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To Coroico by Carl Cleves

Page 6

The next few weeks we roamed all over the island. I felt totally at peace. I was reminded of the time spent with Beatrice in the house of Lakshmi near the Sikkim border, recovering from my long fight with hepatitis. I love altitude and space. It lifts my spirit. I meandered through terraced gardens, admired the exquisite stonework, the gates and small monuments one encountered unexpectedly, and sat by singing brooks writing and thinking. Tashi and I went exploring on day-long excursions. Inventing stories on this island was an easy task. It was such an inspiring place to be. Each moment we expected a hobbit or troll to appear but instead we met the women working in the fields with their red skirts of many layers and delicately embroidered blouses. Some carried a harvest of grain on their backs or lifted the young lambs, which were very spoiled, into their arms. The men folk manned the fishing boats or walked around knitting the floppy colourful woolen caps they always seemed to wear. They looked raffish in broad calf-length black pants, homespun white shirts with puffed shoulders, elegant waistcoats that the women wove. We always encountered them on our outings, their nut-brown faces breaking into a wide grin, the knitting needles in motion.

We were living in a fairytale land. There was a stillness and tranquility that was not even interrupted by the constant barking of dogs, the echo of which one hears almost everywhere on the globe except for the desert regions. Here, I was told, there were no dogs. In a bean field next to a tiny waterfall, not far below the hut, I whiled away the hours. Beneath me the grand lake spotted with agate, silver and blue, lay motionless and dignified. It was easy to forget that there existed another world away from here. According to the ancient Inca legends, the god Viracocha created the sun and the moon out of the waters of Lake Titicaca and to this day the lake remains a Huaca, a sacred place for Andean Indians. The sun reflected fiercely from the lake's surface. I too had taken on the appearance of those raffish men: the grandmother had woven me a rough shirt and I had bought a cap from Faustino to protect me from the sun.

Soon I learned to orientate myself quite well on the labyrinth of tracks criss-crossing the island -even by moonlight. There was no other lighting. Twice, at daybreak, Tashi and I climbed to the highest point of the island to admire the expansive view over the lake, the sky and snowcapped mountain ranges reflected in the gently rippling waters of glass, metal and stone. The small and larger islands emerged in the dawn light. Then Viracocha created the sun once again, illuminating the spectacular sight. "Daddy, from here we can see the whole world!" Tashi declared.



Once the sun sank the temperature dropped rapidly. At this altitude even the difference between a sunny spot and shadow was extreme. At night there was little else to do but lie under the blankets and listen to Faustino's stories about Taquile's history. It was cold and the one kerosene lantern hardly lit up the hut. Kerosene was saved for cooking. Faustino explained to me in Quechua-peppered Spanish how the islanders had managed to buy their island back from a Spanish colonial landowner. They had since formed a cooperative to market their woolen products and attract tourists. Tasks were rotated amongst themselves. They owned the boat that daily travelled the four hours from Puno and brought in the tourists who would spend a couple of hours on the island, and hopefully buy the woven shirts and caps the cooperative store offered, before returning to the mainland. The islanders had joined forces to make policy decisions on the prices of their goods, the use of traditional garb, the curbing of modernity and the future of Taquile.

Whenever there was a celebration we wandered over to the village. On these days all the Indians wore their finest clothes, and flutes, whistles, panpipes and charangos resounded. One morning in the church I heard the most enchanting Indian harp and violin music. The door was locked and I was informed that the musicians were practising. "What for?" I enquired. "Para la fiesta de Pascua," was the reply. Easter was approaching.

(To be continued)