Peru has many wondrous delights to offer, with Lake Titicaca being a particular favorite amongst travelers. The floating islands of Lake Titicaca are also a wonder to behold and a mystery that has been sustained by the Uros people for centuries.
The Uniqueness Of The Islands
Unlike other islands in the world, the floating islands of Lake Titicaca are made from totora reeds. These reeds are instrumental in providing livelihood and food to the residents as well. The islands are continually reconstructed as the floor is made by weaving the reeds together to make a surface.
This surface is held in place using rocks and rope but it needs continual maintenance in order to stay afloat. The roots of the reeds can eventually rot although many islands have even lasted as long as 30 years. Islands which are most frequented by tourists are more difficult to maintain as the constant weight and walking hasten the roots falling apart.
If you are undertaking a Peru holiday and are in search of unforgettable spots then you will not regret taking a boat about 5 kilometers from Puno’s shore.
On most guided tours you can see a few of the islands as many are identical or too small. Each visit can be upwards to half a day. Once you have arrived on an island, expect a lot of hospitality and exposure into handicrafts belonging to a culture that is over 3000 years old.
The Uros People
The floating islands belong to people from the Uros tribe that is descended from a civilization considerably older than the Incas. They follow an old way of life living in straw huts and dressing in their traditional clothing and they are very receptive to guests and love to tell stories.
Not only do they live on an island of double-weaved totora reeds they also fish with boats made from the same reeds. The totora reeds are also important for the religious reenactments of their origin story.
The Origin Story Of The Uros
The Uros people like to talk about their origins which go back before the Incas and uphold a strong history of their own. The Uros talk about their existence dating back to a time when the sun was not the focal point of the universe, and there was no such thing as sunlight.
These people believe they came from divine origin, being immune to death and disease even to the effects of a force of nature like lightning.
Then comes a twist in their origin story in which they became closer to ‘humans’ who are by definition affected by most natural elements. This ended their extraordinary powers and made them look and behave like people as they came to inhabit the floating islands and adapted them to their own way of life.
Comparison With The Mighty Incas
While the Incas were made near-extinct by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 15th Century, the Uros people have persevered and survived till today. They have also managed to maintain their traditional ways of life which only a few communities all over the world have been able to do.
They are an Aymara speaking people which they attribute to their ‘fall from grace’ so to speak as divine beings speak other languages.
During the time of the mighty Inca rule, the Uros people were able to slip from notice to a great degree. They paid little in taxes and were not bothered by the Inca armies. In the end however, they lived much longer than the Incas and are still here.
Many historians make the comparison between the stone walls and structures of the Inca civilization and the reed floating islands of the Uros. And it is a wonder worth seeing indeed that the Uros people are the ones that survived and thrived.
The Nature Of The Islands
The islands now come under the Titicaca National Reserve and this extends to all 37,000 hectares of reeds. As the population of the locals has increased over the years, there has been a need to make more islands.
Due to the continuous refurbishing, the islands are almost always a different size depending on how far the reeds were double-stacked. For tourists, Tribuna is one of the best islands to visit as it is the largest and offers the clearest picture of everyday life for the Uros people.
Many people that walk on the islands for the first time; say it is a feeling like no other. It can be loosely compared with walking on a soft, marshy surface that is never completely stable.
Life On The Islands
People on a Titicaca retreat may find life on the islands amazing to behold because it is so far away from a modern fast-paced lifestyle.
The Uros live simply by weaving and fishing through which they are also able to earn a livelihood. The mainland marketplaces sell their clothing products and fish and they also earn through tourism.
They are not an agrarian society due to the nature of the marshlands but they do eat shorebirds and harvest duck eggs. They do every now and then plant potatoes if the lake is below its normal level and the reeds have softened enough to create a soil-like substance.
The locals take great pride in their fishing boats which are delicately decorated with shapes of animal faces or other images.
The houses of the locals are built either from the same reeds used for the island or from straw which is light-weight. Stones protect the reeds from catching fire whenever food is cooked in outdoor earthen stoves.
If you are visiting the island, the local women will definitely try to sell you a beautiful woven piece of fabric or any other handicraft they have created. These items make great and priceless souvenirs.
Despite following the same way of life as their ancestors, the Uros are not completely averse to technology. The Peruvian government respects their ideas but has provided them with powerful solar panels that can power entire islands.
Electricity, in particular, is useful for families that do not shift to other islands around Lake Titicaca during periods of rain for example.
There is a change in the thinking of the newer generation of the locals, who want to attend university in nearby cities like Puno. This means that maybe a couple of decades from now, the tradition of running and maintaining these floating islands may come to an end.
The Uros people are actually known for not knowing how to swim which is interesting given the nature of their homes. They construct walls and barriers with reed to prevent small children from falling over into the water.
Each island can house about ten families if not more depending on its size and how well it is maintained. The islands are so true to nature that they feel like they are part of the environment from a distance.
For schooling, children often go by boat to other floating islands. The locals regularly commute between different islands for purposes of trade. For college education, the youngsters still have to travel back and forth from the mainland.
The floating islands are nothing short of a modern-day wonder and a beautiful testament to a simpler life.