Before I left Peru there was one more place I had to see. On Lake Titicaca, outside the small city of Puno, is the town of Uros, Peru. It’s not your typical town. Actually it’s nothing like your typical town anywhere in the world. Uros Peru is a town made up of man-made floating islands. I boarded a boat in Puno for a short 30 minute ride through the Titicaca National Reserver where the islands are located.
The Uros reed islands consist of more than 40 islands varying in size and are home to more than 2,000 people. People construct their own islands using dried totora reeds grown nearby in the lake.
Stepping from the boat onto the floating island it took a minute to adjust to the odd feeling of walking on reeds. My feet sunk an inch or two with each step. I had to learn how we these islands were made. The islands are made of reeds that are woven together and then layered until it’s several feet thick. They woven reeds are anchored to the bottom of the lake using rope. Since the reeds are constantly exposed to water and moister they rot away quickly so new layers of fresh reeds are added.
Most of the islands are relatively small, perhaps 25 x 40 feet. On the island I visited it was mainly one family with the oldest daughters family and the grandmother living on it as well. The homes are also raised off the island floor using thatched reeds. They use the reeds for most of the construction of their homes, boats, and other needs. Part of the reed is also edible. It looked like the bulb of a scallion but just tasted like water.
Most of the men fish and sell the fish in the markets in Puno. Among the Uros I was told many use the barter system instead of money.
Today tourism is a part of most people’s lives. The islands rotate giving tours each day. With more people walking on the islands they require more reeds to keep them afloat. I read that the islands last about 30 years.
Many of the families still use boats made using the reeds. Though in recent years they’ve adapted a new method to reduce weight and reduce waste. Inside the boats are used plastic bottles which drastically lowers the weight and requires less reeds.
The islands have a school for elementary students but older students travel to Puno for their education. Recently they opened their first medical clinic. While it is a bit touristy I think it’s important for people to see and learn about the Uros fascinating culture.