Amantaní Island, Puno, Peru

Kay and I didn’t know what to expect for our homestay in Peru. It was completely unplanned, but it sounded like a great experience and looking back, it was one of the most interesting, informative, and humbling experiences of our entire trip.

After getting off the boat on Amantaní, our guide distributed our group to our “mamas”, who in turn led us to our home for the two days there.It was already something seeing our elderly mama whipping up the hill at a brisk pace, while Kay and I huffed and puffed carrying our huge backpacks. As we hadn’t known that Puno is already above 3800m, we were not prepared to be hiking around at this pace.

Our mama was probably around 60. It was really hard to tell and Quechua was such a different dialect of Spanish that not even Kay’s “Portuñol” would have helped us ask (not that we would have). I’m only guessing ages considering that her mother, daughter, and granddaughter lived with her and the youngest looked around 15.

Below was the courtyard of the family’s compound, where you can see our papa entering the gate below.We were led to the second level of the house to a small funny, very short door that you had to duck to get into the room. There we found a nice clean bedroom with low ceilings and separate beds. No cuddling for Kay. 😉We were the only ones staying in the four bedroom room, so we dropped our things and made ourselves comfortable. Below you can see how much taller Kay was than the short door. The locals were not tall, but I like to believe that the house was also made for hobbits. 🙂It was a lot to take in, these new surroundings that were SO different than our Swiss house back home.

Below was the view from the kitchen to the courtyard where you can see the door in the center where we stayed. Our mama motioned for us to sit for lunch.I was a little nervous about eating. I had asked the guide about my celiac gluten problems and he said that it shouldn’t be a problem. The locals on the island mainly eat a diet of mainly corn and one of the 4000 varieties of potatoes in Peru.

We asked, still in Portuñol, if the soup would be OK for me and it was. It was also delicious! I’ll write more about the rest of our homestay food in my post on gluten free food in the area.Our mama also showed us that the little plant on the table is not for decoration. It is actually muña tea leaves. She showed us to take some and put it in our cups with hot water. It was so delicious, I actually preferred it over coca tea. It has a bit of a minty flavor.

After lunch, we went out for a walk. Below is the view from the house.Chickens in the front yard, although meat is eaten pretty seldom on the island.The house had a water tap out in the front yard and this was the only water supply. There was no running water in the house, including the bathroom. I was pretty happy that Kay brought his hand sanitizer! We would flush by using a bucket of rain water. I am used to flushing by bucket by now, but in Thailand we could usually wash our hands in running water, so this was something new to me, to see how people live with very minimal amenities. Down by the coast, the scenery was beautiful, but still pretty cold. It warmed up a little during the day, but it was freezing by night. The people here are used to both the altitude and the harsh weather conditions. Many of the women did not need shoes and still had the warmest hands!Kay and I were enjoying the warmth from walking up the hills. We needed to take our time, being out of breath, but it was the first time that we were really warm! 🙂The island has a school for the children, much like the floating islands, but it was on the other side of the island from where we stayed. The youngest daughter in the house needed to get up early and walk across the whole island every day to go to school. We were a little surprised to see she had some Western items like a new-age backpack, with all her other very traditional Peruvian clothing.I was still feeling headache-y and nauseous from the altitude, so we took a little rest before dinner. It was like being a little hungover all day long, but the head just felt a bit stuffed up or blocked somehow. We drank more coca, but we didn’t have any altitude sickness tablets, so we just tried to bear through it.There wasn’t much time to rest before it was dinnertime. I was really interested to poke my head in the cooking area of the kitchen.On one side sat a little stove where our mama would stuff things in to burn. We kept seeing her sweep things into the cooking area from the rest of the kitchen like leaves or trash, which she would then put into the stove to keep it fired up. We could tell there is not an extreme amount of education on the island, because our mama had no qualms about putting in pieces of plastic to burn without knowing the ill effects. It burns, right?

Meanwhile, our mama’s mother sat next to the table with a baby alpaca. They explained that the baby was only 2 days old and his mother had abandoned him, so they were taking care of him so he could survive.You guys, this baby alpaca was the CUTEST THING EVER. He was so still and docile, he would just stand next to the stove and look at the fire. I wanted to eat him up. (And not in the way that I ate up other alpacas on this trip…)Here you can see a bit more of how our mama’s daughter could heat the skillet up from below. I thought it was so impressive how wonderful these women could cook with such rudimentary means.

