by Adam Jeffries Schwartz
The Quechua-speaking people, who live on islands in Lake Titicaca, have long been converted to Christianity, but they remain – in a more profound sense – Inca. Their world is still divided into three parts, each with it's representative animal: the condor protects the heavens, the puma the earth, and the serpent the underworld.
On the highest points of Island Amantini there is a temple for Patchapapa (father earth), and on a slightly higher point for, Patchamama (mother earth).
In between these two temples women sell things. They sell : hats, gloves (alpaca, well made). These women sell: chocolate, coca mate, donuts. They sell batteries. They charge to use the bathroom and they charge for advice. This is the island where no selling opportunity is ever ever missed.
The real religion appears to be capitalism; forget mother earth these people adore money.
The Floating Islands
The Floating Islands aren't really islands at all, but a complicated layering of totora reeds.The Uros people build their homes from the reeds, their boats also. They eat the reeds (think crunchy water).
When the mood strikes they pull up anchor (rocks attached to string & dropped through a hole), and float away. This was ingeniously devised to escape the war like Incas, but that was a long time ago. Now, the islands are now a permanent souvenir shop.
We are given a brief history lesson, (My friends, our guide says in the tone of a boy who pulls the wings off things, the lake is 60% Peru, 40% Bolivia, remember we won).
Then, we are obliged to take an expensive boat trip to another island, which is entirely dedicated to selling trinkets.
At the port we are met by our hosts, in traditional dress (ponchos for men, rainbow cummerbunds and flared red skirts for women.) Most in our group don't speak Spanish and neither do the hosts, so there's quite a bit of smiling back and forth as we're led to our home stay.
We're told there are no hotels on the island but this is not true. This is a needless lie; on the bedroom wall are two certificates showing completion of travel classes and two licences for the use of the room. Our family was sweet and eager to please.
In a kitchen the is state of the art circa 800 BC the mother and grandmother prepare three course meals which are delicious, especially if you crave the potato.
That night we dress up in tradition and party down with the locals (mostly the young girls with the women on the tour). Drinks are extra, so is the music.
The next morning the host mother and grandmother are up with the sheep building a fire, prepping for breakfast. Then we are sent off to the third island (Isla Taquile), where lunch is meager and extra, but the child beggars very dear.
(A Question for you
Usually people wear their best clothes on special occasions. But because of tourism they dress up every night. Is this strengthening their culture, or making it much, much weaker?)
The Old Woman Who Grinds Corn in the Plaza
On the second floating island, which is entirely dedicated to selling souvenirs, there's an old woman, whole face is an exquisite road map. She's alone in the center of the plaza grinding corn, which is unusual.
In front of her is a small begging bowl, which she points at. I put a few coins in and take out my camera. Before I snap a picture she has swept up the money and hidden it.
In opposition to the 'abundance theories' I find such comfort in, her bowl is always empty.