Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uros Islands (Lake Titicaca, Peru)

The Uros are a pre-Incan group and their man-made, floating islands are located on Lake Titicaca in Peru. Lake Titicaca (no, not that way...more like: tih-tea-ha-ha), as you may know, is the world's highest navigable lake at close to 12,500 feet above sea level (see the altitude sickness story). To visit the islands, you board a shuttle boat at the Puno port and take a 15 minute ride.

Arriving at the first island you visit is sort of like stepping back in time about 2000 years except for the occasional solar panel. Everything you see, including their houses, boats, and the islands themselves are made from reeds that grow in the lake.

Here's a shot as you approach one of the islands:

During the island visit, you hear how the islands are constructed and maintained. They are basically on a foundation that comes from the reed root balls, which form something that acts like a giant cork. They tie these together and lay more reeds on top until the island itself is about five-feet thick. The island base continuously rots away from underneath so they must add new reeds pretty much weekly.

Walking around the island gives you the sensation that you're on a giant sponge but your feet are still dry. Here's an example of the root ball material along with a couple of locals:

Each family lives in a one-room, open-style house. The one that the group got to "tour" had solar power, a TV, and a couple of other modern conveniences.

Other than maintaining the island itself, the locals are basically dependent on the tourists for their livelihood. They sell handicrafts at prices that seem a bit high but you end up buying something as a sort-of charitable contribution. :-)

After you're done seeing the island, you get on a hand-made, reed boat and two of the locals paddle you over to another island where you can continue making "charitable contributions". It was here where I had bad travel judgment and had a bowl of fish soup. Hmm... I'm essentially on a hay bail on a lake in the middle of the third world... What should I order if I'm hungry? Oh yeah, I'll have the fish soup!

Well, the soup was actually pretty good but the threat of "stomach discomfort" after eating something like this is very high as you'd guess. I did end up surviving but, hopefully, next time I'll think before I eat...

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