Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tranquil Taquile & The Night Moon

After visiting Los Uros, we boarded our boat and headed for Taquile Island. Taquile is located in the larger part of Lake Titicaca, so it took us about 2 hours to get there.

Viva la Peru! Enjoying the breeze and sunshine on the upper deck of the boat

The Taquile people are a close-knit Quechua-speaking community where everyone knows one another. Almost everywhere in South America, we have seen stray dogs running amok in cities and in a few hostels we stayed at, we had house dogs sharing the common areas with us. In comparison, there is not a single dog on Taquile - the island is so safe that residents don't see a need to keep a dog to prevent or warn against break-ins.

We trudged up a ramp to the main plaza (pretty taxing on the lungs at 3,800m above sea level!) and watched the islanders go about their daily lives dressed in traditional clothes. The ladies looked like walking flowers in their colourful poofy skirts and embroidered blouses. The men wore neat suits comprising a white long-sleeved shirt, and black trousers and vest. Slung across their chests were woven pouches containing coca leaves, which the men exchange when they meet (not unlike offering your pal a cigarette or a mint.)

All the men on the island (including little boys) wear woolen hats, which communicate their social status within the Taquile community. In the photo below, our sock doll models a multi-coloured weave upon his head, similar to those worn by a handful of VIPs on the island. Every year, the community elects a council of 12 men, who are in charge of the island's administration, such as farming, tourism, F&B, hotels, etc. These guys get to don a coloured hat during their year of service.

The men's caps come in 2 other designs. A fully red cap denotes a married man. Caps with a red base and a white upper half means that the wearer is single and available!

Darnie feeling like a very important person on Taquile

Just before we left Los Uros earlier that day, we had brought our DanYilin action figures onto the upper deck of the boat to pose for photos against the backdrop of the reed islands. The sight of our smiley little figures prompted a couple of friendly ladies from California to comment on how nice the dolls were, and that started a casual conversation between us. During lunch at Taquile, we had sat ourselves down opposite our new acquaintances. This time, however, one of the ladies' husbands was amongst them and Mr I-Live-On-A-Ranch-In-California dominated the entire lunch conversation by asking everyone else at the table whether they had watched This Movie or read That Book. Almost every book or movie he named was some supposedly acclaimed literary work or award-winning foreign film, whose obscure titles and content we had never heard of before.

So, did anyone watch the Mongolian movie about how the locals in a small village rallied around a mother camel that refused to feed her newborn calf, and eventually manage to coax her into taking her baby to her breast?

Or the African movie about a women with AIDS, which ended with a scene of the sick woman walking into the endless horizon.

Maybe you have read this prize-winning literary work that blah blah blah blah blah....

Well, as I'm not Ms Universe/Ms World/Madonna/Angelina Jolie, I had no stories to contribute about Mongolian wildlife, milking stubborn camels or the sad state of the world. I guess I could have asked if his exquisite taste in foreign films included Money No Enough or if Archie comics were on his reading list, but I found the task of deboning my trout to be more interesting and went about quietly eating my lunch.

Somehow or other, the conversation diverted to the subject of fish. I told him that in Singapore, it was more common for us to eat fish from the sea, rather than river catch like trout or salmon. Mr California smiled smugly in reply, "I'm a snob. I only eat trout and salmon."

Huh? I tried adding, "But sea bass and grouper are really good too, and so is tuna and..."

He interrupted me, "I'm a fly fisherman. Only the fish caught this way are worth eating. I don't eat fish caught with a hook and sinker, or in a net. I'm a snob." *smug look*

Seriously, I don't understand how an educated person who enjoys exposure to acclaimed literary and cinematic work, and is privileged enough to travel the world can be so narrow-minded as to deem only 2 types of fish worthy to enter his gut, and to close his life to alternative choices and different experiences.

Imagine: his pride will never let him enjoy the juicy sweetness of a steamed sea bass or pomfret, or our much-loved fish slice bee hoon soup, or deep fried kuning dipped in soya sauce, or fish head curry, or the simple taste of ikan bilis with porridge or nasi lemak.

So much for broadening one's horizons and enriching one's life through travel. I simply cannot believe that there are people out there, who are blessed with the opportunities and resources to live life to the fullest but choose to believe their preferences to be elite and superior, and therefore shut themselves to the richness of life itself. A life like his is truly pitiable. A mindset like his, even more so.

We left Fish Snob & Friends alone for the rest of the trip. I didn't need anyone telling me that the ikan bilis that I eat are not worthy to enter his loudmouth.

From the highest point on the island, we had a wonderful view of Lake Titicaca, framed by a stone arch, which marked the beginning of our 500-step descent to the dock.

The iconic view of Lake Titicaca from Taquile Island. See the little boy hiding in the shade of the arch? You can just spot the white of his cap.

500 steps is a mighty big challenge for little sock dolls

A last backward glance of the summit as we make our way down the 500 steps

At the foot of the steps, we hung around the dock, enjoying a few last views of Lake Titicaca from Taquile.

Trying to kiss. But it's hard when you can't stop smiling even for a second.

