The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

Puno, Lake Titicaca, Peru.

18. April, 2017.

On Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia are located 42 unique islands. These are no ordinary islands as those are man made to float on the lake. Made out of a thick totora reed, which needs to be replaced entirely every three weeks to keep the islands afloat.

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The constructors of these islands are called Uru but in their language their own name is Qhas Qut Suñi. History tells that the ancestors of the Uru came from the Amazon but as they found no peace among the people settled on the shores of Lake Titicaca, they were driven to settle on the lake itself. There they built their islands, the largest which serves as an unofficial capital, even with a watchtower made out of reed to warn about impending enemy attack. Their own language which linguists classify as a language isolate, not related to any other, went out of daily use about 500 years ago.

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The Urus have lived on selling textiles and fish products for things they need from the mainland for centuries. In spite of their floating existence, they have domesticated some bird species to contribute fish and eggs to their diet. They even have cats that keep the islands free of rats. The most recent change in their economic life is tourism. This they seem to have mastered splendidly. Well organised system divides the tourist visits among the islands so as to both lighten the burden and divide up the benefits that tourists bring to these communities in form of produce that they buy.

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Visiting them is a pleasant experience. Hospitable and relaxed, tourists are routinely welcomed into their homes. Using solar cells to utilise modern conveniences like lights, radio and TVs, their humble homes are still part of this world. On the largest island is even a hotel for those wanting to experience a night on a floating island, and a radio station that broadcasts a few hours every day.

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As darkness fell over the lake we said our goodbyes to the smiling Urus on their little man made island, promising to myself that I have to be back to visit these kind people and their unique way of life.

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