Day 51- 11 March 2017

Spanish phrase of the day: Soul food- comida para el elma

I can’t sleep. When I get into bed at night I can… but the naps in the day or on the bus. No go. The snoozing in bed. Nope. I can’t do it anymore. I used to in London. I love sleep! I wonder if your body knows when you need it? Because right now- mine has no sympathy for my lack of night hours. But that’s ok. I feel energised and alive. Even though on this 6 hour bus to Puno, Peru, from La Paz, I wish it would come. But it doesn’t. So I’ll write to you all. Eat my Pringles at 10am (I forgot how delicious Pringles are!) and listen to music while I play candy crush. At least the seat goes back.

We heading towards the Peruvian/ Bolivian border. It’s rainy and my toes are cold. Can I moan a bit? I promise it won’t go on too long. I feel like I need to get it out. I don’t feel like being on a bus for over 6 hours (as I got on the bus they said it will take 8). The ticket said 6. False advertising much?! Urggghhh these are the frustrating parts of travels. The total lack of control. Feeling like you cannot do anything about it. I know it’s good. I know learning to let go is a huge part of my process here. But It’s also a challenge. I don’t do letting go very easily. Ok Megan- smile, avoid rolling your eyes and stay on the bus! Everyone’s sleeping. Snorrreee this is going to be a long 8 hours.

Nope, make that 3. Because after 3 hours in a bus with a hole looking into the road as a toilet, and it’s time to stop at Bolivian border control. The funniest part of this experience for me (because you have to laugh) is watching Nicole’s expression. Maybe I’m a little jaded. Maybe I’m used to seeing such severe poverty after growing up in South Africa for 25 years… it’s not a shock for me. I’ve seen the beggars. I’ve watched the children with dirty faces and bare feet. And I’ve given my change to those that look physically disabled with lumps on their backs and walking sticks.

I don’t think it’s a sight that can ever not affect you, but you do become desensitised when you see it over and over again. Well this was a new thing for her. And all she kept saying as we were standing in a long line with 100's of locals queuing to cross the border with a carry bag made of plastic was… “for £100 we could have flown!”.

She was probably right but I didn’t mind. The time factor annoyed me but not the rest. I thought of it as a complete eye opener. I fly everywhere I go. To make this trip the way locals would. The way people who have little money and have no other choice but to do it this way was the most humbling experience of my life. I don’t ever think of the people in my Africa crossing the borders to Zimbabwe or Mozambique. I do it through the city airports. Not the rural realness.

And then we were on the other side. That much more exposed to the real world. And Nicole saw that too. As she started to get emotional.

We were collected in Puno and taken to Lake Titikaka. Collected by a young man called Cesar, he navigated through the water and the reeds. Waiting for other motor boats to let us pass as if we were waiting at a stop street. Uh huh this is lake traffic! And then we arrived. With no expectations or preconceived ideas we got to our home for the next 2 days. And I fell in love instantly.

So let me give you some background into how and why I booked this trip. Those that know me will attest to the fact that if you show me bright colours and pom poms I am sold! Weeks ago I knew I wanted to visit lake Titikaka as my first stop in Peru. I was at this point travelling alone as Nicole had not contacted me. So when looking on booking.com, and I came across this piece of magic I was sold. I booked it in under 5 minutes without even searching for anything else. I was going to stay in pom pom paradise. To be honest though I thought it was a hotel. But after arriving that idea was replaced with the reality. We were staying with a family, in our own clean and spotless room (as gorgeous as the pictures portrayed). But this was not a hotel it was a lodge.

Greeted by a smiling woman- Cesar’s wife Lucy. And an even smilier little girl, his daughter Litsy- we were home. They took our things. Showed us around and we realised that for the next 2 days we were going to be living with the locals. And I couldn’t have had a fuller heart going into it if I tried.

Right now I am writing this part of the post, as snug as a bug in a rug. Only with cold feet (because they are always cold) and cold fingers. Why? You may be thinking. You’re in South America Megan!? I am indeed, but right now I am lying in a bed. On top of a thin wooden floor. On top of layers of reeds. On top of Lake Titicaca. A floating Island. It is currently 0 -1 degrees and it’s 8.30pm. Sleep time.

So what have we done since we arrived? Played, coloured and danced with Litsy. Chatted to Cesar’s father in broken Spanish. Eaten a beautiful 3 course home cooked dinner. Now we are thermaled up and in bed after brushing our teeth. Yes only brushing our teeth as there are no showers here. Tomorrow morning we can ask for a basin of agua caliente to wash with when we wake up. But that’s tomorrow.

Good morning! A bit more awake now, let’s chat! Let me tell you what we discussed with Cesar’s family last night while drinking coca tea. The Unos village has been around for years. Cesar’s whole family came from the floating island years ago. Originally a big fishing community with only 15 families, it has grown to a community of 1100 at present. Families live together, work together, fish together, and cook together.

