Lake Titicaca is the largest high elevation lake in the world. It is about 12,500 feet above sea level and straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia. Several groups of pre-Inca people still live on the lake’s islands. Quick tip: to tour the islands and learn about the peoples and their ways of living, you have to take a tour, which is easily arranged in Puno, the largest city on the lake.
My tour group’s first stop was at the islands of the Uros. They are a pre-Inca people who live on man-made floating islands in Lake Titicaca. Unlike the Chinampas, the man-made islands that we saw in Mexico, these islands actually float.
Before getting to the islands, my group’s tour guide taught us a few important words in the Uros language:
- “kami seraki” = “good morning, how are you?”
- “waliki” = “I am well”
- “uspagara” = “thank you”
- “hakisincama” = “goodbye”
The Uros people use the same plant — totora to build their islands, houses, and boats, plus they eat its fruit, called chuyo. The islands are small — maybe the size of two normal classrooms, and each islands has between 3-8 families on it, who live in their one-room houses.
Each island has a “president” as well as the entire people have a president, too. There is a K-8 school, but no high school on the islands, so for high school, the children live away from their parents in the nearest city, Puno.
Teenagers take the boats out onto the lake away from the islands to go on dates.
Approaching the islands
The picture above shows the two styles of houses that the Uros build.My group arriving back on an island from a trip on this traditional boat.
Trying, unsuccessfully, to to row the traditional Uros boat. My group’s tour guide, Alejandro, explaining to us how the islands are built. A model of the Uros islands — they are built on blocks of mud that support the layers of totora reeds arranged perpendicular (at a right angle) to the one below. On windy days or during storms, the islands will move around the lake.