We arrived in the southerly city of Puno from La Paz, Bolivia, after a scenic but precariously windy (precarious for my stomach, that is) bus ride skirting the magnificent lake Titicaca.
We’ve done some of the touristy stuff, (and there is plenty of it – Titicaca is the second major tourist destination in Peru after Machu Picchu) since arriving in Puno, but starting yesterday we managed to get off the beaten track a bit with an overnight tour with Cedesos, an NGO in the area that works with local communities to develop sustainable tourism.
We were able to see LOTS in our jam-packed two days (and I’ll write more about all of it and Cedesos in a later post), but the juicy filling in our Titicaca-tour-sandwich was a home stay on the Chucuito peninsula.
Chucuito is home to a handful of small farming communities. We visited Karina, a village of about 80 families, located directly on the shores of Titicaca.
We stayed with the Fernández family. Efraín and his wife Tomasa are born and raised in Karina. They have seven children. The three youngest sons are still living at home although the older two will soon leave to study and work.
Like most of the families in Karina, they are subsistence farmers. They work so they can eat and live – growing crops, keeping livestock, fishing, weaving, knitting. They produce a lean excess that is sold for a profit, but mostly what they grow is what they eat.
Tourism in the area is about three years old. Efraín is the head of the tourism association in Karina. Eleven families are prepared to receive guests for over night visits. Working with Cedesos and a few other organizations, the association manages the reception of outsiders to the community and makes sure that all the families participating get a chance to play host.
Efraín is enthusiastic about his role with hospitality development in Karina, and it seems clear that the additional industry provides a welcome financial boost to the participating families. As far as we could tell, opening to tourism seemed well-balanced and positive for Karina. It certainly was a positive experience for us!
Learning some basic farming techniques, helping in the kitchen, eating food grown in the Fernández’s backyard, warming ourselves around a dried-cow-poop fire under a starry sky while listening to local ghost stories, experiencing the first rain marking the end of the dry season, sleeping under blankets hand-woven from wool from the family’s sheep, hiking to an Incan funerary tower, and simply spending time with the family – the short visit was so full!
Telling us about a dream he had in which the Incas of the lake were calling to him. Apparently this is a phenomenon that occurs in the area; people have been known to sleepwalk into the lake and drown. Drunks sometimes “see” a city on the lake and walk towards it, meeting the same fate. Efraín was able to realize what was happening in his dream and woke up before anything happened, but he said it’s dangerous to nap too close to the water.
This cactus helps locals with their farming. Efraín explained that because the cactus had grown so close to the ground, the season would be late this year, but the vibrancy of the flowers means the crops will be good.