At 3,812m, lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, covering almost 8,400 square kilometres. The lake is home to the floating Uros Islands, 42 stunning man-made islands made completely out of reeds. The Uros people, who existed in this part of South America well before the Incas, initially built the islands as a defence mechanism so when a threat arose they could flee quickly. We visited two of the islands on a half-day speed boat tour from Puno, Peru, because when you are married to a wannabe James Bond, apparently a speed boat is the preferred mode of transport…
The Uros build the islands, their boats, and their houses out of bundles of dried reeds. When I set my first wobbly step onto one of the floating islands I was a bit nervous, but the islanders were so friendly and welcoming that I soon forgot all of my fears of having to swim 30km back to shore in case the island sunk. The president of the island explained to us how the islands are built and even showed us a little model representing how the thick root network holds everything together. On top of this network, the island is anchored to the bottom of the lake with ropes. Every now an then a new layer of reefs is put on the top, which makes the island float like a cork.
Our very knowledgeable tour guide told us that the Uros people now live mainly off of tourism, but that they also still utilize the breathtakingly beautiful lake Titicaca for food and water. They go fishing on their amazing reed boats and also eat the reed that grows everywhere in the lake. The reed tastes a bit like leek and just like the Andean people in Peru chew coca leaves as a relief from the harsh climate or hunger, the Uros people chew reed to the same end. It also has medicinal powers and can relief you from pain when wrapped around the part of the body that hurts, and even helps to cure hangovers. So quite a versatile plant.
Life on the floating islands is not easy. The damp conditions often cause rheumatism and when cooking the women have to be careful with their fires so as not to burn the whole island down. The children need to be driven all the way to Puno to attend school which takes about an hour in a traditional boat, and as the water is used as drinking water, if you need to answer the call of nature you need to take a boat and ride about 1km away from the islands so as to not pollute the water. But when I asked one of the women on the islands if she could ever imagine living on the mainland she said that she has got everything she needs to be happy where she is, which was a refreshing response.
The children on the islands are adorable and very playful, particularly a young lady called Cynthia, who was quick to befriend us visitors. She was not only very ticklish, but also had an Oscar winning smile that would warm anybody’s heart on a misty Uros Island day…
I left the island full of respect for the way the local people maintain their traditions but I couldn’t help thinking the lifestyle might be a little harsh for my pampered disposition. But maybe you are made of sterner stuff and could live on an Island like this for a while?
Disclaimer: I received a small discount for the Uros Island tour from Jumbo Travel Puno in return for a review on my blog. As always, all opinions remain my own. And here comes the exciting part: readers of Tammy & Chris on the move will also receive a 15% of all of Jumbo Travel Puno’s tours. Just quote ‘Tammy & Chris on the move 15%’ when you contact them.