Month: October 2013

Peru 2008: The Uros on Lake Titicaca

July 4, 2008

The alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, and I opened the curtains of our room to witness a beautiful sunrise over Lake Titicaca, the lake tinged a light violet.  Stands of totora reeds in the shallow water near shore and the peninsula beyond were silhouetted against the pink and purple sky.

Sunrise over the lake, as seen from our hotel room window.
Sunrise over the lake, as seen from our hotel room window.

After breakfast, we assembled for our bus ride to the dock, and then we would transfer to a boat to visit Uros and Taquile Islands. Our local guide for the next two days is named Edith. She is cute and sweet, and her English somewhat better than Edgar’s, though not as good as Boris’s. Sometimes she didn’t seem to understand our questions, so I tried to ask questions in Spanish, even though I didn’t want to appear rude to the others. There was always a translation following.

 

The boat was part of the KonTiki Tour company, I immediately noticed. Edgar and Edith are apparently both employed by KonTiki as well, contracting out to OAT for this leg of the trip. OAT requires local guides for each region. Boris, of course, was with us as well.

On the boat, we again greeted Edgar who boarded with his tour of the day, a group of people from several Spanish speaking countries.

After a ride of about two hours, our first stop, Uros Islands, was one of the most fascinating parts of this trip. Uros is a group of floating islands made entirely from totora reeds and their root systems.

We're now on a speed boat in the lake, where we pass among large stands of totora reeds that grow there.
We’re now on a speed boat in the lake, where we pass among large stands of totora reeds that grow there.

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This part of Lake Titicaca is full of these totora reed patches, which the Uros people use to make their islands, the ground they walk on, their houses, their boats, and are even used for food.

The Uros are an ancient people with an ancient language, which has become extinct, as they began trading with the Aymara people along the lake, and adopted their language. Nowadays, the people of Uros speak Aymara. Spanish is their second language.

The Uros predate the Inca civilization.  According to their legends, they existed before the sun, when the Earth was dark and cold; thus they say that they have “black blood” making them impervious to the cold, as well as drowning and being struck by lightning.  Their legendary ancestors disobeyed universal order and mixed with humans, so they lost their status as super beings. 

Apparently the original purpose of the island settlements was defensive, when the Inca expanded their empire onto the Uros’ lands.  By living on these islets, they could move if a threat arose.  They have been living this way, on the highest navigable lake in the world, for hundreds of years.

There are about 40 of these floating islands, supporting from two to more than 10 families. On the largest island, there is a church and a primary school. Today, the Uros make their living by trading on the mainland and through tourism. They make beautiful embroidered crafts and small items made of reeds that they sell to tourists who visit their islands. They also fish and hunt shore birds and ducks for eggs and food. Some of the fish are for their own consumption and some they trade in Puno at farmer’s markets.

The main island. (The large fish is made of reeds, like most things on Uros.)
The main island. (The large fish is made of reeds, like most things on Uros.)
The main island: Uros women stand along the water's edge to greet us.
The main island: Uros women stand along the water’s edge to greet us.

At the main island, we transferred to a balsa boat made of reeds, rowed by native men. We got off at a much smaller island, named Isla Suma Balsa, that is home to only a few families.   This community consists of a few houses and storage huts. Notice the ground cover – all reeds. It is sort of spongy to walk on!

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View of the island we are visiting and neighboring islands.
View of the island we are visiting and neighboring islands.

The men on the island demonstrated how these islands are constructed.  The totora reeds have a dense, interwoven root system about 1-2 meters thick that supports the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks which are driven into the bottom of the lake. The people must add new layers of reeds frequently because the reeds at the bottom rot away quickly. They also wear away due to the people constantly treading on the reeds. In the rainy season, the reeds rot much faster, so new layers must be added more often.

The following pictures show how the men measure the thickness of the island.

This man gives us a demonstration of how they measure the thickness of their island. They must maintain it at about 6 feet thick, and once they measure it, they will add a layer to maintain the thickness that offers stability for their island life.
This man gives us a demonstration of how they measure the thickness of their island. They must maintain it at about 6 feet thick, and once they measure it, they will add a layer to maintain the thickness that offers stability for their island life.
He uses this string, which he lowers into the hole to find out how deep the hole is.
He uses this string, which he lowers into the hole to find out how deep the hole is.
The pole will help determine the thickness of the reed island.
The pole will help determine the thickness of the reed island.

During this demonstration, our guide, Edith, gave us a commentary in English of what was happening.

We sat down to listen to Edith explain the history, geography and culture of these islands. One of the men demonstrated with miniature versions how the island is constructed.

Geography lesson
Geography lesson
She shows us a chunk of the island as it is constructed underneath.
She shows us a chunk of the island as it is constructed underneath.
The Uros travel between islands and the mainland in their balsa boats made of totora reeds.
The Uros travel between islands and the mainland in their balsa boats made of totora reeds.

