Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living Off The Grid

Morning broke with a heavy rainstorm. I was not thrilled about going out to a floating island village in rain and hail. The streets ran like rivers right outside the hotel, and I haven't been all that impressed with Puno city as it is. I think my inner curmudgeon was beginning to come out after twelve days of traveling without my favorite travel companion (and anyone else for that matter.) I am not built for the life of a hermit. Perhaps that's why I have been writing this blog while I travel, if I know someone's reading, I don't feel that alone or disconnected from my usual life.
Fortunately, the sun broke through the clouds right after we got on the boat. In more than one way, the uros are about as far away from Lima as you can get. Lake Titicaca lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia, the people speak Aymara, which is geographically two languages away from Spanish (Quechua lies between them) and historically two civilizations removed. The Qolla people spoke Aymara before they were conquered (or assimilated) by the Incas, who spoke Quechua before they were conquered by the Spaniards.
When we arrived at the island we were to visit today, the women stood on the shore (if you can call it that) and greeted us in Aymara with, "Kamisaraki!" and were supposed to respond, "Waliki!" Yeah, that's confusing. (I apologize to all of my SP101 students who have never spoken Spanish before my class. I forget how awkward it feels to try and communicate in a language you know NOTHING about.) The island we visited is home to six families and a total of about 22 people. Everyone has a very specific role in the community, and the president of the island serves for a term of 6 months. If he does well, then the people will reelect him to serve again. I gather that he can continue in this capacity indefinitely as long as things are going well for the community. Jose, the president of this particular island, wants to start an uros tour company. He was very enthusiastic about having me bring my students to his island for a day. We would dress in traditional clothing and actually learn and perform traditional labors, including hunting, fishing, harvesting the totora reeds, cooking and eating. (Any students who are considering taking this trip with me next year should feel free to chime in with their opinion on this.) I don't think I'm up to actually spending a night on the uros, but I'd entertain the idea if there was enough interest. If there's one thing I have learned (again) today, it's that I live a pretty posh and simple life. My bed, despite usually being invaded by one or more children, is warm and soft, my house is comfortable (and as big as the entire island where six families live.) I enjoy a wealth of luxuries that are unimaginable to so many of the people I met today. Warning to my kids- if you don't appreciate what you have, I swear I will move you to the Peruvian Altiplano for a year and make you live like the people here.
For whatever reason, the pictures are not loading again, so I will have to wait until Saturday or Sunday to put pictures up on this post and yesterday's.

I am waiting for my bus to Cusco, and from there I foresee more or less the unwinding of everything I have done on this trip: bus ride from Puno to Cusco, Cusco flight to Lima, Lima flight to Atlanta, Atlanta to Nashville, then drive back home. I checked out of my hotel at 8:30 this morning and have an overnight bus ride tonight and a redeye flight tomorrow night, so I am in full travel mode until Saturday night. I'm sure I'll type additional posts along the way, but internet access will be hard to find (the free kind anyway,) so I may not post again until Saturday.

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