Lake Titicaca home stay – Peru

grey Lake Titicaca home stay   Peru

The recently reunited intrepidos are touring the famous floating townships of Lake Titicaca. The chief of the island greets us in synthetic regalia. Chief is showing off his homemade gun and explaining how they make and maintain their homes. I am wiping my nose, sneezing with hay fever and sweating in the sun, all ready for a Lake Titicaca home stay.

Everything on the island, including the island itself is made of reeds, the flotilla resembles a megalomaniac child’s cubby house. Fresh reeds are added to the platform top every day as the lower sections rot down into the lake. The entire island needs to be completely replaced every hundred years and, as dad found out, should you wander too close to the edge the reeds sink alarmingly into the freezing waters. Feet and calves get basted in a foul smelling tea which bubbles up through rotting reeds. Despite the uniqueness of the island and the lifestyle I find the whole experience slightly disappointing. There is a strong feeling that we are seeing something of a pantomime, a Disney version of life as it once was turned synthetic by the tourist dollar. It would not have surprised me to see a small boy in traditional clothes sitting on a reed mat playing a computer game.

Safely in our seats the boat slowly put distance between us and the reed pantomime. Our boat the ‘Puno’ valiantly strikes out to the horizon and into open water,

‘chug’, chug’

grey Lake Titicaca home stay   PeruI get the weirdest sense that we are not moving at all rather we are stationary and the world is turning bringing Bolivia closer.

‘chug, chug’

This is a thoroughly rewarding way to travel. I sink into my seat and stare out the window at a deep expanse of water. In the distance the Bolivian Alps hover grey on a misty horizon. Closer by, a group of four English couples compare cameras and lenses hardly looking out the window. I launch a debate with King, a lively young Malaysian doctor sitting nearby.

“Those bullfrogs do you think they exist?”

“Well, if they were a metre long, they could not stay on the bottom and absorb oxygen through their skin as the guide says. Surface to volume ratio and all that.”

“Yeah, sounds like rubbish to me as well. Hey how long are you here for mate?”

“A few more months, making my way south, just cruising, meeting people…Hey Ben, do you want to hear about what I did in the amazon, it involves a crazy guide and an anaconda…”
“No way, I need photos for proof man!”

grey Lake Titicaca home stay   PeruTwo hours slide hypnotically by and soon our small group are huddled on a gritty shore with bags at our feet and non-perishable food items in a plastic bag looking up at a ramshackle town. We have arrived at our homestay and the last big item of our twenty-one day itinerary. This cultural exchange is one part of the itinerary which I am really looking forward to. I picture myself helping to kill llamas and pulling fresh potatoes out of the soil, maybe even practising some ‘Malo’ Spanish around a cooking fire. Once on the shore our group of four along with about thirty other tourists are paired up and ushered silently to our accommodation by shawled women. We walk past alpacas draped in fluorescent rugs with plastic ear tags and through a town consisting entirely of hostels. The whole island is one big cultural homestay business.

In two days on these islands I have given away all the bags of flour and sugar as required by the fine print. I feel like a condescending buffoon as my smiling hosts place these items onto shelves packed with various other thoughtfully gifted goods. They do not seem at all poor.

It is our last night on the island and I narrowly dodge another audience participation debacle. We are taken to a town hall which smells like a recently swept barn to watch a traditional band. Dressed in heavy shawls and the obligatory pointy hat thirty tourists sit on wooden benches. We look at each other making awkward small talk while the band sets up. My cremastus muscles contract in preparation. Confused pan pipe music starts and five local women jump to their feet to dance. They twirl under a thin veneer of enthusiasm with all the sincerity of Taiwanese prostitutes. Being a tall lanky man grey Lake Titicaca home stay   Peruwithout a fully developed slouching ability dad is procured by a short, powerful woman. Standing in the middle of the dance floor being watched by people (who like me are glad to be sitting) dad valiantly attempts to keep pace with the wild, complex dance that is engulfing him. Five women are dancing around five tourists. They alternate between grabbing hands and shoulders then form a circle to dance around their confused charges. The visitors resemble confused sheep being herded for slaughter by a well worn barrage of woollen stockings and woven skirts.

 

I spot a Peruvian woman walking my way with her hand outstretched. With painful memories from Chivay still fresh in my mind I panic and an overwhelming urge for fresh air hits me. Feeling like a deserter I look over my shoulder to see dad still stranded in the frontline, he is trying to pluck a beat out of the air as I duck outside. In the dark outside the hall I strike up a conversation with a French face that’s lit by a glowing joint. The man is beyond stoned and, like me, dodging audience participation. I cannot be sure, but between urgent puffing I think he is reflecting on how much he is enjoying this true Peru. He is speaking in a mix of English, Spanish and Bob Marley tainted with a deep French accent,

“It is great to see how these people live, so traditional man. Want a toke?”

“Yeah, it is kind of cool, no thanks, not now mate, I might start dancing if I get stoned.”

grey Lake Titicaca home stay   Peru“I came out here to avoid the dance, too embarrassing man. Hey, imagine just staying here, how amazing.”

“God, imagine, I had best go inside to see how dad is faring”

I return to the rustic nightclub to find that beer is being served, now may be a good time to get more ‘cultural’. I look at dad’s progress to find that mum has rescued him. I watch my parents trying to copy the local dance moves as they laugh and have a great time. I sit down with a fresh beer and hope that one day I will find someone who will dance with me after thirty years despite my out of time hairy legs hanging out of a llama wool dress. Sitting back down on the bench I open a beer, politely refusing Kim’s offer of a dance I slouch in my seat and avoid eye contact.

Meals throughout the homestay involve eating in very smokey kitchens which have caused my eyes to become very red, blepharitic and sore. On our last night dad and I climb a hill along with flocks of other homestayers grey Lake Titicaca home stay   Peruto watch a spectacular sunset. During the climb we are constantly harassed by vendors selling hastily knitted beanies and plastic souvenirs. A young child follows us the entire way up playing random notes on a pan pipe while waving a hat under our noses.

The whole experience is very contrived I feel like my visit to Peru has not been enriched by the time here, maybe if I had a few more beers and relaxed at the dance? The hosts are not good at disguising the fact that we are viewed simply as a wallet with legs. I get back on the boat for Puno less impressed with the local culture than I boarded. Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I have watched too many Pilot Guide television shows where explorers trip over remote, indigenous cultures between ad breaks. Maybe this is the real Peru?

On the boat back to Puno I overhear an Irish man describe these islands beautifully:

grey Lake Titicaca home stay   Peru‘This is the fooking Mediterranean ocean man. High up, cold, no running water, dusty, dirty and fake, but still the fooking Meds man.’

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