After four hours on a boat from Puno, its single engine huffed and puffed along the still waters of Â Lake Titicaca, we arrived on Amantai, largest freshwater lake in South America.
"Hola! Hola!" The locals were already waiting; arms waving, dressed in their cleanest traditional clothing, skirts and shirts and thick black woolly head dress, embroidered with colourful patterns. The community chief was head of the pack, short and stout, with a broad grin on his sun coarsened face.
I have volunteered myself for a community development project on this island for the next four weeks. This region of Peru often gets forgotten by government developments, with no piped water and electricity, this community lives a lifestyle one can only compare with the days when our ancestors also, cooked with gathered Eucalyptus branches, ate what could be grown on their small patch of land, and fetched water from the rivers and lakes for washing and drinking.
On this naturally beautiful island, where the sun is harsh, the land hardly fertile and the lake overfished by both Peruvian and Bolivians, life was both a blessing and a curse. We sheltered with local families in their mud brick houses, with outdoor lavatories that were simply a small dog house over a two meter deep hole. Life was simple. We woke each day as the sun rises over the lake, fetched water from the lake for washing up, ate our dinners by candle light as the sun sets, once again, over the waters, with the pattern repeating daily until our departure. To my own surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed not being contactable by phone nor email. The stars seemed brighter here at night, as if being at 3600 meters above sea level does being you closer to the skies. Nights go by silently with the calm and serenity of the place seems to spread right through to the horizon, disrupted only when the occasional donkey screeching at flocks of sheep coming too close their way.
The native language on the island is Quechua, a language passed down by their ancestors unchanged by the Spanish colonisation. We conversed in half Spanish half hand gesture to our host families and each and every one them as curious about us as we were about them. At night, we sit in the kitchen peeling potatoes, cooking by log fire and chatting in broken Spanish. We eat by candle light and read by candle light. Sometimes, we sit in the corn fields with the children, under a sky un-affect by pollution and the stars sparkled brighter.
During our stay, stories were told of the tiny people that used to live here during the pre-Inca days. Climb to the top of the hill where the temple sits, little round structures are dotted among the wheat fields. It is believed that Hobbit-like people used to inhabit this island, and when they were threatened by modern civilization, they grew wings like eagles and escaped to the skies. No one knew what became of them; perhaps the Sun God took pity on these odd creatures, and turned them into condors to dominate the skies in the Peruvian valleys.
Three weeks on Lake Titicaca went like a flash and it was our last day. We exchanged hugs and farewells, with promises to return one day. As our boat slowly drifted further and further away, I realised how much I have learnt in these three weeks, and how little we seem to have contributed. The friendship formed between us and the residents, their smiles and their ever so inspiring way to be happy will forever be in my heart.