Our departure from Amantani this morning was with happy memories, I know I will always remember Rosalia and her family. Yet as life goes on so does our boat and it chugged along toward another Island in this huge Lake Titicaca.
We were told about a staircase with 534 steps and I was leery. First we had to climb a long path winding its way towards the village of Taquille, on top of a mountain. Carol needed time to update her log book and took the time to write sitting in the back of the boat, she said that this Island was not as nice as Amantani and she was right. I, of course, had to explore. Huffing and puffing I walked up this long winding path along the side of the mountain towards the main village, only to find a touristy place with little to show. Naturally young girls and old men and old woman were holding out their hand for any kind of spare money one was willing to give. Some sold useless water balloons or pieces of braided colorful strings. A large but not impressive center plaza served as the general meeting point for other groups climbing the path. This Island was not as tranquil or impressive as my last experience and it was a place I could have done without.
Fortunately we were promised a lunch on this tour and the lake trout we were served was worth the climb. Fortunate too, that it started to pour just as we sat down for lunch. The rain was heavy but did not last long; it stopped just as we were ready to leave the restaurant.
Just a few meters away from the restaurant were the famous stairs. I have descended and climbed crooked stairs before in the Orient but these were far worse. Each tread was not of the same width and the height for each step was different. All steps and each tread were made out of stone carved by hand; the whole staircase was truly put together without a master plan. Imagine that 100 people build a staircase side by side and yes, they use the general layout but each one builds his own staircase. Nothing was smooth, nothing was even, and nothing was predictable. Descending each step was a matter of calculating the best route to the following step. Sometimes I stepped down a step that was 30 cm deep, the next step was 10 cm and the next 22 cm. But with luck, I found instead of the 30 cm step, right next to it, another stone a bit higher and then the step down would only be 28 cm. All was a calculated risk in descending. All was done subconsciously. I was mostly alone on the way down. I left the lunch group early and it was good this way. I eased my way down, always aware that one misstep would mean disaster or at least a broken bone or serious abrasion.
Surprise, here came a bunch of locals who used this staircase all the time and as you can guess, they ran down the stairs. I was gaping at them open mouthed. No way! Yes way, they ran down the stairs, just ran right past me. I watched undignified as little children did it. What was wrong with me? Such sure footedness I have not seen before. Women with packs on their backs passed me. No, nobody from my group passed me but all the locals must laugh at all the foreigners. I was cautious, they were carefree. I was calculating, they knew. I was slow, they were fast. Two worlds collided. Towards the end I even came upon men carrying about 50 lb heavy bundles up those same stairs, not even sweating. It was incredible. Here I was trying to get down and these fellows were coming up. I was in awe. We were at 3800 meters and nothing seemed to bother them. The people here carried heavy loads on their backs, wrapped in blankets like you carry a small knapsack. Children ran up and down stairs as if it were flat ground. Uneven stairs, made so precarious that it defies description, seemed the norm for them. Women were carrying babies in their arms, hurrying down those same stairs. And here I was, carefully stepping down each step, each step seeming like a death trap to me. Each step built long ago, never repaired, never really planned well, and never really built well. 534 steps of hell and I was going down them the best I could. By the end my legs were shaking, I was very happy to be off the staircase and told Carol so. We both watched from the back of the anchored boat as our group halfway down the stairs descended. I was not alone in going slowly, carefully and measured. I was not alone in being glad to be off the stairs at the end. While the Island of Taquille has not much to offer, this staircase is something else. I am glad to be down the mountain in one piece without having been hurt.