It made me feel guilty for all our fancy pots, induction stove, and everything else space-age about our flat compared to these people.Meanwhile, mama started feeding the baby alpaca. Cue the squeals from all the cute.If you aren’t in love with this baby alpaca by now, I can’t help you.After dinner we met our guide again and started a hike up to the peak of the island, to an altitude of 4200m to complete the same pilgrimage that the locals make once a year, including a small ceremony to walk around the peak’s prayer area three times for good luck.From there, we waited for the sun to set over a magnificent landscape.The locals on the island were of course selling their wares, which Kay supported by buying a scarf. I had already bought a hat from my mama’s family earlier in the day, so I declined more purchases. It was a little awkward being put in the buying position, but the cost was so little to us and would help the locals out, so we played into the scheme.Others bought items as well, and the path was lined with locals wanting to sell their hand woven wares. At least you knew on this island, that the goods were more or less really made by hand and not machine-knit like the goods in the Puno markets. Although we were so chilled in our place in Puno that we’d ended up buying some sweaters there anyway.As the sun set, the temperature quickly started dropping back to freezing. Brrr. We ran the gamut from sweating up the hill to shivering at the top and sweating on the way back down.Although it took a lot for the heart to climb up, the view was definitely worth it.Here I am in my new hat. Kay thinks it’s weird and knobby, but I think it’s unique and has character. 🙂Back down in the town, our papa picked us up and we headed back to the house in the dark, with our headlamps on and our papa using a hand-generated flashlight. The locals have a little electricity in the homes with solar panels giving light, but that’s about it. We thought it was great that he can use the hand-cranked flashlight.

At home, our mama and papa came and dressed us in their party clothes so that we could go to a festival. It was the most touristy part of the whole trip and I had mixed feelings about participating, but I was actually pleased to know what it felt like to wear the skirts that the women wear all around Puno and on the islands. They are pretty heavy.While I felt a little insecure dressing  up in a culture that I didn’t really understand, our mama and papa seemed happy to invite us into their family for an evening of dancing. The whole stay seemed like they genuinely enjoy showing their lifestyle to foreigners, and make some extra money off of it as well.

The band played crazy intense Peruvian beats and our mama and papa taught us how they dance. Even though she looked frail, our mama had such strength and passion. You could feel it in her hot fingers as she pulled Kay and me to dance. I was out of breath after each song, but she would pull us up again and again. She was great at guiding the whole room into a swirling line of color and swaying skirts and ponchos.

Below our mama and papa sat below Kay and me (second two from the right).Shortly after the photo, we went home earlier than the others because Kay still had a pretty bad headache from the altitude. I also wasn’t feeling great in the head.

We were lucky that by leaving around 8:30pm, it was only starting to rain a little. It continued raining as we went to bed, and then we were both woken up by a thundering storm at 1am that made me fear for my life a little. We were safe and all in our house, I think, but it started hailing hard on our tin roof. With ear plugs in, it was extremely loud. When I took them out, the sound was deafening. Kay was surprised that I didn’t come climb into his single bed with him with all the thunder and noise. Mostly, I was worried that the roof would leak on our things and they would get wet.

In the morning, we were both surprised that the hail left almost looked like it had snowed outside!I’ve never seen this much hail left outside after a storm, but it hailed for an hour at least until turning back to rain for several hours during the night. Thankfully in the morning it had finished so that we didn’t need to pack up in the rain. Also, the tin roof was expertly made so that none of our belongings got wet. I was very impressed by the craftsmanship.Kay’s head felt better the next morning, but I felt a little awful. I think I was having a combination of altitude sickness and caffeine withdrawal or a neck/shoulder issue, because I felt horrible until I had some Coca Cola later that day on Taquile Island. More on that next.

While I was thankful to only have one day without running water until our trek came up later in the trip, I was humbled that people live like this every day of their lives. Nothing makes you feel more like the spoiled, privileged White Westerner more than roughing it with the locals. I’m honored that they open their home up to people like us so that we can understand and appreciate their culture just a tiny, tiny bit. They really are some pretty amazing, warm-hearted, and kind people.

More from our trip to Peru:

One thought on “Amantaní Island, Puno, Peru”

  1. That baby alpaca is melting my heart! The photos are stunning–sorry you had such a headache the whole time but what a wonderful, unique experience for the two of you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *