The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca
Stepping off the boat onto the floating bed of reeds was a strange sensation and the spongy feeling under our feet didn’t exactly instil confidence that we would stay afloat. We had reached our destination of the Uros Islands in Southern Peru. Floating gracefully on top of the highest lake in the world are forty or so man-made reed beds that are home to the amazing Uros people of Lake Titicaca. They are pre-Incan people with an almost self sufficient lifestyle, on these most unusual of homes.
Why would you live on a mass of floating reeds when you have a mountain of fertile grounds to inhabit, I hear you ask? Well, these people, shy and peaceful by nature started to form their watery homes as a defence from the more aggressive Incas. Not to fight but to escape and live in peace. The Uros then began trading with the Aymara people from the mainland and began to mingle in other ways too! As a result, they eventually lost their Uros language and adopted the stronger Aymara tongue.
It is astonishing how fundamental reeds are to their daily lives. Not only do they form the very ground on which they walk on, but their houses, boats, fuel and even food all come from the reeds. Eating the soft white part of the root provides them with key nutrients and prevents rheumatism and arthritis. Other resourceful techniques include dehydrating potatoes and storing them, which can last from five to ten years and a handy fish farm in the centre of the island. Yet, these people are not ignorant to the outside world and as useful as their pre-Inca techniques are, they do require regular trips to the mainland to replenish stocks.
These days, the growing tourism industry has changed their lives everlastingly; the government now provides them with help for the increasing number of tourists visiting the islands and they now have solar panels for electricity, floating schools and even medical centres. In today’s commercial world, more and more Uros children are being tempted by the lights of the city across the mainland, and it is for this reason the Peruvian government have taken a strong interest in their welfare. After all it would be a damn shame if this unique culture disappeared forever.
As they demonstrated how they construct their islands while trying to sell us a plethora of artisan wool and reed souvenirs, I wondered if we were getting a truly authentic insight into their way of life like we did with the Cha’lla community in Sun Island, on the Bolivian side of the Lake. However, don’t let this distract you from the magnificent wonder, where these timid people have decided to call home since the Inca Empire. There is a subtle beauty in their way of life. I felt lucky enough to witness a small glimpse of it as we sailed off on the most beautifully handcrafted boat I’ve ever seen.
Next destination for Harry and I is the mighty Inca Empire itself, so check out the blog next week as we venture high into the Andes to trace their footsteps and meet the people who now reside there.
Photos by Harry Dowdney
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