Darnie lovin' the scenery at Lake Titicaca. Photo snapped just half a second before he fell over backwards in joy.

Afternoon sparkles on Lake Titicaca en route back to Puno

We got back as sunset was meeting moonrise. The moon hung low over the lake while a gradient of colours slowly transformed our sunny blue roof into a darkened night sky.

View of the full moon from our room

We had a beautiful full moon that night, as a splendid mid-autumn moon should be. But celebrating the beauty of the moon while freezing in the blustery Peruvian night wind was a far far cry from what everyone else at home was doing that night: lighting lanterns, sipping Chinese tea and nibbling on mooncakes in the warm tropical breeze under the moonlight. We felt seriously deprived that night. In particular, deprived of champagne truffle snowskin mini-mooncakes from Raffles Hotel.

What's a splendid mid-autumn moon without yummy mooncakes and pretty lanterns?

No mooncakes? Fine, we'll eat alpaca then.

Well, local food seemed like the next best thing to celebrate a festival with. We popped into Ukuku's restaurant, whose alpaca steak in red wine sauce and mashed apples had earned a big thumbs up from Elaine and Rhys earlier that week. And yes, it was good. Really bluddy good. The steak was tender, the sauce flavourful and the veggies soft yet firm. With all that flavour in the food, I didn't know where the apple sauce was suppose to fit in! So I just ate it for dessert. I used to laugh at my younger sister (who is an adult on the wrong side of 25...) for occasionally buying a bottle of apple sauce from the baby food section, just because it tastes nice. Gee, now I don't know why I've never done that before! Apple sauce is totally yummylicious!

This was so good. SO SO GOOD.

We ignored our friends' food advisory about Ukuku's big portions and proceeded to order a helping of chicken cordon-bleu. Which turned out to be the smart thing to do, cos I was totally polishing off the entire alpaca meal by myself. Dan wiped up the remainder of the red wine sauce with his chips.


Our short but enjoyable stay in Puno would not have been so memorable if not for the owners at Phajsi Aruma, the guesthouse which we were staying at. We had expected Puno to be a dreary little town (it turned out to be a noisy dreary little town) and had chosen to stay outside of the town centre. It must have been serendipity to spend our 2 moonlit mid-autumn nights in a guesthouse named "Night Moon", where we had the most heartwarming stay throughout the 6 months that we have been on the road.

Looking out onto the quiet road from our room, away from the town centre. But still close enough to enjoy view of pretty fairy lights on the hills.

For US$20 per night, we did not expect to wake up to a view of Lake Titicaca, which we did.

For US$20 per night, we did not expect to get eggs, bacon and fresh juice in our breakfast, which we did.

For US$20 per night, we did not expect the owners themselves to receive us at the bus station, help us purchase tickets for our next leg, and bring us to their guesthouse in their own car. We did not expect them to make every effort to speak to us in their limited English. We did not expect them to offer us the use of their hot water taps in their private apartment to wash our dirty clothes, or to collect our dry laundry from the terrace for us, or to boil water for us to cook our noodles, or to switch the TV to CNN and angle it towards us so that we could watch the news in English over breakfast. We did not expect them to lend us their binoculars for our island-hopping trip on the lake, or pay for a taxi and accompany us to the dock themselves when the tour agency was late in picking us up, so that we wouldn't miss the boat. We did not expect them to send us to the bus terminal in their own car, which they had to pay for to enter the parking lot. We did not expect them to help load our bags into the bus and see us off at the very steps of the bus to Tacna, at eight o'clock at night. We did not expect them to want to take a photo together with us before we left.

For US$20 per night, we did not expect to be treated like family.

For US$20 per night, the owners of Phajsi Aruma did all that.

We thanked them so many times for their warm hospitality but that didn't seem good enough. So we tried to return their kindness in the only way we could - by taking the time and effort to craft a heartfelt and sincere review of Phajsi Aruma on TripAdvisor.com, in hope that more travelers to Puno would make the choice to stay at the guesthouse.

Enjoying the tranquility of Lake Titicaca from our room

We ended our stay in Peru on a high note. It has been a highly memorable month - scaling mountains, having plenty of laughs with good friends, enjoying new food experiences, tasting bak kwa again, waking up at 6am to see Singapore 'live' on TV, exploring ruins, indulging in gorgeous scenery.

I certainly had a host of warm memories to indulge in while we froze on the overnight bus to Chile!


Tracy Su said...

Wow, talk about working like you don't need the money. That's just like your guesthouse owners!

By the way, did Dannie make Yi Lin crouch at his feet to take that first photo? Or did Darnie or Eee Lint take it? Btw, the dollies look incredibly cute, hee hee, wish I could get pictures like that here =)

Dannie said...

We prefer to think of it as service from the heart. Seems like everyone is raving about the service here on Tripadvisor.

Darnie took the first photo with Oly. Cool huh? :p

Yi Lin said...

Trace: we stayed 2.5 days at Phajsi Aruma, cos we were taking an 8pm bus to the border. We offered to pay for the half day, but the lady didn't want to take our money, and told us to stay till it was time to take our bus! We insisted anyway and paid her. She was really SO very nice.

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