The next day, we woke early to a traditional breakfast of bread, butter, mate tea and pancake. Ernesto brought out his English-Spanish book and I got a chance to work with him on his English, which was another great experience. While I got great a chance to learn about Amantani’s history and culture and the family, I was glad to have authentic exchanges and great conversations about life in our respective countries with Ernesto, Hilda and Juana.
As we said goodbye, Ernesto encouraged us to visit them again – without the facilitation of a tour company. Some families appreciate tourism, especially when all the profits go directly to the family instead of the tour company. If you would like to visit an awesome family on the island of Amantani in Lake Titicaca, send a letter to:
The Family of Ernesto, Juana and Hilda Quispe Calsin
Or just go to the island and ask for them around town. Tell them that I sent you and that I had a great experience with them – you know, the Chinese American girl from San Francisco, California!
We left Amantani to go to the Island of Taquile for about 2 hours. One hour was spent hiking up a long road into town, the other hour was spent looking at handcrafts in the main square and eating lunch. We also got a short presentation from our guide about Taquile culture. Many of the men wear hats that symbolize different things. One hat worn to the back shows that a young man is unmarried, another shows that a man is married, and yet another signifies that the person is family of an elected official – those hats are extremely bright and colorful.
When we started to head back to Puno, I realized that all the native South American tourists had become friends over time and were planning to keep in touch and hang out after the trip…
Despite my lack of expectations, I did think that I would naturally just meet people on my trip – as I did in Southeast Asia. While I did meet a few people here and there, including a nice Dutch couple that talked to me a lot about traveling (and how hard it was to travel without knowing Spanish in this area), I left the bus not really knowing anybody. Since it’s the low season here, I realize now that if I want to meet people on this trip, I need to try extra hard to get through the language and cultural differences, not to mention groups of friends.
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The next few days were bummy but chill days for me in Puno. I ate, walked around town, and got to know the little city that I actually came to enjoy. The sun was out, I ate some great local food, and in the end I actually did meet some people. The first night after my trip, I bumped into Kristyn, one of the girls from my Machu Picchu group, who was having dinner at the very same restaurant. It was relieved to talk to a familiar face and got to know her crew – a group of tourists that were going across the south of Peru on motorbikes, even in the rain. I got to know her tour guide, Eduardo, who was a local from Arequipa. We hung out later at a bar up the street and told stories about our tourist travels – my trip to Machu Picchu, as well as his tourist anecdotes during his mountain biking, rafting, hiking, and motorbike trips.
I also had an interesting conversation with the man working at the Bolivian consulate where I got my visa in Puno. Despite being a bit cold to me at first, he later warmed up to me a bit and started asking me questions. He was surprised that I was 34 (he thought I was 25, just like everyone else in South America). He asked about my occupation (O-N-G), why I was traveling solo, and even what hostel I stayed at and how much I paid. I think he was just more curious than anything about the girl from California (as I’ve come to be known) who works with youth back in the States and pays $20 soles a night for a hostel room with cold showers. It was kinda amusing.
Later that evening, I also went around to the Lonely Planet recommended bar – Kamizaraky Rock Pub – where I befriended all the guys that worked there, as well as some guys passing through Peru from Argentina. For the first time, I felt at home traveling solo. I had great conversations with people about traveling, about life, about things to do in both Peru and Argentina. I only wish I could have spent enough time there to get to know people more in-depth. Maybe they’ll still remember me and keep in touch.
My trip from beginning to end in Puno reminded me that despite some challenges, there’s always a way to find a bit of redemption in the end. Sometimes you have to try, and sometimes it happens when you’re not looking.