Friday, August 24, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 10 ) Lake Titicaca and the Uros Floating Islands

After a hearty breakfast, Jesus with Charito, our tour guide for today came to our hotel around 9am to fetch our group from our hotel. We set out towards the pier, where we will take a 30 minute boat ride to visit one of the floating islands of Lake Titicaca.

The Lake is also home to various islands, whose inhabitants have preserved ancestral customs and traditions. An example of this are the Uros, living in " floating islands " manufactured artificially with reeds and transiting the area in their traditional boats known as totora which was also made of reeds. The Uros Floating Islands are man-made floating islands scattered across Lake Titicaca. These islands were also constructed from totora reeds found all around Lake Titicaca. Each floating island supports between three and ten houses, also built of reeds. These islands are held in place by poles driven through the reeds and into the bottom of the lake and ropes with rock attached to act as anchors.

Aboard the boat, Charito gave us a brief history of the floating islands. According to her, the island history predates the Incas. She added that these islands were great places to hide from both the Incas and the Spaniards so they have survived the woes of the land based people of Peru. They do have their own problems on the island, it was hard to keep their kids on the islands as they mature so the elders are at risk of becoming an obsolete society for that reason alone. Since they have no electricity in the island itself, they have added solar cells/batteries to provide some electrical power for convenience and entertainment, but it is very limited in capacity.

Here is a picture of one of the floating islands I took while we were aboard our boat.

The totora reed is of utmost importance to the Uros people. Without it they would literally sink. The reed and root system is what keeps the islands floating.

Of course, the reed is a major food source as well. The white end contains lots of iodine so the people have great teeth and no goiters. They make tea from the reed and it is good for a hangover or to ease pain in the same way that the coca leaf does. I got to taste the reed, it was not bad at all. It was somewhat sweet in taste. The reed tops are then gathered and fed to their guinea pigs.

Once we got to the islands, we were met by peasant women called " Campesinas "  in their native costumes, bowler hats and sandals made from recycled truck tires. I was amazed with their size!!! They had only one shape.. I said to myself, " was it the clothes these women were wearing that made them all look fat? " One impression which all of us shared after our trip was -- when we arrived at the dock of one of the floating islands was the natives all looked happy. Despite their hardships in the island... they were very gracious. One by one they held out their hand and helped us disembark on their tiny island. Walking around the little island makes you feel woozy.. not because you are experiencing altitude sickness but the surface of the islands were uneven and thin in some areas. It gave me the feeling of walking on a waterbed.

I was able to take a picture of the oldest inhabitant in the island -- she was 93 years old.

One of the natives there explained a bit to us about his customs, traditions, and lifestyle. He told us that his ancestors decided to build these floating islands to escape the Spanish conquest. Nearly five centuries ago, an Aymaran couple went out to Lake Titicaca and built an island for themselves to live on, made out of reeds. Since then, people have lived on these islands, carrying on their traditions of living in houses made of reeds, wearing typical clothes, and speaking Aymara. Over the years, they have become somewhat modernized, changing the style of their houses, learning to speak Spanish, and wearing shoes. In addition, the Peruvian government has installed a medical clinic and an elementary school to serve the island. Today, their primary source of income is tourism. However, some islanders prefer not to receive tourists on their islands and continue to live as their ancestors did.

We all listened attentively as Charito, our guide explained their lifestyle. It is somewhat hard to believe that people would prefer to live on floating islands made of reeds, but I suppose there are many reasons why they would continue to live there – the livelihood they can earn from tourism being one and the maintenance of their culture and traditions being another. Charito did mention that rheumatism is a problem in the elderly because the islands are fairly damp. Since they do not have any means of getting water, they would drink the water from the lake which was very salty.

Here are some facts I learned about these inhabitants of Uros Floating Islands:

* They continue living by fishing, weaving and now, tourism.
* They catch fish for themselves and sell them on the mainland. They also catch shore birds and ducks for eggs and food.
* If the level of the lake decreases, they may plant potatoes in soil created by the decaying reeds.
* The Uros residents of the islands create their homes from the reeds. The roofs are waterproof but not humidity resistant. Cooking fires are built on a layer of stones to protect the reeds.
* Residents wear layers of clothing, mostly woolen, to protect themselves from the cold, the wind, and the sun which at this altitude can burn fiercely. Many women still wear the distinctive derby type hat and full skirts.

( You can see a solar panel just to the right of the door on this hut. )

After our introduction to the island, the people who lived on the small island we visited took us to their homes and showed us their handicrafts.

For an additonal 10 soles, Charito took us on a short boat ride on their reed boat ( known as Totora ) to the other islands in the area. There are at least 40 floating islands on Lake Titicaca.

These Uros Floating Islands are a tourist destination, no doubt, but it was one of the most fascinating experiences on our journey in Peru. In fact, next to Machu Picchu, this place is a must see !!

Our tour to the Uros Floating Islands and Lake Titicaca took around 3 hrs... It was really nice to see the islands and interact with the locals. the scenic views on the tour are just AMAZING!! You get to learn so much about the culture of the people that live on these islands. Just make sure you drink lots of water, wear sunscreen and prepare your camera for beautiful pictures.....You have to do this tour! it is just breathtaking!!

When Lulu and I joined this tour to Peru, we were looking forward to Machu Picchu, and it lived up to our expectations, but Lake Titicaca and the Uros Floating Islands surpassed anything we imagined. Don't miss this experience!

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