When I was five I thought that islands were little plots of land floating on large bodies of water and it turns out that I was right! Well I was right if my five-year-old self had been specifically thinking about the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, a 2 hours boat ride from Puno, Peru.
(For more about Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, check out our blog)
The floating islands are home to the Uros people, who are a pre-Inca civilization that still exists today! They are said to have existed before the sun and claim to have “black blood” that immunes them from the bitter cold nights on the high altitude lake.
Their simple lifestyle and their keen ability to hide by moving their islands, has keep invaders and growing empires from taking much notice of them and is likely why their way of life has remained. They do not speak Spanish but Aymara. And they survive by fishing, weaving, and now tourism.
The totora reed is essential to the Uros way of life. The reed’s roots grow in a thick buoyant mass, like that of a giant cork. The Uros then harvest the totora root in blocks and tie the blocks together with string to make a large floating island, which they then cover with tortora straw.
After they make their island, they build their one-room houses out of same totora reed. The string eventually decomposes, so they have to build a new island every 20 years. They use to have to build a new island every 3 years until they found better string to use in Puno. The islands range is size, but the largest ones can have up to 20 families living on it. The islands are now protected within the Bay of Puno as part of the Titicaca National Reserve. The Uros population is about 2,000.
The totora reed is also used to build huge reed boats that the families use for transportation to other floating islands and to Puno, where they sell their fish and where the boys go to school.
The totora reed is also very tasty and has florid in it. All of the Uros people have beautiful white teeth.
This is probably this most unique culture I have ever witnessed first had. It was incredible how they use one plant, the totora reed for shelter, transportation and a toothbrush!