Isla Amantani is a recommended picturesque homestay spot in a Lake Titicaca boat tour, where the locals enjoy you as much as you enjoy meeting them
After immersing you in the amazing tortora reed-based Uros Islands experience, the standard Lake Titicaca boat tours offered by the island/boat cooperatives can include an overnight stay on Isla Amantani. These can also be arranged independently.
It takes a few hours to get there, as you speed past peninsula and island beauty, interspersed with marine bird sightings. Though beautiful, and compelling many to climb atop the boat to optimize the view, it’s also likely the boat will lull you into a happy slumber.
Upon arrival you may be reminded of the awkwardness of a first Junior High School dance, as you amble to the appointed shore spot to meet your “mother”. The “mothers” are all dressed alike, which we later came to realize was both traditional garb, and also the cherished uniform of women in the island collective, replete with identity badge.
Our mother, Euframia, led us along the beach and then up stone paths to wend our way into their courtyard, past the shared bathroom, and to our room. This basic room had thick heavy blankets that seemed to herald the night cold, which actually never arrived.
The cocina, which seemed to be the center of family life, was in a separate building. It was here that we met the teen son and soccer fiend, Alejandro, and young daughter Estella, who at the age of only 8, seemed as proficient in the kitchen as her mother. Euframia, aged 43, also has two grown sons who live in Juliaca, one of whom is married and with children, making Euframia a grandmother at aged 43. These sons were soon to return for Christmas, which is one of the few days of the year when a non-vegetarian meal is served—pavo (turkey).
Bilingual tourists will no doubt have more in-depth discussions, but it’s noteworthy that you could arrive with zero Spanish skills and still get by. (E.G. This writer had gone to language school in Cuernavaca for only five days, some decades ago. A few palabras would bubble up from the memory banks, and the international language of point would fill in.)
That said, we were able to communicate enough to learn that by happenstance we had landed in the mayor’s home, he later showing us a leather stick of sorts that indicated he was the law. His duties take him to the mainland and meetings in Puno from time to time. The teen son and soccer enthusiast was clearly understanding all English, but feigned not to, as we discussed the recent qualification of the Peru team for the World Cup competition.
With our few shared words, we were astounded to learn that our 43 year-old mother had recently traveled to Copacabana, a city on the Bolivian part of Lake Titicaca, for free cataract surgery. This provided an opportunity to find out what they did as tourists when in a new place—mainly touring cathedrals. They also explained that Ivo Morales, President of Bolivia, has extended this free medical care to fellow Andean people in Peru. Later, researching on the Internet, it seems that this eye medical clinic is actually a project sponsored by the Cuban government, which helps make sense of it all.
Your time on the island is relatively programmed. At the pre-scheduled hour, we gathered with our fellow twenty or so tourists from the boat at a designated spot to begin a hike up the mountain. At the summit we would see the temples for the moon and the sun dating back to antiquity, and still somewhat active today. It’s a steep climb, as one comes to expect in most Peru site seeing, but this path is relatively flat, such that sure footedness is not a factor. Many of the women from the village below line your path, plying more or less the same crafts along the way, with stoic faces and occasional smiles.
And then you perch and await the spectacular sunset behind nearby island mountains—and it is spectacular.
Meandering down the mountain as it got dark, and not finding our mother in the pre-appointed meeting place, afforded a chance to learn more about Isla Amantani than had been scripted for us. Lost and trying to find our way, we met several members of the island cooperative who didn’t know our mother, and kept asking for the name of the father. We also met islanders who were not part of the collective, but similarly assuring us that the island was 100% safe and we could ask anyone for help.
If you too arrive for an island visit on a night when the people want to host a social event DO go. As 8 year-old Estella dressed this writer up in local garb for the fiesta, it became clear that she was playing dress up with a doll, me. Wow!, this heavy skirt is sufficient to create its own micro-climate below!
The musicians, working for tips, all locals from the Island, were actually quite good.
YOU are Isla Amantari TV!
You soon realize you are watching a local meet and greet, where the currency of friendship and good neighbors is shared coca leaves drawn from a festively decorated pouch. But you are the main attraction, or one of them. The locals chew on coca, also offering you some, and then share smiles and winks as they watch the gringos do turns on the dance floor. You are the nightly sit-com, along with your fellow tourists from the boat whom you now can barely recognize below the traditional costume hats, skirts and more.
Know ahead of time also that coca leaf chews seem to have zero impact on a good night’s sleep.