We’re a couple who like to put our feet up at night. Many a time we’ve sat down to a marathon DVD session of 24, Sopranos or West Wing and wondered why we were tired at work the next day (it became acceptable if we were in bed by 2am).
Luckily for us those programmes ended, otherwise we’d probably still be on the sofa now fitting ‘just one more’ in before bed. As the old saying goes, ‘there’s no place like home’, the sentiment ringing true as we travel the world.
Motivation to travel has come pretty easily to us, to experience different cultures and places. But we’ve found that to truly understand and integrate into a country or city takes time and patience, and even then it’s hard to ingratiate with the local population. Having said that, my research has found that one of the best methods to integrate involves many beers, which isn’t sustainable according to my liver.
Lake Titicaca Peru
So what should you do if you’re short on time but want to meet some locals for the period of time you have? Well one option is to organise a homestay with a local family independently, or through an agent. A homestay in our experience is the single best thing you can do to experience real life in another culture. We’ve stayed with nomadic berbers in the Sahara desert, and locals in the mountains of Sapa and Ba Be in Vietnam, as well as an amazing homestay experience in Laos. These are always the highlights of our trips!As we were short of time, we decided to book a Peru homestay when we visited Lake Titicaca, and for us it was probably the best part of our trip (yes better than Machu Picchu!). We took a boat out onto Lake Titicaca, where we visited Taquile island for lunch and a chance to purchase some local fabrics and clothing. Whilst we enjoyed our couple of hours there, we were happy to move onto the main event of our time on Lake Titicaca, our Peru homestay experience!The Luquina community live on the peninsula of Chucuito, and we were greeted by someone from each host family for the evening. Our first impressions of our hosts were of warmth and friendship and we were glad to meet such welcoming people. It was also fascinating to see what years working the land in sometimes inhospitable places had done to their skin and complexion, with strong features and toughness clearly visible from all of our host families. Quite a difference to our pasty white complexions!After a welcome presentation, we were introduced to our host family for the evening and off we went for dinner. Well, that’s what Laura and I thought. It turned out to be an eventful evening for us, as we got engaged to be married and ended up practically wrestling a donkey. So much for a quiet nap before the evening festivities.Our homestay family were incredibly kind, and cooked the potatoes and pasta that we had brought as a gift of thanks for having us. It doesn’t sound like much of a gift we know, but the families are compensated for our visit and we were asked not bring sweets or money. We also brought a very cool Xylophone that we would hear being bashed that evening, although what our host parents thought of it is anyone’s guess!
As with all of our Peruvian food experiences, the food was incredible. We’re both big fans of soup, but this soup here really hit the spot (can you tell it was Laura’s second bowl?).
We were lucky we could converse with our host family as I know enough Spanish to get by, which made the experience all the more rewarding. We learnt about the family, how they farmed the land for potatoes and traded with other islands and the mainland.
The conversation did get a bit tricky as I tried to explain (in Spanish) where we lived. I ended up confusing our host as I explained that:
a) we live in an apartment in a six storey building (he thought we lived in a six storey house)
b) the building has a number of apartments (he thought we lived with loads of families in a big house)
c) that we have a mortgage (I couldn’t quite explain in Spanish that we owned the property but we still owed money to a bank – I think he thought we were running away from a debt!).
Anyway, all my fault and the family probably think we are either living with hippies or millionaires.
After dinner it was a quick change and then off out for a local dance. You know, that thing that requires rhythm? Anyway, Laura breezed through it as usual whilst I floundered about on the dance floor with a local girl leading the way. I was so bad another girl had to come and help the poor first girl who had gotten me as a dance partner. In the end they gave up, and we resorted to spinning around in a triangle shape until the song finished. Not too dissimilar to my dance moves in a normal club then.
A couple of beers later and we’d loosened up and finally got the hang of some of the dances, all of us seemingly having a great time. Sadly, I did not look anywhere near as cool as these lads.And then it was to bed. Our own single beds and a mountain of blankets to insulate us from the freezing Peruvian night!
Our Peru homestay experience was one we will never forget. Although it was only one night, we got a glimpse of what life was like for these fantastic people on Lake Titicaca, and despite everything else we did in Peru, this was the time we enjoyed the most. For anyone travelling to a place short on time, who want to meet the locals, a homestay experience is an absolute must! Whilst you’re there, you can also visit Copacabana, Bolivia which is a great place to chill out for a few days if you are sick of travelling overland!
Have you experienced a homestay before? Any tips for others on how to organise it or where to go?