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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Island Life


It’s hard to think that just 75 kilometres northwest of this bustling capital, the tranquil Lago (Lake) Titicaca marks the border between Bolivia and Peru. In the second week of induction with International Service, the group and I headed for the Inca ruined island of Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) to experience family life in rural Bolivia.

As the port of Copacabana became smaller and smaller, and our boat moved steadily towards the shadows of the islands on the horizon, it became clear why tourists and locals alike seek the peace and tranquility of the islands to retreat from the hustle of social congestion in the towns and cities.  As we sat on the top deck of our rickety, conjested boat, we knew we were heading towards somewhere special.
 
On arrival on the island the local community welcomed us with open arms and an apthapi; an Aymara tradition where each family prepares a meal and comes together to share with the whole community.  Each family carries the food tied to their back in a colourful cloth known as awayo, which is also used to carry small children and produce on a daily basis.  After we had eaten the feast of recently caught fish, corn, beans, rice and meat, the entire group returned to the homes of their respective host families, whom we were to become a part of for the next few days.   

 Our family activities began the next morning with an early start as we dressed up warm to face the bitterly cold temperatures while fishing on the lake.  After taking the fish out the nets and bringing them home to be fried, we helped our families with an assortment of chores and activities, from walking llamas to weaving artesania.  I spent a couple of hours in the sun peeling beans – which was certainly very therapeutic, considering the light blue water of Lago Titicaca was just a few feet away from us glistening in the sun in front of the rising island hills just behind.

As well as learning about the intricacies of family life, we were also given a historical tour.  The island is shaped like a snake, and is home to a limited amount of agricultural land, which is imperative for the local community. The Island of the Sun had incredible significance during the Andean period in the sixteenth century as it is revered to be the location where the sun and moon were created, and the Inca dynasty was born. The temples on both the islands are of upmost ancient historical importance, and even after the Spanish conquest it is easy to see why this importance is upheld today. Four centuries    later, Isla del la Luna was used greatly as a political prison, but the Incas saw it as a site of great spiritual importance. The island was commonly referred to as “Coat”, meaning Queen Island´. The island was considered as a powerful deity in her own right and a counterpart of Isla del la Luna. 

Evenings on the island were spent making a camp fire next to the pier, and after much trial and error we managed to upkeep a fire for around fifteen minutes before it went out again. It was definitely difficult lighting fire at this altitude as the lack of oxygen made it difficult to stabilize the fire. The view was incredible however, which always made up for the lack of warmth during the night. It is not difficult to see why previous civilizations saw the locations of these remote islands as the origin of their societies.  Looking up at the night sky with a naked eye, one could clearly make out the foggy Asteroid Belt, all in realization of how small we humans are in comparison to the universe. The Incas were known to have an advanced astronomical understanding, being able to forecast future climatic events and agricultural cycles, but even more surprisingly is that five centuries later the Aymarans and Quecha were still using their knowledge for the same reason. 

 As the children hopped on the boat to what is their high school equivalent in Isla del Sol (as there are not enough children in this age range on Isla del la Luna, such a school is not built here), the group and I finished our final Apitapi, bid farewell to our families, and returned to La Paz, after an unforgettable few days living the lives of locals on the island.  

Written by Ravi Gill
Edited by Sarah Cassidy
To find out about International Service's ICS projects and stay up to date with our latest activities, please visit our blogs and 'like' our facebook page:
UpClose Bolivia
 Aldeas Infantiles - Entrepreneurial Education
Aldeas Infantiles: Strengthening Families
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