Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Peru Trip: Amantani

Our host 'mommies' were waiting for us when the boated docked in Amantani after the brief trip - 30mins or so - from Taquile.

Like the Taquilenos the inhabitants of Amantani (approximately 3,600 people) primarily speak Quechuan, a native language spoken in the Andes region of South America. Some families speak little to no Spanish and as for English....fuhgeddaboudit!!

On the ride over Oswaldo provided us with a sheet of paper with a few Quechuan words and phrases and their English and Spanish translations so that we'd be able to at least greet our host families and ask them their names. Madalena was to be the host 'mommy' to Melissa and I - or sister since she was younger than both of us - for our homestay on Amantani.

After introductions our hosts walked us up the hill to their homes. A long steep steep hill as it turned out which our hostesses trundled up extremely slowly. We were almost snapping at their heels and it appears to be the Quechuan way to walk up hill slowly and downhill fast, whereas my natural inclination is to do just the opposite, but perhaps I have that all wrong since I ended up breathless and knackered and our Quechuan Mommies just carried on like it was a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park, but after just 24hours in high altitude the hill was a slog for all of us, especially Dinh who lagged behind the rest of the group. Once we arrived at our host's household we had 20minutes to settle into our room on the second floor - our own room as it happens. Perhaps when Oswaldo told Jacqui that we wouldn't have our own rooms he meant our own individual rooms, since we were all paired up - before heading up to the soccer field, the social center of the community we were staying with. As we left our hosts loaned us each a tradional chullo cap to wear which they'd knitted. "All tourists look the same to them," explained our tour leader, Ybone, "the hats are so they will recognise you when they come to pick you up for dinner later." Truth be told we tourists also occasionally struggled to distinguish between our 'mommies' in their identical traditional dress.

Two other tourist groups joined us at the soccer field: a fairly large and boisterous group of Australian tourists and another multi-national group of New Zealanders, Malaysians, Canadians and assorted Europeans. A few members from each group plus locals and guides made up 6-aside teams (hats vs. no hats) for a brief kick about, brief being the operative word since the breathlessness caused by the high altitude soon saw the tourists tire. "The locals usually win," said Oswaldo triumphantly. I wonder why!! Unfortunately Dinh from our small group was unable to join us as he wasn't feeling so well.

After watching the footie for a short while Oswaldo asked us if we were interested in taking an evening walk up the mountain. Thinking it would be good practice for the Inca Trail Jacqui, Sarah, Jamie, Melissa and I all agreed. Bad idea!! It was soooo tough and after 15 minutes I found myself short of breath. Despite this I planned to try and push through, but then Jacqui called from the back that she was giving up and before I knew what I was saying I heard myself agreeing to quit with her. Melissa soon followed suit and the three of us went for a short, and more importantly, non-vertically challenging, walk across the island before returning to the footie pitch to sit with Ybone. The experience left me feeling very concerned about my ability to do the Inca Trail in a couple of days and I said as much to Ybone. "You'll be more acclimatized by then," she assured me. I certainly hoped so!!

It dropped cold rapidly on Amantani once the sun had set and we soon scampered inside the small cafe/store by the footie pitch where we tucked into steaming mugs of hot chocolate before our 'mommies' came to collect us for dinner. There's no such thing as street lighting on Amantani and we picked our way home by torch/flashlight trained on Madelena's swift llama skin sandal clad feet.

At 7pm we joined Madalena, her mother and sisters Gladys and Flora in the small family room (about 10ft by 6ft) on the first floor where they served us a dinner of vegetable soup with quinoa - a high protein Peruvian staple that I've been adding to all my soups since I got back. It's pretty good and I feel so healthy I've been celebrating with a glass of wine ;-) - followed by vegetable and potato casserole with rice, which sounds carb heavy and bland I'll grant you, but which was in fact incredibly tasty.

The simplicity in which the family lived really surprised me, it was a bit like being thrown back in time with Madalena preparing our meals by tending to cauldrons of food and water over an open fire in the far left corner of the room. Flora sat opposite her washing and peeling dozens of multi-coloured potatoes - did you know Peru has 4000 varieties of potato? I love a potato. Peru is my kind of country - while her mother and sister, Gladys, chatted to them and Melissa and I politely and quietly sat at a small rickety table at the opposite side of the room.

