancing. They dressed us back up and we partied. It was surreal and we were all laughing because it was just so weird. A lost in translation moment came when my asking for hot water before bed turned into them building a fire and dancing with us in a circle around it. My friends might not forgive me for that one!! But for sure it will be a story that gets told over and over again. We slept that cold night in very uncomfortable beds tossing and turning, hoping for sleep to come and get us through til morning.