So what happens on this island? There is 1 small ‘hospital’ or infirmary for any problems. Everything else is treated at home and for serious issues there is the hospital in the mainland of Puno. There is a kindergarten that Litsy goes to along with 150 other children. And there is a volleyball and football get together every Sunday!

As a fishing community and with fish being a main source or food… the people here fish every day. In previous years there were a lot more fish but as the population has increased demand has far exceeded supply which is becoming a big problem for the locals. They now tend to barter fish for potatoes and other vegetables with people from the mountains. But they fish to eat not to sell

Cesar’s family name samaraña uta is also the name of the lodge. Every community or family on the floating island of Uros has its own name. And his could not be more apt! The tribes name is called uro- Maratos and the language spoken is Aymara.

There is one gigantic luxurious hotel for tourists in this area. As well as other similar types of accommodation, like this one, however run by people from Lima. So Cesar is the only local person to think to use the tourist card as a big business idea so that he can give back to his community. So from now on I will call him- The entrepreneur of the floating island. (TEOFI).

Our second day after a 10 hour sleep commenced when woken up to an incredible breakfast on a laid table. We prepared for our day. With the sun up, we headed outside and were greeted by Lucy and Litsy holding a collection of local clothes for us to wear for our boat trip to collect fish from a net that was put out the night before.

And so we dressed up. With Litsy as chief fashion coordinator, telling Nicole and I which jacket to pair with which skirt. And Lucy as beauty consultant doing our hair. We got in the boat, dressed like a local and went to collect the fish and learn about Totora. The magical reeds that allow this floating island and its community to exist.

Totora is multidimensional. When dried, it is used as the building materials on the island. The flowers (tchumi) are used as medicine for treating the stomach. And the white part of the root is used as a snack-Tuyo. It was Litsy’s favourite. And she munched on it as if she was eating an ice cream!

So let me give you the low down on how to build a floating island. In case any of you want to give it a try- here is a step by step guide.

  • Use the Totora roots as the base. 1 block is at least 9 square meters. Rainy season is from January- April and as the water moves up to 2m everything starts to move with the wind and the block starts floating naturally.
  • Put a eucalyptus stick into each block
  • Tie the blocks together with a rope
  • Stack the tortora leaves in different directions and layer the leaves until they reach 1m in height
  • Anchor it in the ground and connect it to the other island so that when the winds and water change everything moves together

They maintain the island every week in the rainy season by adding more totora. In the dry season they do it every 15 days. The houses are given new totora to be placed on every 4 weeks. All they locals do is lift the houses to add more to the base. Voila!

I can honestly say that this has been one of the best experiences of my life. 36 hours full of love. Genuine smiles. Happiness and gratitude. Not from me but from everyone around me. I have yet to meet more gracious, caring and respectable people. A family that is using their incredible heritage and traditions and combining it with some entrepreneurship so that they can create a better life not only for them but for their community.

A family that pulls together and does their bit. Lucy the caring mother of the house who brings us a hot water bottle at night before we go to sleep. And feeds us three times a day with the most delicious food. Made with love.

Cesar the man of the house and the brains behind this idea. With a determination and drive in him to make his business a success. Smart, caring, gentle and strong, he takes care of anything we need. I am in awe of this man. He put himself on an English course 5 months ago and practices with Duolingo everyday. Browsing the Internet, he came across booking.com and Airbnb and within a few months decided to turn his family’s floating island into a lodge. Only 2 months old, we are one of the few who have sampled this piece of drifting magic.

His brother who helps on the tours for guests. Like showing them how to fish. How to collect eggs. How to hunt chickens and ducks for food.

Lucy’s grandmother who creates beautiful tapestries like table runners and pillow cases and her grandfather who makes ornaments out of totora to sell to tourists. And always working as a team!

And then there is Litsy. I don’t know where to start with Litsy. A bright eyed little chicita with a smile and laugh that never stops. An eagerness to play and laugh. Chat and cuddle. A curiosity and playfulness that makes her magnetic. And the highlight of my time here. To watch her on the boat with her father while he fishes. When he cuts down the totora and feeds her the white crunchy part at the bottom. While he catches the fish and she counts them.

Cesar would not stop thanking us throughout our trip and as we left and were saying goodbye. And to him I say- Cesar thank you!

For bringing us into your magical world. For showing us that simplicity and pure kindness are the building blocks of happiness. For demonstrating that people who stick together and work together towards a common goal can achieve anything. For having a child who has reminded me that words are unimportant and that play, laughter and fun are a universal language.

The memories of the past 2 days will stay with me forever. And I promise to promote and push your entrepreneurial and community focused idea so that it flourishes and grows. So come on people – have an unforgettable time on a magic island with a real purpose! This is me paying it forward!

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