Uros Islands, constructed from living reeds, are a first stop on a Lake Titicaca tour, where locals explain their lifestyle and ply wares to tourists
Your house is alive?
When you want to expand your village, your first step is to go to sea?
Yes, these are just a few of the alternate universe realities the people of Uros Islands of Peru take for granted. Humans are almost a side note to the tortora reeds that they use as a building material (homes, furniture, streets, taxis, garden beds, and even soccer fields…) and eat for snacks rich in iodine and calcium.
A first stop on one or two-day tours of the Lake Titicaca Islands organized by boat-village cooperatives (or accessed via private boat hire), Uros Islands give a power jolt to your pondering of how different your life would be if you lived there.
Uros Islands Were a Way to Elude Incas
At one time these floating villages were an escape from aggressive Incas and the like. Today the people of Uros Islands are first and foremost a part of Peru’s fast-growing tourism industry, delivering a made-for-tourists experience of their life while plying their crafts to you, a relatively captive audience in their world. That might sound claustrophobic, but know that you likely won’t mind a bit.
As your boat arrives the women of Uros Islands greet you with smiles and song. Then you take your first step onto their land, and it seems to bounce and step back at you.
It is alive, as you soon learn in a short course of how the island was and is built by the mayor of sorts. The men go out in boats (made of reeds, of course) to find floating reed growths in the sea. Back in the day the only tools to gather them were sticks, but today saws are put to use. Back home, reed blocks are then hitched together and allowed to bind into one chunk as they grow.
In this way families literally grow their shared village together. In six to eight months they can have a new island.
That adage “no man is an island” is certainly true here. The mayor guide to their life points out that living this way would simple be too much work for any one person. “And what would happen if you got sick?”, he asks.
This is modern Peru. You see solar panels here that Fujimori brought to these island people. The men used to spend a lot of time going out to hunt birds, but time for hosting tourists probably cuts into that a good deal. The women we hear still do go to the mainland to barter in the markets. Some native fish have been replaced by Argentinian kingfish and Canadian trout. Plastic bottles now supplement the reeds as building materials, especially in the tourist taxis that do short jaunts between the islands. If the women we met were typical, it could be that family size is getting smaller. The enthusiasm for soccer – ubiquitous that week when Peru had won a place in the upcoming World Soccer Cup- was found here too.
These updates notwithstanding, when you take your first springy steps onto a Uros Island you really are also taking a step back in time. This was an escape from the aggressive Inca. Then and now, no Inca are to be found.