Puno, Peru: Can You Keep A Secret?

Dear Lunch Table,

You know how everyone’s parents warn their children, Don’t do anything embarrassing because it might end up on Facebook? Well, I think it’s time for kids to start telling their parents the same thing. At least I need to. My parents usually avoid the camera unless it’s to force my brother and I in front of the lens to improvise with smiles. They aren’t the ones whose awkward poses are captured and displayed in frames above the fireplace. In those rare cases when I am lucky enough to take a nice, or not so nice photo of them, I am persuaded to move my accomplishments to the trash button on the camera. Which is why I might be in some trouble. See, I just don’t think I can let this photo pass up the spotlight . . .

Where’s Waldo Hat – 7 dollars

Flamboyant Costumes – 20 bucks

This Photograph – Priceless

I guess if I splurged on the details of this photo, I should tell you where the picture was taken. This moment happened on the way to our Amantani Island home stay, located near Puno, Peru. Before we arrived at our home stay, we stopped briefly at the Uros Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca. These islands are made completely out of reeds. Actually, everything was pretty much made out of reeds, including the homes, the boats, and the handmade crafts. Techniques passed down from generation to generation were adapted to engineer the floating reed floor, which now safely supports an entire community. After a tour of the island, we were asked to change into traditional clothing, hence the photo.

As I will now dive into a little self-awakening paragraph, I grant you permission, my dear lunch table, to zone out. Ever since our trip to Puno, Peru, I have been struggling with the question, When does tourism help a community, and when does it destroy it? Money brought in from tourism may help communities afford electricity, medicine, and food, but sometimes tourism drives communities to be something they aren’t. And from all of the “Don’t Ever Change” books, and “You’re Beautiful The Way You Are” speeches that teenagers, like myself, are given, I know that being something you aren’t isn’t exactly a good thing.

A little boy on one of the Uros Islands

The people of the Uros Floating Islands fled to different parts of Lake Titicaca to hide from a war. They eventually constructed islands out of totora reeds and created communities. Today, the small profits from tourism allows these communities to afford better supplies for their families. I suspect that many of the families now live in Puno, though they must pretend to live on the Floating Islands in order to still attract tourists. The sad part about tourism is that these communities don’t have much of a choice, since telling the truth about living in Puno would put a major dent in the flock of tourists who visit these islands. Does tourism help or hurt the Uros Floating Islands? I still have yet to decide.

A cute little sheep on Amantani Island

When we arrived at Amantani Island, our host, Vilma, warmly greeted us and introduced her two kids, Lucy, seven, and Henry, nine. We didn’t see the father very much. He was planting the fields, but Lucy and Henry waited for him every evening. I had brought along a soccer ball, and when I showed it to the kids, they dragged my brother and I out to a cement court with goals pinned at the end lines. We played for a long time, eventually gathering quite a few locals until we had a full game. I had a blast, and this was easily the highlight of my home stay.

I'm so proud of myself for beating little kids . . .

My family spent most of the day hiking and eating loads of soup and potatoes. My brother and I vouched never to eat another french fry again, but after two hours of being on the mainland, Cal resigned from this competition commitment. At night, however, it was goodbye hiking, hello dancing. Vilma invited our family to a disco held only for visitors and their hosts. None of us wanted to go to a non-local party, but Vilma really wanted to dance. My mom and brother quickly said they couldn’t go (for an unknown reason, even to themselves) but told Vilma that my dad and I would be happy to attend. Yes, feel free to take a minute to gather what just happened. My mom, the person who is supposed to teach me honesty and loyalty, and my brother, who is supposed to be my teammate throughout life, threw my dad and I under the bus. We took this blow, however, with courtesy. And with polite smiles and laughter, my dad and I got dressed into our local yet touristy clothing.

Peace sings are made by locals, not tourists . . .

Peace signs . . . Really?

I have to admit that the disco party was quite fun, although my dad, still recovering from his injury from horseback riding, had to limp through a few dances. During the dances, which seemed to me like rhythmic fitness tests, the host families and visitors hooked arms and grabbed hands as we ran around the room in circles. After about three dances, however, my dad and I were exhausted and stumbled back to the house where the rest of our four person family were sprawled out on their beds.

Dancing the night away . . .

Hey Darbinator: During this home stay Lucy and I played volleyball. Okay, she served the ball to me, and I attempted to hit it back to her, usually using my feet to return it. But for the purpose of making sure I don’t feel too embarrassed for being worse than a seven-year-old, I’m going to call this volleyball. While quite a few locals watched me fail, I used all the skill I had, which mounts up to practically nothing, to make sure I didn’t crumble at a seven-year-old’s feet. So my dear Darbinator, since I obviously don’t possess any talent whatsoever (let’s not forget beach volleyball) and you have displayed an amazing amount of skill being captain of your team last year, and now making Varsity volleyball (congrats!), I am happily surrendering my short volleyball career (which lasted about a day), and leaving this incredible sport to you.

Our wonderful host family!

I miss you guys so much,

KJ

Interesting Fact: Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru. There are over 300 traditional dances that were passed down from Inca ancestors which are performed in this city.

A Hint About Home Stays: The realness of the host families’ lives is hidden behind tourism, but it’s easy to peel away some of those layers. I recommend home stays on the Amantani Island.

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About KJ

I, KJ Davidson-Turner, have willingly given up the trauma and drama of Junior year and my lovely friends at the lunch table (I'm going to miss you guys!) to travel to unknown areas of the world and experience the cultures of these unfamiliar places.

6 Responses to “Puno, Peru: Can You Keep A Secret?”

  1. Hi KJ. Your blog is very entertaining and
    keep those pictures of your mom and dad coming!

  2. Hey KJ,
    all this information and photos are just terrific. I’m glad to see you all are having a great time. I especially enjoy the pics of your dad in traditional garb. However, ask him about the cute bonnet he donned about 20 years ago! LOL

  3. i love your blog. I can´t get enough of it. Keep it coming!

    You are a fantastic writer…very informative and very funny.

    hugs to you guys.

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