24 Hours on the Island of Taquile, Peru

Updated May 29th, 2017.

I felt alone in the best possible sense of the word. Out of my comfort zone. Completely removed from any reminders of home. Communicatively isolated. Perfectly unsure of what to do with myself. I would be spending 24 hours on the island of Taquile, located on the Peruvian side of lake Titicaca. High in the Andes, lake Titicaca is the worlds highest navigable lake and is shared by both Peru and Boliva. Culturally the lake is rich in diversity, and nearly each island is home to a distinct ethnic group. My goal was to learn a little bit more about the people of Taquile by spending the night on my own with a home stay family.

Hour 1: Say hola to your new Dad…

I met my “father” at the boat dock, stepping out of the boat I was greeted by a weathered man who stood no taller than my shoulders. He spoke Spanish, as did I, but was shy and it was not without much effort on my part that we settled into a comfortable rhythm of conversation. The walk “home” was long and I was immediately aware that my days as a college athlete barely left me in good enough shape to tackle the altitude and daunting incline that lay ahead. Luckily my “father” was used to foreigners and offered me coca leaves to chew on and flowers to sniff which helped with my acclimatization and my cloudy head.

IMG_0444Can I call you Mom? Dad?

Hour 2: Home sweet home…

I reached “home.” Three mud structures facing inwards to a dirt courtyard. One building contained the families bedroom- a small room with straw floors. The second building contained what would be my room for the night, and a small narrow dining room. The third building was the kitchen, where a blackened metal pot sat in the middle of the room surrounded by a hodgepodge of various items- most of them not cooking related.

IMG_0451Two beds and only one girl- decisions, decisions…

Hour 3: Quinoa soup, with a side of conversation…

I was served lunch alone, sitting on a long wooden bench that threatened to tip at any moment sending me head first into my bowl of quinoa soup. I know that home stays are tricky, both guest and host wanting to make one another comfortable, but I also knew that I wouldn’t gain much by staring at the tarp wall all by my lonesome. So I called in my “father”, learned that the man in front of me who appeared close to 40 was actually a mere 25 years old, father to a 9 year old son. I learned that the island I was living on for the night was communally owned and governed. Meaning there is no law enforcement (only meetings every Sunday where community issues are discussed), shared gardens that are maintained and harvested by everyone, and shops where profits are distributed equally among all local residents.

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Hour 4-6: Girl talk…

I went to an all women’s college, so after lunch the feminist in me was quite excited to join my host “mother” on her daily adventures. The first order of business was to get suited up like a typical woman on Taquile. A black scarf was laid over my head to help protect me from the strong Andean sun. Three bright wool skirts were layered over my Western jeans, their highlighter hues indicating that I was single and adding to my likelihood of snaring a man. A belt was added to my waist tied over a simple white sweater. Three pom-poms hung down my right side, each one a new color. I was told that each color held significance, one meant I was happy, one that I was sad and rather be left alone, and the third that I was sad but would like the company of my good friends. A simple and effective way to avoid the tiresome question, como estas? (how are you?). I flashed my happy-go-lucky pom-pom, ready to go. A woman on the island of Taquile typically spends a third of her day weaving, a third farming, and a third cooking. So that is exactly what me and my mother did, returning home only as the sun was beginning to set.

IMG_0453I guess the best option is to jump right in! 

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Hour 7: Pouring out the thoughts in my brain…

As dinner was prepared I had some much needed time for relaxation. A solid hour lay ahead of me in and I thankfully whipped out my journal and recorded the zillions of facts, emotions, and pondering’s that had accumulated in my head over the course of the day.

Hour 8-9: A dose of creativity…

Dinner was french fries and rice and this time I was unabashedly joined by my new “brother” a 9 year old filled with energy and giggles. We played volleyball in the courtyard and board games while we ate. The game was a gift from another visitor passing through but was still unopened, the rules a mystery to my “brother”. With a touch of creativity and a long history as a board gamer I came up with a way to play, it was a hit. However, two hours later I was somewhat thankful that it was time for the next event.

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Hour 10: When strangers become friends..

With flashlights in hand we headed out to the other side of the island to meet up with the other foreigners spending the night on Taquile. Along the way we bumped into some of the others, people I had met on the boat ride over. We hugged as if we were long time friends, unloaded our entire experience so far onto each other, and linked arms as we progressed forward guided by our new families.

Hour 11-12: Coca tea leaves and revelations…

Arriving at one of the larger homes on the island we gathered in our new garb ready to have our fortunes read. A shaman, who spoke only Quechua, greeted us with a muffled allillanchu. One at a time we sat in front of him, a single cup of tea placed between us, from a colorful sachet he removed coca leaves and dropped them into the warm liquid. From the leaves our fortunes were read, often about love, independence, and our purpose in Peru, we listen intently as the words were translated into Spanish. I was told quite accurately that this trip marked the beginning of my new found independence and also much to my surprise it was declared that I felt sick eating in the morning. The truth in both proclamations startled me, and I found myself unsuccessfully looking for a connection between the two.

Hour 12-14: Time to break it down, Taquile style… 

Dancing. It was time to let loose and party local style. So in circle formation, around a raging fire, we skipped to the beat of zamponas (Andean pan flutes), cymbals, and a cacophony of drum beats. We skipped as much in beat as we could guided by the light of the full moon.

Hour 15: Headed home…

Time to say goodbye, even though we would be reunited tomorrow on our boat home, we were all apprehensive of the long night that lay ahead. Long embraces only prolonged the inevitable, it was time to return “home”.

Hour 16-23: Night, night sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite…

Back in my room I searched high and low for creepy crawlies possibly burrowing amoung the hay floors, I found none. So I lit a candle next to my bed, crawled under the covers, and read to the still silence of the island. All islanders were asleep, ready to wake up before dawn. I felt alone in the best possible sense of the word.

Hour 24: Back to Puno…

Up at dawn, as promised. Twelve drowsy backpackers used the boat as a continuation of the previous nights sleep. No longer were we thrilled to see each other, no longer did we long for one anthers familiar comfort. We were all ok, reassured that good things do absolutely come from stepping outside of the familiar, that even in 24 hours you can learn a lot about another culture, yourself, and your ability to thrive in a situation that you once deemed isolating.

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Written by: Tyler Protano-Goodwin

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