Friday, June 5, 2015

The People Of The Lake

One of the most amazing things we experienced in Peru ~~ 
strike that, anywhere in the world (so far)~~

Was Lake Titicaca.   The Uros people of Lake Titicaca.

They have been living like this for generations.  On self-made reed islands,  bigger than your house; as big as your office building. An entire floating island, that they make themselves, out of materials that are at-hand.

Then they erect thatched huts out of these same reeds; and they live on these islands, with no electricity or plumbing; with no heat, no refrigeration, no A/C.  I'm completely amazed by all of this.

But first........the morning dawns early.  We've traveled some 9 hours by bus to be here (just for this), and our boat to the islands leaves early the next morning,  so.....that means that coffee must be served.  Yup, very very early.  I've seen waaaay too many sunrises this trip, I'm just sayin'.  I'm more of a cocktails-by-sunset-kind of gal......

They serve coffee "with milk" like this all throughout Ecuador and Peru.  The milk must be hot, because they do like a half coffee / half milk deal; so it always takes two serving pots.  I hate diluting my coffee this much, so I learn early on when they say, "Coffee?"   It's "Si, Por Favor, or "Yes, please."  Oh please oh please oh please. "Coffee black or with milk?"  I say, "Si, with poquito (just a little) milk.".   And so the world spins.

The other unique thing here is, we are at a super high elevation. Lake Titicaca's claim to fame is that it's the highest navigable lake in the world, lying @ 3,810 Meters (12,500 feet) above sea level; it's snuggled into the Andes Mountains of South America; just astride the border between Peru to the west and Bolivia to the east.

All I know it, it's really high.   I know for sure I've never stayed before at a hotel that has an "emergency oxygen" room. 

 And I'm not kidding.

Altitude sickness is no joke.  It can be fatal.   

And nobody knows who's going to be susceptible.  

Unfortunately, I find that I'm highly susceptible.

But it's not gonna' stop me, 'cause we are headed to see 
what we came all this way to see ~ The People Of The Lake 

We head to the dock, through the (alarmingly poor and thus sort of scary) town of Puno, where the boats are all ready for those exploratory excursions on the lake.

We find that, if your boat is down the line somewhere, no problem. You just step along the backs of the boats that are in between where-you-are and where-you-want-to-go, till you get to yours. We trip along the back of this entire row.  This would never fly in the US......But here it's no big deal.  It's just how it's done.

And an hour's boat ride later,  here's what we came all this way to see......the floating islands of Lake Titicaca.....

We are greeted by the local women, all in traditional wear....  
We are told that the men are all out fishing.

And these are their traditional abodes.........While it looks a bit like a movie set, I assure you that it's real.  This is actually how they live.   You can even schedule an overnight stay with a family, if you want the full island experience.  Remember that there's no plumbing or electricity, though.

And these are the cooking fires.....When everything's made of dried reeds, it's a really tricky business not setting everything on fire when you cook.

All this is built upon the floating reed islands, which are their homes.....Tell me that baby is not the cutest thing you've ever seen.

The islands and the reeds take constant attention.  After they've been cut and are bundled into shafts for drying, they still need to be turned out, in order to dry evenly.   I watched Grandpa for our entire visit, working to take down each bundle of fresh-cut reeds, rotate the green ones on the interior to the exterior, and the drier ones on the outside to the inside; then he re-ties them, and stands them back up in the stack.


It seems to be a full-time occupation, just keeping these islands floating.   The reeds need to be replenished constantly, replacing the old ones that are deteriorating in the water with a layer of new, freshly cut and dried reeds on top.

These girls give us a demonstration on how they maintain the floating islands.   It's their very life they are maintaining.  

But as fascinating as the reed-island-building is, it's the people of the islands that have me captivated.

We learn that there are 40-some islands; most are a family group, and each island has a representative, a spokesperson, if you will, who's elected for a one year term.  

There are 5 families living here on this island, a total of 21 people.

They show us their amazing brightly colored textiles, 
which we see them working on in the background.

They invite us into their humble homes.  As badly as I wanted to take a few photos, it did not seem appropriate and I restrained myself.

But following that, we are invited to "shop" a bit at their individual stations.  I have read, and already know that all funds are communal.   They will collectively share the days profits from the tourists who visit.  But I like that we are obligated to spend time with whomever hosted us inside their homes.

Of course we purchase something, motivated more by the desire to help and support them, to say "Thank you for sharing your life with us", than for the need to take some trinket home.   She is so sweet!

Her name is Jessica.   No less than 5 people sleep in her little hut. There is no electricity or heat; she is barefooted.  And it's cold on the lake.  Year-round temps are cold.  Cold enough you would want socks and shoes; at the very least a pair of slippers.  I wonder if they have a word for slippers in their vocabulary.

Legend has it, and they believe at their very ancient core, 
this is the birthplace of the Inca civilization.  
That they are the basis of humankind.  

I find this concept of heritage so hard to fathom, living in a country as young as ours;  and I love how it feels.  
They are an amazing people.

And now we conclude our visit with a boat ride like non-other.  We are rowed across the lake on a boat made of these same reeds.  And plastic bottles.  

I speak the truth....

These boats are made from (surprise!) the same Tortora reeds as the islands and the huts and the mats and everything else.

Plus!  They recycle plastic (water) bottles to plant in the hulls and help keep the boats buoyant.  They even tell us on our transport boat that we can "contribute" to their lives by "donating" our empty plastic bottles, and they have special  receptacles for this.  
Wow.  That's just weird.

But at day's end, here's the sobering realization we came to.

In another couple of generations, this lifestyle will not exist.  
Not in it's truest form, at least.

We've learned that, in recent years, the Peruvian government has  been focused on education.  The recently erected schools we've seen is testament to this.  As is the fact that, on these islands, we learn that the children are now being transported to the mainland for primary and secondary education.  It's mandatory. What a great opportunity.  

But that has a huge effect on the way of life here.  Will these kids, who have spent the week on the mainland with things like electricity, heat, AC, cell phones and electronics ~~ will they be content to return to the floating islands, which offer none of this?

The obvious answer is, no they will not.  
And already the island populations are decreasing.

So that really means that, as they are offered the quintessential "better life" it better for them?  Is it better for their families?  We do not know.  They are gaining much, so we want to answer a resounding, hearty "Yes!"  

But then, they are also losing much.  They are losing their heritage; a way of life and skill sets that have served their families for many generations.   

For sure, this will all disappear in the next couple of generations; indeed, it's beginning to fade even now.  Or, as Mr. C suggests, perhaps a remnant will remain as a tourist attraction only; their true way of life, as we see it today, will be gone.   

For sure this little one will not live his adult life on these magical floating islands in the same way that his mother is living here today.   And so we feel privileged to have visited these wonderful people, to have had a glimpse of their very special world while it still exists.  We are so grateful that they have been willing to share it with us.  
And so I share it with you.


  1. Great story...makes me want to visit. I am a little disappointed you decided not to stay overnight. Where is your sense of adventure?! 😋

    1. Did I mention no plumbing? No heat? No electricity? And no plumbing?!

  2. I love this article and your photos really capture the life they live. Those bright garments they wear are beautiful! So interesting about the changes happening in their culture. The pictures of that baby are National Geographic quality!

    1. Thanks, Karen S, I'm delighted that I was able to capture how unique it was to be here. I turned around as we were leaving (that's a travel tip, by the way -- don't forget to look behind you; it's always a different story when you look back), and that baby ~ oh, that sweet baby, just a slice of life that caught my heart! It's a day I will never forget.....


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