The Tourist Trap of Lake Titicaca Part II – Taquile Island

After leaving the Uros Islands with an uncomfortable feeling that we had just been conned (The Tourist Trap of Lake Titicaca – Uros Islands), we settled in for the 2-hour boat ride to Taquile Island and hoped our next experience would feel more authentic. Along the way, our guide told us about Lake Titicaca and Taquile. The people are known for their beautiful textiles and, in an interesting twist, the men all knit and the women weave. Similar to the Uros Islands, the Taquile community decided to control the tourism on their island. The community is a cooperative and runs day tours, home stays, restaurants and textile sales. After lecturing us for awhile, our guide piped down and most of us cat-napped on the ride.

Taquile is tiny – about 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide – and stunning. We landed on a lovely beach with farming terraces dotting the hillside above it. Some young tourists who had done a homestay were playing with local children on the beach when we were met by our local male guides.  They were wearing beautiful outfits – bright, knitted hats with earflaps (chullos) and gorgeous woven sashes (chumpis). The men never stopped knitting. It was remarkable to see them walk and knit, especially given that we were not on smooth pavement. The hats denote marital status. While men wear knitted hats, with or without earflaps, married men wear red, patterned hats folded to the right, while unmarried men wear hats that are red and patterned at the bottom and white at the top. Folded to the right, it means he is looking for a girlfriend; hanging down the back means he is taken or not yet interested in dating. The island’s elected officials (men) wear black, felt hats during their terms. The community marries within itself, and our guide bluntly remarked that a disabled man who was causing some minor disruptions is the end result when the gene pool doesn’t expand. In addition, couples cohabit before getting married. If the cohabitation doesn’t work out and they didn’t have children, they part ways. I’m not sure how that works out as it would be pretty hard to avoid your ex on this tiny island!

After a brief introduction on the beach, we walked up the path. Matt and I thought we were pacing ourselves and going slowly, but apparently we weren’t as we inadvertently ended up following another group and had to be shooed back to wait for our own. Due to the altitude, some folks had a trouble with the ascent, but we had been in the Andes long enough to be acclimated. The views are stupendous and we were able to see Bolivia in the distance.

Eventually our group congregated in a courtyard and the women filed in to set up their weaving. I was confused to see the black head coverings as we heard the islanders were Catholic with the usual indigenous bent. Our guide told us that the head coverings were to protect the women’s hair from being bleached by the sun. A woman’s hair is a great asset and a bride cuts off her hair to weave into a sash for her husband’s wedding gift. No word on what a man gives his wife, but apparently he has to finish knitting his married-man hat before he can tie the knot. As our guide talked and got one of the men to demonstrate how to clean wool with a local plant, the women bent over their weaving in the hot sun while wearing multiple wool skirts and sweaters. In talking with one of the women afterwards, she admitted that it was terrible for her back to weave in this fashion. She also said that the runners they were weaving take about 3 weeks to complete.

Ancient Tools

Ancient Tools

After the talk and demonstration, there was the usual setting up of textiles for sale with the obvious expectation that we would buy. In talking with other visitors to Taquile, I think our experience was different than usual due to the elections. The main square where there is usually a textile market was closed, so the selection was limited and we felt more obligation than if we had been wandering around a market. We bought a few things and likely would have bought more given the fine quality if we had seen more than just a sampling. In addition, the weavers and knitters were not friendly (and Matt and I usually get points for at least speaking Spanish though on the island they also speak Quechua) and I felt a vibe that ranged from indifferent to resentful. Very different from the overly exuberant women on Uros, but awkward just the same. Matt and I compared notes later and he felt the same hostility.

After shopping, we were herded to the Eco Lodge Taquile for a traditional lunch of quinoa soup, fried trout and tea. The setting was pleasant and the lunch was fresh and tasty. We then hiked around more of the island to another dock for pick up. The day remained beautiful and the walk was leisurely and lovely. Upon our arrival to the dock, we discovered that the crew had returned to Puno to vote! We were stranded for about an hour and half with no beverages in the hot sun and nowhere to go as we were not allowed to wander. Needless to say, this ended our trip on a sour note. Matt and I struck up a conversation with some friendly Australian tourists who were planning their cocktail hour upon returning to their hotel and we had to break the news to them that it was a dry country due to the elections. We gave them “directions’ to our source in the market and hoped they found some libations for the evening.

There is no doubt that Taquile is beautiful and we felt we saw an authentic way of life (questionable on the Uros Islands), but we also felt unwelcome, which is odd for a community that has decided to become a tourist destination. It is hard to say whether I would recommend either excursion to someone traveling in Peru.

A Visit From Alex

Within days of our arrival, before we understood that door-to-door salesmen are the norm here, we opened our door to Alex, the rug guy.  We then let him in because he invoked the magical words “Shauna and Max,” the prior occupants of the home.  They had told us about Alex and said that he offered good rugs at good prices, so we took a look.  It helped that Alex speaks good English, which seems pretty amazing for a guy from the high Andes who goes around the country peddling his rugs.  Alex arrived on foot pulling a cart with a bundle of rugs that easily weighed 100 pounds.  If we understood correctly, Alex lives south of Lima in the Huancayo Region at an elevation about double ours.  So we are barely in the mountains according to Alex.

Image

Alex makes the rugs with the help of others in his village.  It appears that the finer weaving is done by men; women knit. He was justifiably proud of his wares and took a lot of time to explain the different offerings.  He has items in wools from sheep, young alpaca and alpaca, and showed us examples of each.  The young alpaca wool is incredibly soft and we quickly learned that those items are to be used as bedcovers or wall hangings, not rugs.   While we loved the idea of a bedspread, both Matt and I are allergic to wool and decided not to take a chance with something we could end up hating.  Alex explained the meanings of the designs.  Some were traditional Peruvian designs, such as “the Gossiping Women,” which depicts a group of women in traditional dress and hats sitting with clay jugs for sale, and hunting and warrior scenes.  Birds, butterflies, cats and frogs are also prevalent in the designs.  Alex also designs his own patterns, and was very proud to show us “Women Going to Church,” another one of Jesus that he did for a church, and one depicting a traditional scissors dance. Ultimately Matt and I special ordered a rug that will have condors around the perimeter and other animals on the inside squares.  The consummate salesman, Alex left us with the promise to return with our ordered rug (no deposit was requested, which seemed odd) in late November/early December so we could buy Christmas presents and invite other expats over to see his selections.  He agreed to the photo because he thought perhaps our friends at home might also like to buy some things from him and gave us his website to share.  http://www.freewebs.com/alexeulogio/home.htm.  He also suggested that by his return trip our Spanish would be better.  Let’s hope he is right on that count!

Beautiful Rugs and Tapestries

Beautiful Rugs and Tapestries