02.11.2016 - 03.11.2016
On November 1, All Saints Day, we left Cusco and headed to Puno. To be honest, until we planned this trip, I had never heard of this city. Puno is located on the shores of Titicaca Lake.
G Adventures arranged our itinerary and on some tours the company encourages the members of the group to spend the night with the local people. The community paired with G Adventures is located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, a 90 minute boat ride from Puno.
Prior to going to the community, our group visited a small store in Puno. We were encouraged to spend about S/. 20 and bring some basic food to the host family. We brought rice, wheat, cooking oil and fresh fruit.
We then spent some time riding in a boat on the lake. We stopped and visited a small island made out of reeds and then went to a small town on the lake for lunch. We had prepared for the fact that the trek and Cusco were at high elevation, but I didn't realize that Puno and Lake Titicaca are also at high elevation. Walking for 20 minutes from the boat dock to the restaurant was tough because we had to climbup a steep hill.
Finally we reached the community that was hosting us for the night. It is simple to write about what we did, it is much more difficult to articulate how I felt about the experience.
Inviting wealthy visitors from affluent countries to stay with rural families in developing countries raises many questions. Does our presence help the families? And if so, how? Do we really gain an understanding of another culture by visiting for 18 hours? Did the families have a say in the whole visiting tourism program? Who decides how the money we, and all of the visiting tourists contribute, is spent?
Reflecting on our experience, the question I pondered was about happiness. The young mother at our homestay, Gladys, was 22 years old. She lived in a very modest home with few belongings. Gladys shared her home with her common-law-husband, her one year old son and her mother-in-law. Her home had electricity, a propane stove and basic kitchen supplies. Laundry was done outdoors, using a tap and a bucket. Gladys earned extra money by selling Peruvian items to tourists when she visited Puno once a week. She also helped her husband work on their farm.
So, is she happy? After thinking about this, I realized I can't answer that question because what constitutes happiness is different for all of us. I left the community feeling sorry for Gladys, but the more I thought about, I realized that although she may not have many belongings, she was surrounded by love. Her young husband praised her cooking and sewing skills. Her mother-in-law obviously doted on the baby and provided care for him. She had younger sisters living nearby.
I reflected on what made me happy and I concluded that my wonderful family brings me the most happiness. Of course there are other people and things that make me happy, but having a loving family is the biggest contributor to my happiness.
If nothing else, our visit to the small community on Titicaca Lake provided an opportunity for me to reflect on the many blessings I have in my life.