little sarah Big World

Home Stay

~OR~

I Could Not Have Danced All Night

As I mentioned, I was sick and bummed out on Amantani, during our home-stay. But it wasn’t all a bust, Friends! It was also very peaceful and relaxing at times.

Moreover, it was really cool to get to meet this family that I wouldn’t otherwise have met–Catalina and her 4-year-old son, Anderson (her older daughter and husband were away on errands for the weekend)–stay in their home and eat meals with them.

That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and for that I’m grateful to have braved extreme exhaustion, lung tremors, and cultural commodification.

Oh, and did I mention…the food?!

This was honestly the best I ate the entire time in South America. Lunch was a brothy quinoa soup (with quinoa they’d grown in their own yard–I’d never seen that!) followed by roasted corn and root vegetables (including a variety of potato that was sweet yet hard, like a carrot) with fried goat cheese. We washed it all down with fresh lemon-balm tea made with whole, recently harvested herbs.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Dinner was a similar soup, followed by starch-on-starch crime–pasta and potatoes with a side of white rice. Still, though, it was home-cooked meal, and very satisfying.

I spent most of the time trying to get to know our hosts, though Anderson was shy and Catalina was having none of it. She seemed very used to having guests in her home (she’s been doing it nearly 10 years) but kept interaction to a minimum. I wanted to know, more than anything, how she felt about this experience, as to me it was such a unique clash of cultures.

But to Catalina (as I finally managed to ascertain), it’s just an easy second job, which means that she doesn’t have to work outside of the home. They host two guests, once a week, and the ends meet. Simple as that.

Then the rest of the time she can knit, talk with friends or family, and farm.

And I suppose she likes it like that? I don’t know. I spent less than 24 hours with her, and I’m reluctant to generalize (though I’m sure I already have). I guess what I mean to say is that I hope she’s happy with the arrangement. And I think it will be interesting to see the impact the constant influx of foreigners has on Anderson. For now, he seems pleased. And shy.

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Amantaní Island

After visiting Uros, we arrived on Amantaní, where we would be spending the night with host families. It was a peaceful farming land, divided into different communities, each of about 1,000 families. Ours was Occosuyo.

Everyone on Amantaní grows their own food, for the most part, so there are fields and sheep and cattle everywhere, and everything is drenched in sun and long, quiet hours as people go about their business, stopping to say hello. Occasionally a man will ride by with a little radio tied to his donkey, but even that had its charm.

Though peaceful, this stay was not restful. We were allowed a few hours to decompress and eat lunch, but then it was time to hike to the top.

…which I wouldn’t have minded except (have we forgotten?)…I was sick! So sick! With some sort of respiratory infection, and we were at a higher altitude  (12,507 ft/3,812 m) than even Salt Lake (4,226 ft/1,288 m), and climbing! I honestly thought my lungs might collapse; they kept doing this strange shivering tremble, and my heart rate would suddenly spike. I suppose it was all worth it for the view. And the delicious, warm, Peruvian beer I enjoyed at the top.

There were men, women and children trying to sell us hats they’d knit, chocolate bars and beer all along the hike. Just in case you thought we’d escaped the tourist trap aspect of the trip, we hadn’t.

Later, after dinner, we had to hike up again (though not as far, yet my lungs still spasmed) to go to a “customary” dance night, dressed in the traditional clothing of our host families. I suppose it was supposed to be fun, but again, I was just kind of bummed out. They put on these cultural experience nights nearly every night–not the same families every night, but it’s the same community and center–basically “on demand” for the tourists to have an authentic experience, yet it didn’t feel authentic to me. It felt more like a hollow shadow of what once was, reanimated in order to make ends meet. They can’t be happy doing this, right? Right?

I never quite found the answer to that question.

And then it was time to go.