Stepping off the boat we were warmly welcomed by our host Cristina who, along with her husband, owns the particular island on which we would be spending the night. As you set foot on the island you sink gently into its cushiony tortora-reed-carpeted floor; the sensation is a little unnerving but you soon realise that you’re not about to plunge into the chilly waters of Lake Titicaca
We were shown around the rooms and told where we would be staying. The rooms are in beautifully built reed houses on raised platforms; they're spacious, comfortable and simply decorated with lots of local, colourful weavings. They have electricity but only a light and no sockets in the rooms. We later discovered that Cristina’s husband, Victor, had built all 10 houses himself.
As far as facilities go, I was pleasantly surprised! The bio toilet, though basic, was clean and functional. There was no shower on the island but this didn’t really matter too much as it was very cold in the morning and the prospect of a shower wasn’t actually that appealing! The kitchen was fully equipped and there was a spacious dining hut where our meals were served and the large picture windows gave us a fantastic view over the lake while we ate. Charging points for cameras and a water heater for making tea were also very nice touches! If you have enough time to spend the day on the island then you can take advantage of the sun loungers and hammocks and sit back and enjoy the tranquillity of the lake in the warm sunshine.
After the tour of the island, Victor took us out in his tortora reed boat to show us how they fish and to teach us more about the reeds that are so important to their way of life (they even eat the roots of the reeds, but don’t suggest that tourists try it!). Shortly after we returned we were fed a feast for dinner: Cristina had baked bread and we had a delicious three-course meal.
Cristina then joined us and started telling us the story of how she and Victor had built their island from scratch: originally, they undertook the endeavour of turning an island they shared with five other families into a tourist homestay but this project unfortunately didn’t work out. Undeterred, Cristina and Victor built a new island of their own so that they could continue receiving visitors and share their experience of the islands with them. Some of their neighbours complained that the island was too close and so they arranged for 13 boats to pull their island to a new, remote and peaceful location where they remain to this day. Happy and successful, they have made a name for themselves by appearing in Lonely Planet and are frequently invited to attend various tourism exhibitions.
The upkeep of the islands isn’t an easy task: three times a year they have to re-lay the tortora reeds with the help of 25 strong local men and their families. Together they lift the houses and re-lay the reeds while Cristina and the other women cook up a feast (a local tourism grant means that they have an impressive modern kitchen where they cook for guests on a gas stove).
We sat and listened to Cristina’s fascinating stories until it was time for bed; by this late hour the temperature had dropped and we were very grateful for the hot water bottles that had been left in our beds (Coca-Cola bottles filled with hot water and wrapped in a cloth). We slept soundly and woke up early for our transfer. After a light breakfast and some warm hugs from Cristina, we boarded our speedboat back to terra firme
The experience was wonderful – but a packet of wet wipes and lots of warm layers is a must! It’s also a nice gesture to take a small gift with you for the families – our guide suggested fruit as they don’t get much of it on the islands and it’s much better than sweets!
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