A good friend of mine, Erin, shared a quote with me. “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”- Oliver Wendell Holmes. My recent trip to Peru definitely exposed me to new experiences and a new confidence/ way of thinking!
I have always been interested in starting my own business. I would love to work for myself and see something that I’m passionate about come to fruition. During my time off, I plan on networking and learning from others about how they have been able to start up their own business. I’ve always loved and been good at planning trips/events by thinking about the personal touches and making them memorable, but to be honest, I am a bit intimidated to start up something on my own and scared of failure. During my trip to Peru, I was really inspired by the homestay we did on the Uros Khantati island and how the family we stayed with have developed a profitable business without a ton of knowledge/technology .
Lake Titicaca (yes, I laughed at the name the first time I saw it too), sits in the Andes mountains between Peru and Bolivia. It’s the largest lake in Peru and sits at 14,000 feet elevation. (This is where we started our trip- we probably should have started at a lower altitude spot to acclimate when arriving in Peru, but we are rookies and didn’t know- thank god we took altitude meds and didn’t get sick). The Uros people have lived on Lake Titicaca since the pre-Incan time when they migrated out of the Amazon, and were oppressed by the local people so forced to build islands on the lake to have a place to live. They built their islands, boats, homes, furniture out of reeds from the lake (totora). They have figured out how to get some electricity on their islands by building solar panels. They live a simple life- they spend a majority of their time hunting, fishing, adding more reeds to the island so it doesn’t sink, building (houses, kitchens, boats), cooking, making crafts, and visiting their friends at other islands (today there are 60 islands total with 1,200 people living on them).
We decided to emerse ourselves immediately in the local culture after arriving in Puno, Peru. After an hour drive from the airport, Abraham picked us up with our backpacks on the shore of Lake Titcaca in a motorboat to bring us to his island. He explained that he lived on the island with his girlfriend Cristina and her family (mom, dad, siblings, their kids). It was surreal pulling up to an island made completely of reeds. I was in awe of how much character the island had- a look-out tower, huts, lounge area with hammocks, a swing set for the kids.
Me on the speed boat; Abraham picking us up
Abraham with all of the backpacks; Our first view of the reed islands
The island we stayed on; The lookout tower
Thick layers of reeds; A flamingo on the island
The hut we stayed in- made out of reeds
My new friend- despite the language barrier, we had a great time
After some down time, a man named Victor came to get us to take us out on the water. We got on a traditional reed boat and he rowed us over to some nets they had in the water to catch fish. He also explained how they cut the reeds a certain way so they will grow back, and how they use them for both eating and building/maintaining the island. That evening they made us two amazing meals, had us try on their traditional clothing, showed us their crafts, and gave us time to soak in the amazing view of the stars before heading to bed. During the day, the weather there is pleasant with an intense beaming sun, but at night it gets VERY cold. The reed beds we slept on had 5 blankets each, and they put a warm bottle of water in the beds to try to heat them- I still slept with my down coat on. I don’t know how they get used to sleeping in that type of cold weather!
Victor showing us how they fish
Victor displaying the fish, and showing us how they cut the reeds
Trying on their traditional clothing
Drinking coca tea to stay warm.
Heading to bed with a down coat on- it was cold!!; Reed boat as the sun goes down
The next morning they made us a beautiful breakfast and explained how they built and maintain their island and how tourists came to stay on their island (this was the part that really stuck with me). Cristina met a Dutch couple 7 years ago, and they asked if they could come stay on their island and experience their culture. Cristina let them come and stay, and they had such a good time that they told Cristina if they built another house on the island, they would tell their friends to stay with them when they vacationed in Peru. The next year they had 6 families stay with them, the next year they had 20- all through word of mouth. In the meantime, they were going to the mainland to take classes on hospitality to learn how to best entertain guests. The following year, they ended up getting on trip advisor and had 100 people stay with them. This year they anticipate having 1,200 people stay on their island. At $60 per person per night, that means they will make $72,000 this year. Most families that are doing good in Peru make $5,000 a year.
Cleaning up the “restaurant” where they serve the guests; Old kitchen before they built a new one
Bringing more reeds onto the island- they do this every 2 weeks to maintain the island
It took this family 7 years to develop a business that is now thriving. They did not know a ton when they first started, but they have been able to make their idea into something that other Uros families are trying to replicate. The family spent time learning by going to take classes, listening to their customers throughout the process to make the experience something that is valuable, and learning how to make technology work for them. This experience was extremely valuable in helping shape my view of entrepreneurship.