FLOTATION DEVICE

The Islands of Uros are man made floating islands housing three to ten families made of buoyant totora reeds that naturally grow in the shallow waters of Lake Titicaca in Southern Peru. Lake Titicaca, roughly the size of Lake Michigan in the US, sits on a high plateau at 3830m/ 12,562ft! It staggers the imagination to think of such a huge body of water at such a high elevation. The water seems to touch the clouds it’s so high in the sky. Its perch is shared by both Peru and Bolivia with the intense blue of the lake highlighted by the glistening backdrop of Bolivia’s Cordillera on the far side.

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The ancestors of the Uros peoples took to building large boats made of the reeds and living with their families on the waters of Lake Titicaca in an attempt to protect themselves from the marauding Collas and Incas. Over time this aquatic life lead to the complicated construction of large floating islands made by cutting and tying together large blocks of the root structures and laying successive layers of the reeds over the root structure in an alternating grid pattern.  The result was a firm if somewhat spongy island that was dry on the surface and large enough to hold several families including schools, healthcare centers, commercial enterprises and houses which were built on raised beds of reeds and placed on top of the “ground” surface of the island. The islands could last for decades if properly maintained by continuing to lay new reeds over the surface as the old reeds slowly deteriorated from below. The entire island had to be anchored in place with large rocks tied to ropes and dropped to the lake bottom in order to keep the islands from drifting to Bolivia on the other side of the lake in a stiff wind! Though some small islanders prefer to remain alone and shun tourists the islanders we visited were thoroughly engaged in making money via the tourist trade and seemed to exist on the islands for that purpose almost exclusively. We could even get an island stamp in our passports for one Sole (about 35 cents). Hey, it’s a living.

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The president of this island with 6 families demonstrate the construction method of the island. Note the solar panel.

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The houses sit on raised mounds of the reeds which reduces the incidence of rheumatism.

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Although the islands are definitely on the tourist circuit they are a unique and interesting cultural phenomenon.

Nearing the end of our time in Peru we’ve been reflecting on some contrasting and lasting impressions like the staggering diversity of the landscape, from coastal deserts to vast mountain ranges. The architectural genius of the Incas hundreds of years ago contrasts with the current day masses of ugly unfinished buildings with rebar protruding from the roofs supposedly having to do with lower property tax rates for unfinished buildings. The immaculately clean and tidy colonial city centers contrasts with the alarming quantity of dumping and trash prevalent especially in the coastal areas. Most Peruvians we have encountered have been extremely kind and helpful but something must change in their psyches when they get behind the steering wheel of a car when all courtesy is abandoned and a complete sense of self-absorption is all too prevalent. Overall we’ve been smitten by all that Peru has shared with us and we’ve been delighted to have had the chance to spend two months here.

 

 

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