Today once again started early at 5:45. While the room I was sharing with Seona faces inwards on the peninsula onto the city of Puno, Mama and Daddy’s room faced out onto the main body of Lake Titikaka and the Uros Islands. They weren’t able to distinguish the floating islands this early in the morning, but they got an amazing view of the sunrise over the reeds near the shore.
Our pick-up was at 7:00, but, even after having breakfast at Los Uros Restaurant, we weren’t able to find our guide, Gilbert. Finally, around 7:15, the hotel told us that we had to go down to the hotel’s dock, where the Casa Andina Private Collection Suasi Island Hotel’s boat would pick us up. A truck drove a few of us and our luggage down to the dock and the rest of us walked.
After helping load our luggage onto the boat, Gilbert made his introductions to us and told us a bit about Lake Titikaka. It is the highest navigable lake in the world, at over 12,000 feet above sea level, and the second largest lake in South America, with the largest being in Venezuela. It’s name is the combination of two words in different languages. Titi means Rock in Aymara, the language spoken in the Lake Titikaka area, and Kaka means Puma in Quechua, the language of the Incas.
We reached the Uros Islands within 10 minutes, and stopped on an island called Suma Pankara, which means Beautiful Flower in Aymara. There, after talking a bit about Lake Titikaka, which is 60 km wide and 135 km long, the president of the island taught us how they make the floating islands. The first step is to find the mixture of reed roots and dirt that makes up the base of the islands. This is found about 7 km away from Suma Pankara. It is cut into pieces about 2 meters tall, and hauled back to the construction site on the boat. The surface of the island is made up of the reeds which grow on these blocks, and are temporarily tied to the blocks using rope made from straw that grows in the area. This is later replaced with nylon rope, which is much more durable. Once the island is complete like this, new reeds have to be added every 17-20 days during the dry season, and 2-3 times a month in the wet season. The reason for this is that the reeds towards the bottom decompose into the dirt blocks, and the bottom of the dirt blocks also decompose into the lake.
To make sure that the island doesn’t move around too much in wind storms, the islands are anchored to the lake floor (which we discovered is 19 meters deep next to the island) with 6 anchors around the island. However, if conflict with neighboring islands is initiated, the island can be moved.
The houses of the ancestors of the Aymara people who lived here built circular houses. Today, the only use for these circular houses is as an indoor kitchen during the wet season. During the dry season, they use outdoor stoves mounted on large rocks, so that the island doesn’t catch on fire. Their houses are rectangular, and can be moved, so that the dried reeds that make up the surface of the island can be replaced.