Arrived. Housed. Cleaned. And in algorithmic fashion we found ourselves gleefully confronting heaping plates of Trucha (trout) and a growing crowd of beer bottles. Two European girls, long term volunteers on the island, had joined us for dinner. The subsequent conversation gave us some important insights into island culture.
Until I visited island, I had no idea how traditional Bolivean courtship functioned. They are a very quiet people and it’s a rare sight to see a Bolivean man and his cholita chatting intimately over a glass of wine or shaking what their mothers gave them out on the Salsa floor. Yet the broods of snotty children running around on the street provide overwhelming evidence that this courtship is somehow taking place.
Unfortunately, the answer to my questions was not a cheerful one. The Island of the Sun is an interesting microcosm, as tourism did not arrive there until about 20 years ago. Before that, the Isleños were a very communal group. Then tourism arrived, bringing with it a new but limited industry. According to the volunteers, this has created some major wealth imbalances and motivated jealousy.
This sad fact expressed itself in its most vulgar fashion with the kids of the island. Every one that you pass on the island sticks out their hand and bluntly demands payment from gringos. If you snap a picture of a cute little girl, like Pavlovian clockwork she will run over you with supplicating hands and a demanding wrinkle in her brow and yell: Pagame. Pay me.
But more important than how intrusive gringos are treated is how the Isleños treat each other under the auspices of tourism. The natural courtship ritual of the islanders consists of playful flirtation (stealing each other’s cows etc.), followed by a serious inquiry to the girl’s father about a potential marriage. Dating and premarital sex are not exactly textbook expressions of this process. But with tourism came skinny white girls with flashy bikinis and an inundating wave of the best and worst of western media.
The result? An alarming incidence of local girls getting raped by anxious young men. And that can be the fastest and saddest way into a marriage on the island.
As the full impact of the poisonous quality of our good looks and tourist dollars sunk in, we all stared down at the table guiltily. To break the awkward silence, we poked a little fun at my sister, who had forgotten her bathing suit and had been tanning in panties and a bra. Western women. The root of all evil.
Thankfully, the falling of night and the calming effects of natural beauty quelled our consciences.
Despite the howling winds blowing in off the lake, I made an effort to visit the sanctuary of the middle of the beach on my final night. Far from the dimming effects of any artificial lights, the stars of the Southern hemisphere were startling. I put my hood on and lay back. The sand cradled my shoulders, cushioning me for a silent symphony of meteors and the overwhelming night sky.
But the light show didn’t stop there. Being at 4000 meters sobre el nivel de mar, clouds and their incipient storms hang surprisingly close to the ground. This creates an incredible apparition, day or night, of huge and distant thunderstorms occurring while you sit under the clearest blue sky.
As I sat up to head back inside, a pair of these storms was striking up behind distant hills. Not a single star was obscured by cloud and a veritable timpani roll of lightning drummed up at the horizon. Soul music.


One Response to Titicacatwo

  1. Carla Thorogood says:

    You surprise me with your insight and eloquence sometimes!

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