Partying with the Amantaní islanders on Lake Titicaca

Jumping for joy as the sun sets over lake Titicaca

I feel like a Second World War evacuee waiting for someone I have never met to welcome me into their home.

Fortunately a kindly-eyed, smartly dressed old man finally beckons Sophie and I over and leads us up a hill into his rustic cottage.

Please Sir, pick me. I promise I’ll be a helpful young chap

His name is Inocencio, he is nearly 70 years old and has lived on the small but beautiful island of Amantaní in the middle of the biggest high altitude lake in the World all his life.

He introduces us to his wife, Marcelina, and daughters Flora and Celia.

They invite us into their small kitchen and moments later we are tucking into quinoa (a traditional Andean grain) soup, yams, potatoes and a slab of grilled cheese that tastes like halloumi. All washed down with a mug of muna – a herby, mint tea.

Inocencio and his daughter Flora cook up a storm in their little kitchen

Pointing to a set of perfectly horizontal stone and grass terraces carved into the mountainside above, Inocencio smiles and says “Inca.”

I discern that he still grows his crops on a plot of land that has been farmed for more than six centuries.

A brilliant piece of pre-conquistador engineering that needs no improvement.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it: Inca terracing, the traditional farming method still used on the island

Potatoes and the odd yam seem to be the only things he plants.

I raise my eyebrows: “Not the most varied diet, señor.”

He laughs, before countering: “I bet it’s more varied than yours, I grow 3,000 different types of potatoes here.”

The island population is almost completely vegetarian, only eating a token slice of fish or lamb on special occasions.

Three traditional languages are spoken in the Puno area: Quechua on one side, Aymara to the other and Spanish in the centre. Fortunately everyone speaks a bit of Spanish, so we are able to communicate with our hosts, but after dinner we try and learn some words in Quechua. It’s quite a clipped spoken language.

Proud owners of our funky island hats

Marcelina presents us with woollen bobble hats that she has spent several months knitting.

“To keep you warm on Father Mountain,” she says, as Sophie and I head out with Flora to climb to the summit of the island’s highest peak.

En route, I stop for an impromptu game of football involving the locals and the tourists. The tourist team has too many so, as I happen to have my Peru football shirt, on I volunteer to play with the islanders.

Playing footy with the Peruvians

They look me up and down, frown, shake their heads and tell me I’m goalkeeper. I hope it’s because I’m taller than all of them.

I suspect it’s because they think I’m an unfit gringo with little skill. Pretty accurate to be fair.

Peruvians are football fanatics, in keeping with all of South America. Even in the most remote parts of the continent (desolate deserts, thick jungles, high mountains) I have always spotted a pair of rudimentary metal/wooden/bamboo posts in the shape of a goal.

Capacity crowd at the awesome Stadio de Titicaca

The primitive island of Amantaní is no exception and so I plonk myself between the uprights, keen to do my best to make a good impression.

The capacity crowd of four locals look captivated.

Two balls quickly sail past me and a despairing teammate decides I would inflict less damage to our side in an outfield position.

Unfortunately we still lose and I think I go a long way to shattering the locals’ illusions of England being a hotbed of Premier League-style talent.

The entrance to the temple at the top of Father Mountain

After scampering around in bare feet for half an hour we climb up Father Mountain to see the temple where the islanders make animal sacrifices once a year.

We are told to walk around the holy structure three times in an anticlockwise direction, making a different secret wish on each circuit, before watching a beautiful sunset behind snowcapped mountains on the Bolivian side of the lake. We can also see Isla del Sol, the island the Incas believed was the place where earth was born.

Get ya glad rags on gal! Sophie gets dressed up, Amantaní-style

Back at Inocencio’s home, Sophie and I are dressed in traditional costume for a night on the tiles at the local barn.

When we arrive the panpipers and guitarists with mini, 16-stringed guitars, are already pumping out the music.

After a bottle of beer Inocencio grabs Sophie and his daughter Flora grabs me and we gently dance along to the bouncy beats.

The new line from Armani

Amantaní, with a population of 4,000 in ten different communities, is one of several permanent islands in Lake Titicaca, a massive puddle of water that stretches to a width of 60km and a length of 165km.

Originally it was part of the Pacific Ocean and when analysed in the lab, tiny traces of salt can still be found in the murky water.

The following morning Inocencio and his wife cook up a breakfast of more potatoes, with electricity generated from a solar panel on the roof – not everything on the island has remained untouched since Inca times.

We say a sad farewell to our smiling waistcoat-wearing host, who just a day before was a stranger in a strange land.

Faces of Amantaní


About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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One Response to Partying with the Amantaní islanders on Lake Titicaca

  1. Aunty Brenda says:

    Enjoyed this, as usual, also your Christmas news letter, but stomach churned at the thought of eating guinea pigs! Looking forward to seeing you again next year, certainly before “the wedding”

    Wishing you both a Happy Christmas, wherever that may be.

    Lots of love,

    Aunty Brenda.

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