Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lake Titacaca: Floating Islands & the Uros

Lake Titicaca (meaning grey / stone puma in Aymara) is a lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is also the largest lake in South America (wikipedia) and the highest elevation lake in the world (12,503ft).

Lake Titicaca is a sacred place for the Inca civilization, as the Incan mythology says that the first Inca king, Manco Capac, was born here. According to the Incan mythology, this is the place where the world was created from, when the god Viracocha came out of the lake and created the sun, the stars and the first people. (lake titacaca org).

There are many islands that exist on the lake - one of them only 30 minutes from the habor in Puno is the floating islands inhabited by the Uros. About 2,000 Uro people call Lake Titicaca home.

The Uros are a pre-Incan people who live on 44 or so artificial islands made of floating reeds (totora, a reed that abounds in the shallows of the lake). The Uros traded with the Aymara tribe on the mainland, intermarrying with them and eventually abandoning the Uro language for that of the Aymara. (wikipedia)

About 500 years ago they felt the mainland to live on the islands. Whether it was the Incas who subjected them into slavery, or later the Spanish who forced them to mine for lucrative silver in Puno, or some drastic conditions - fire, disease or war - something drove the Uros people to build their own escape and make their livelihood on the lake.

Today, the living conditions are harsh and demanding. Rheumatism among the people is prevalent due to moisture and cold temperatures. Every 15 days, a new layer of reeds is needed to maintain the islands. (We heard of a story from one of the island's "president" - that in one case, an island was no longer technically an island because the layers of reeds touch the bottom of the lake). And lastly, there is no garbage collection on the islands as seen with the plastic bottles scattered everywhere. It can feel a little hopeless.

But in spite of it all, the lake is so damn mesmerizing. There we were, our boat in the lake for only an hour and I wanted to stay. I didn't want to go back. The experience is unlike anything you can imagine. You only need to feel and be with the stillness of the lake and yes, everything feels possible in these waters. A new perspective. 

view of the lake from the condor tower 
totora - reed used to construct the floating islands
"kamissaraki" - hello, how r u - in aymara

solar panels and direct tv brings modern comforts

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