Panaroma from the deck of Rofino's house and my home for the night
This afternoon after our arrival at the island of Amantani we were divided into groups of three and met our respective families. We went home with them, ate a quiet lunch and then reconvened with the group to hike to the top of the mountain on island for a better view of the lay of the land, which also put us at above 4000 meters, again.
Snow capped peaks of Bolivia in the background
As I sat atop the mountain, freezing, hungry and thirsty I wondered why I chose to do a homestay instead of, say, go check out Chicama, the longest left (wave) in the world or head to the party/surf towns of the north. The view was beautiful, with the snow capped mountains of Bolivia across the lake in the distance, but this wasn't exactly my idea of vacation. Except that I'm not on vacation, I'm traveling to learn more about other cultures and they way people live. Vacation comes next in Costa Rica and Mexico.
After an hour atop the mountain waiting for the sun to set behind the Andes, we headed back down the mountain to our homestays. The two girls and I watched the stars come out with a brilliance that I haven't seen since sailing across the South Pacific. Then we were called to dinner which was held in the humble little dining room with four rough benches and a dirt floor. A plastic tarp made the ceiling and a wire poked through for a single fluorescent lightbulb to hang down. The itinerary had said the village has no electricity so this surpassed my expectation.
Typical lunch - rice, potatoes, fried cheese and tea
Rofino, the father/grandfather of the house ate with us and was soft spoken but curious. The families here speak Quechua with one another but Rofino also speaks Spanish so were able to communicate. He asked each one of us what we do - I translated for the other girls - and his eyes lit up when I told him I work in the solar industry. He told me this story (all in Spanish):
"When I was young we only had candles made of animal fat for light at night. We made the doors to our houses very small and low so the cold winds from the lake wouldn't blow out the candles at night. Then, when I was older, kerosene lamps came to the village, but those made a lot of smoke and hurt our eyes. And still, when the wind came it would blow out our lamps and we would be blinded in the dark. About 10 years ago the first solar panels came to our village, but it was very very expensive. One house got them, and we saw how it improved their lives. Then another and another. The tourists who would stay at our house asked why we did not have electricity like the other houses and I told them it was because we could not afford it. But slowly I saved enough money to buy two panels and the materials for them. Now we have electricity at night. Now we can work at night, and no matter how hard the wind blows we still have light. It has made our lives so much better."
Geeking out on the inverter inside the thatch hut on the floating village
And then I remembered why I was here - to share in other people's lives - to gain a greater appreciation for everything I have and get a greater perspective on life. It made me feel proud to work in an industry that, while it might not affect the people who I am selling solar to, can vastly improve certain people's quality of life.
First off, to everybody who has solar, thank you, especially if you got it through me. Going solar won't change your life. You already have electricity in your house. But consider the fact that you have the option to go solar, to power your home with an infinite resource that will save you money along the way, and let's have a chat when I get home. If people on a floating reed village with thatch roofs can power their homes with solar energy then you can too.