We rejoin the adventuring hat documenters after a short stint in Siale (whose embroidered hats motivated a return to Peru in July 2017 to share workshops and learn from the maestros), from which they have hired a motorboat and embarked on a watery journey to Taquile, a small island located in northern Lake Titicaca.
The inhabitants of Taquile (called Intika in Quechua) primarily occupy themselves with shepherding, weaving and knitting textiles, and tourism. Their particular tradition of embroidering chullos (Peru's iconic knitted wool cap) called our attention and inspired a journey to glean the story from the source.
Upon arrival to Intika/Taquile's small harbor, we gazed up at the impressive cliffs towering above us and anticipated the arduous climb, feeling like a herd of pack mules with our backpacks and recording equipment. After paying the island's small entrance fee we passed through a stone archway accented with hat sculptures, and began our long ascent up to town.
The breathtaking views of rocky hills, Mediterranean-reminiscent coastline, and the infinite blueness of Titicaca was only interrupted by occasional hordes of pasty humans crawling over the island. After reaching the central plaza, a few of us set off to look for artisan families who might have hospedaje for the night. Not to be mistaken for just another tourist group looking for cheap textiles or dining experiences, we chatted with the locals and made friends with the children playing in the plaza. It was difficult, however, to get past the client-vendor dynamic most interactions were based on. It was evident that this community made its income from tourists, and as much distaste as we might have for the foreigner-focused entertainment (including periodic performances of brightly-dressed dancing youth), Taquile's tourist economy has permitted the island's natives to continue their ancestors' traditions instead of being forced to migrate to the mainland to make a living.
The Intikans' weavings are impressive and particular to the region; their chullos tell stories and their chumpis (waistbands) contain strands of DNA. Though dependent now on the influx of visitors that the tourism business has brought them, those we talked to seemed genuinely content to sell their wares, as it provided an income that supported the maintenance of their culture. Alex and Isabel, a young couple, shared their stories of integration into the outside world while studying tourism at a university in Puno, and bringing their experiences back home to support their families. Puno, the capital of the region, is a 2.5 hour boatride away from the island; it swells with students and workers on weekdays, many of whom return home to their families for the weekend. Alex and Isabel leave their traditional dress and hats behind on the island, and opt instead for modern clothes that leave them indistinguishable from the rest of the city folk. If they wore their island clothes, they would immediately be identified, and perhaps mocked. The messages woven into the fabric would not be understood by those that live outside.
The red and white chullo that men wear on Intika contains a language only for these people, communicating their lineage and life only to those that know how to read it. This special headwear is not overtly offered to foreigners; less intricate and less time-consuming pieces have been developed for the tourist trade.
When a couple begin dating, the woman begins amassing the hair she collects from daily brushing. After they become betrothed, she gifts it to him, and he begins to weave himself a chumpi, which he must finish before they are wed. He weaves his future wife's hair into his woolen waistband, along with symbolism particular to their relationship. Sigh.
Alex's grandparents, Francisco Huatta and Natividad, are the elders and arguably the finest artisans of the family. Their detailed work has won awards, and brought them to the United States to show it off. Their sun-darkened and wrinkled faces beamed with pride as they shared their humble yet prosperous lives and lineage.
We were lodged in a house of the family and woke before dawn to greet the sunrise over the lake. Inspired by Intika's landscape and its inhabitants, we spent the day roaming the intricate stone paths replete with the island's iconography. The high-altitude sun left its mark on our cheeks, just as the Intikan's hospitality left its mark on our hearts.