On Wednesday, 5 March, we took a trip onto Lake Titicaca. We had an excellent tour guide from Taquile island, a native Quechua speaker, who also spoke perfect Spanish and good English, and you could tell he really cared about the Lake.
Our first stop was one of the Uros peoples’ reed islands, a floating island made from reeds, on which some of them live – the pic above shows the island we visited, it measured approx 60m in diameter, had 13 homes housing 50+ people. Now only a few of the Uros are prepared to allow tourists onto their islands, and in fact we think this is their way of capitalising on ‘tourist interest’ whilst maintaining privacy, which is pretty smart of them, but can leave the tourist feeling a bit ‘set up’. Hence on landing, after a talk on their history and how they make the floating islands, it was clear we were expected to buy goods. In fact we opted to pay for a 20minute trip on one of their reed boats (pic below) instead. These days of course they use rowing or motor boats, and keep the reed ones for us.
The Uros are believed to have reached the area of the Lake approx 2000 years ago, probably having originally come up from the Amazon jungle on a hunting trip. They based themselves around the Lake, but being hunters not farmers they focused on what they could catch on land and water. As a result they began living on both the Lake shore and the reed beds that are prominent in this shallower part of the Lake, and are so dense you can indeed walk on them.
When the Spanish invaders arrived in the mid-16th century there were believed to be 20000 Uros in the area, but they were persecuted, forced to work in the mines etc, and numbers dwindled. Today there are about 2500 Uros people living in the area, some on islands, some on the reed beds, and some on the shore, with many remaining very isolated. They are the only people officially allowed to hunt on the Lake in modern times. There language is Aymara, and very few speak much Spanish.
The reed islands are relatively new, invented in the mid-1980’s after heavy rains caused the Lake waters to rise and flooded many of their homes on the reed beds. The islands take up to 2 years to make, and are eventually 2 to 3m thick. They are held in position by being tied to long poles driven into the bottom of the Lake, which here was only 4-8m deep (it is 275m deep at its deepest). Reeds are also used to make their homes, and the white bottom part of each reed is a source of food – looks but doesn’t taste like a leek! Of course other aspects of their lives are more modern – solar power gives them electricity, TV’s, mobile phones etc. So satellite TV whilst living on a floating reed island – makes for an intriguing mix!