The photo below shows Madalena preparing pancakes for our morning breakfast, while occasionally shoo-ing away a couple of chickens. Pancakes!!!! They were soooooo delicious!! Sumaj!!! As they say in Quechuan!!

Oswaldo arrived at the end of our dinner and told us that Dinh was having trouble acclimatizing to the altitude and that he'd had to take him the oxygen tank that they keep on the boat. Eeeek!! Poor Dinh!!

"He won't be joining us for the dancing tonight, he'll be resting at home," Oswaldo informed us as he ushered us to our room to get ready for the party.

"Madalena's going to come and dress you in traditional clothes," he said "so go!! Go get sexy!!"

Sexy is the last thing I felt as Madalena threw a large white embroidered shirt over all the other layers of clothing I had on - 2 tank tops, a long sleeved zip up sports top, a fleece and hiking pants - and then added a thick orange underskirt, followed by a red woollen overskirt, then cinched me in tightly with a cummerbund type thing and then added an embroidered shawl.

I could barely breathe and I can say without hesitation that it had absolutely nothing to do with the altitude!!

With all those layers I looked like I weighed a good 250lbs - more than double what I weigh normally for the record - and could have only been considered sexy by someone with a Michelin Man fetish!!

Me, the Michelin Man!! Separated at birth?????

"How yooo doin'?" said Oswaldo in his best imitation of Joey from Friends as Melissa and I waddled downstairs. He was dressed in the traditional men's costume of a poncho with a chullo cap over his regular clothes. The men get away much more lightly than the women, their poncho's lending them something of a Clint Eastwood vibe.

Our group was one of the first to arrive at the dance, but the Australians and the other group arrived shortly after. Everyone clapped the arrival of the band - none of whom looked older than 15!!

Madalena came over, arms outstretched, to pull me up onto the dance floor. We held hands and she motioned that I should twist to make my skirts flare, then she spun me under her arm and back before we resumed twisting. It was a fairly straightforward dance, but one that easily left me breathless in the high altitude, although worse was to come when the band kicked it up a notch for the second song and the locals launched into what can only be described as a violently energetic Hokey Cokey which left me gasping for air, my throat burning for water. Honestly the altitude combined with the high energy dancing made me feel as healthy as someone with a lifelong twenty a day smoking habit. I sat out the next song, however fared even worse with the one after that, a high speed conga style.

Unfortunately I have dusty dots on the following photos, but I felt the energy of the dance was well conveyed.

The group and their mommies

By 9.30pm I spotted more than a few tourists yawning and making a move to leave so we followed suit, admiring the stunning night sky over Amantani on the way home. "The sky is so clear you can see the milky way," Ybone had told us earlier. To be honest I thought she was exaggerating, but she wasn't. I was completely gobsmacked by how gorgeous the sky was and I was kind of surprised that the island wasn't swarming with astronomers, or that the homes didn't have perspex roofs to better admire the view. If I lived on Amantani I'd permanently be trying to sleep out under the stars among the llamas.

By 10pm we were home and tucked up in bed, pondering why the American tourist we had met in the lounge of the Hotel Italia had been so negative about her home stay. Sure, you have to sacrifice a few comforts - there was no running water and the beds we slept on were tortuous - but the experience as a whole was amazing and Madalena's family were incredibly sweet and gracious. To be honest I think our hotel friend must have been more than a little spoiled and lacking the sense of humour she was instructed to bring, because personally speaking our stay on Amantani was definitely a highlight of my Peru trip!!


Kitty said...


I have to wonder whether the locals enjoy what they do. It's a reliable source of income, I suppose, but it must be tough to do continuously? Did they seem to really enjoy it?

I have to wonder whether simplicity in life is the way to go. There is always something to complain about and something to be grateful for, of course... but I wonder whether we (in the States, in cities, in the 21st century) overreach?

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Kitty,

I had to wonder the same, but Madalena and her family seemed more than happy to welcome us into their home and were very very sweet. The families also rotate, so they are not always hosting tourists, but I am not sure how frequently they have people to stay.

I agree with you on the simplicity, however I think I would be too aware of what I was missing. I have a very easy life by comparison to those inhabiting Taquile or Amantani.

Amel said...

GLAD to hear you enjoyed your stay thereeeee!!!! :-D I felt a bit breathless just by reading your post...