Coordinates: 15°45′00″S 69°25′00″O
Another day in Peru, this time in floating islands with solar panels. Our adventure through this South American country has led us to Lake Titicaca, there we stopped in the archipelago of the Uros' floating islands.
This unique group of islands, made out of totora, is located twenty minutes from the Puno port. From there, a tour guide took us to Suchichuyma, one of almost forty islands that form this archipelago. Tourists also visit the islands of Santa Maria, Tupiri, Kapi, Toranipata and Negrone.
The boat that took us to Suchichuyma easily accommodated fifteen people. Various ships depart from the Puno port for the morning tour, each directed to a different island. Another group leaves in the afternoon, since the excursion through the islands lasts about four hours. The trip through the imperturbable waters of Lake Titicaca is extremely enjoyable. During the journey, our tour guide briefly talked about the culture, language and lifestyle of the islands’ residents. Although the origin of the people of Uros is not clearly defined, it is understood to be one of the most primitive cultures of Peru; perhaps descendants of one of the oldest societies in America, the Pukinas. Since the mid-twentieth century, the native race of Uros became extinct. Today, the descendants of this lineage are a mixture of Uros and Aymara. They retain many of the customs of their ancestors, yet practice the Aymara language.
Cami Saragui, an Aymara welcome
The landscape filled with colors as we approached the island. Above the blue waters of the lake stands out the color of wheat from the islands. Majestic yellow boats with red borders, women wearing orange skirts with green ornaments and children running through the small space of the island, captivated the lens of my camera. Upon stepping out of the boat, the natives welcomed us in their language, Aymara: Cami Saragui. We answered: Hualiqui (alright). The guide had told us earlier how to respond.
Upon stepping on the island braided with totora, we felt a slight sway, as if we had stepped off a boat only to board another. Walking on this knitted ground can be a challenge if the right shoes are not kept, so it is recommended to wear boots or tennis shoes. When all the tourists got off the boat, we sat on some thatch rolls that were arranged in a circle near one of the houses, also built out of totora. In the island of Suchichuyma we saw three houses and a group of twelve people, including men, women and children. Around five or six families can live in each island, depending on its size. Every clan has a leader, who is in charge of orienting tourists about their culture, among other duties.
The Lake Village
According to the chief of this island, the Uros call themselves Kotsuña which means Lake Village. The men of this floating community claim to be the owners of Lake Titicaca waters. The first inhabitants of the lake used the totora boats as a dwelling. It wasn’t until the sixties that they started to build the islands to establish their homes. The huts, also made out of totora, have waterproof roofs. Each hut has only one room, and they cook outdoors to prevent fires. We were impressed to see that next to some of the houses stood an aluminum pole holding a solar panel. Furthermore, inside one of the houses there was a television. Unlike their ancestors, who preferred to live in the totora boats to be away from the rest of civilization, the new Uros tried to maintain a balance between the customs of their village and the technological advances. So much so, that this town has managed, through the tourism industry, to preserve their roots and at the same time support their families.
The chief of the island also explained the multiple uses that can be given to totora; an indispensable renewable resource for the lifestyle of this group. Not only floating islands can be built using this kind of reed, but rafts, which can take up to a month and a half to build and be used for year, can also be built. The plant’s dried stems are used as firewood in the kitchen. The totora is also used as a material for crafting, this way it contributes to the economy. In addition, after its shell is peeled off, it can be used to brush teeth. When chewed, the totora fiber works like a toothbrush.
To build the islands, they select the best roots first. Then, they intertwine layers of totora in the areas where it grows abundantly. Just like that, they continue to form several layers to achieve the necessary thickness to support the weight of various houses of the same material; they call this natural layer, khili. The islands are anchored with rope and stones, about ten anchors are used per island.
Dancing, Singing, and Crafts
After learning about the different uses of the totora reed, the women offered us a small musical spectacle. They sang not only in their Aymara language, but in English, French and Spanish. Once the sympathetic function had concluded, the women gave us a tour of the inside of their houses, and of course, showed us the many crafts they had for sale. Then, they offered to take us for a ride in the gigantic totora rafts. Four of the men from the island would be in charge of rowing the two story boat, while the tourists settled to enjoy the ride.
Once our journey through the Uros Islands was complete, we embarked again (this time in a motorboat) to Taquile Island. To get to Taquile from the Uros Islands, an hour and fifteen minute trip through the great Lake Titicaca.
(This article is the third in a series of stories of Perú.)
Conscious Travel Practices:
1. Get to know people from other cultures and respect them.
2. Be thankfull to the uros people for their hospitality.
3. Learn about the history and way of life of the ufos people.
4. Enjoy their space without doing any harm.