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The men show how the island is put together, with these bricks of reed and mud.
The men show how the island is put together, with these bricks of reed and mud.
The bricks are tied together.
The bricks are tied together.
Layers of reeds are placed on top of these bricks.
Layers of reeds are placed on top of these bricks.
Houses are built on top of the reed layers. Buildings are also made of totora reeds.
Houses are built on top of the reed layers. Buildings are also made of totora reeds.

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While all this was going on, the women sat nearby, making crafts to sell to the tourists.  It would have been rude for us to not buy anything. Tourism is a major part of their economy.

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This colorful embroidered panel shows life on Uros.
This colorful tapestry shows life on Uros. I bought it!

AThen one of the women showed us another use for the reeds: nourishment! Peeling off the outer layer reveals a soft white interior that is very nutritious, rich in iodine. We all tried it!

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Children suck on and play with  reeds.
Children suck on and play with reeds.

The white part of the totora reed is also used to kill pain. The reed is wrapped around the place that hurts to absorb the pain. When it is very hot, they use the white part of the reed  to cool off by putting it on their forehead.

This panel describes the religious beliefs which descend from the Inca empire.
This tapestry describes the religious beliefs which descend from the Inca empire.

Afterwards, we were invited to explore the island, including seeing the interior of their houses. Each person in our group was “adopted” by one of the women on the island who led us to see their houses and encouraged us to try on their clothes! I declined, but others did try them on.

It looks like a robotic creature from Star Wars, but in fact it is a lookout platform.
It looks like a robotic creature from Star Wars, but in fact it is a lookout platform.
Every island has a reed boat. (In the tall reeds is where people go to relieve themselves).
Every island has a reed boat. (In the tall reeds is where people go to relieve themselves).
Traditionally clothed women invite us to come into their homes. Note the black pole with a panel on top - it is a solar panel! The Uros use solar power for small appliances such as radios or TVs.
Traditionally clothed women invite us to come into their homes. Note the black pole with a panel on top – it is a solar panel! The Uros use solar power for small appliances such as radios or TVs.
The woman on the far right has an unusual hat. Also note the large yarn balls the woman on the left has on the end of her braids.
The woman on the far right has an unusual hat. Also note the large yarn balls the woman on the left has on the end of her braids.
Inside one of the houses. I am invited to try on the woman's traditional clothing. I decline but others give it a try.
Inside one of the houses. I am invited to try on the woman’s traditional clothing. I decline but others give it a try.

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Dale tried on men's clothes, of course!
Dale tried on men’s clothes, of course!
3 brothers in the doorway of a home
3 brothers in the doorway of a home
Electrified home: The small TV is powered by an electric cable connected to their energy source - the solar panel seen in another picture.
Electrified home: The small TV is powered by an electric cable connected to their energy source – the solar panel seen in another picture. This is the only room in the home, so it serves multiple purposes.

Uros homes are simple, one room shacks built with reeds. Like other Peruvians, their cooking and eating is done outside. Food is cooked with fires on piles of stones. We saw traditional clay pots in these cooking areas.

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Cooking stove and other utensils
Cooking stove and other utensils

After visiting the homes, the people had all their items for sale on display, so we shopped.

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Sharon admires one of the beautiful tapestries.
Sharon admires one of the beautiful tapestries.

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Other tapestries

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Several people then climbed the lookout tower.

Surprisingly, Dale climbed up into the tower - he's afraid of heights!
Surprisingly, Dale climbed up into the tower – he’s afraid of heights!
Dale took this picture as I climbed up after him.
Dale took this picture as I climbed up after him.

Neighboring islands, taken from the tower:

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Meanwhile, we were being summoned to board the balsa boat once more. It was time to say good-bye!

Taken from the lookout tower
Taken from the lookout tower

The people of Isla Suma Balsa lined up along the shore to sing to us – they sang an Aymara version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star! We sang a song to them too!

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View of Isla Suma Balsa from the boat:
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We pulled away from Isla Suma Balsa on our reed boat, with two delightful rowers.

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896We made our way back toward the “main” island. I took two more pictures of “our” island, Isla Suma Balsa, as we got farther away:
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899Another boat just like ours passed us as we approached the big island.

894One of the main sources of food for the Uros is, of course, fish:

This is a fish hatchery.
This is a fish hatchery.
On the main island, some people have motorboats.
On the main island, some people have motorboats.

After being delivered to the island in the balsa boat, we waited for the motor boat that would take us to our next destination.

We stop on the big island to transfer to our motor boat.
We stop on the big island to transfer to our motor boat. Of course, there are trinkets for sale for tourists.
Father and daughter love.
Father and daughter love.
Carole and I talk to a local woman and her daughter.
Carole and I talk to a local woman and her daughter.

Our next stop on Lake Titicaca was TAQUILE ISLAND. (next post)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Good Morning!

October morning at Dodgeville State Park in southwestern Wisconsin. We got here early to enjoy the morning sunlight and fog lifting from the dew-drenched fields. I am chronicling the times at which the pictures were taken.

8:18 a.m.
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8:23 a.m. – wisps of fog rise above the prairie
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8:29 a.m. – We hiked a path that was supposed to lead to a waterfall. The weather was too dry for the waterfall, but I was able to take some beautiful pictures of the morning sunlight casting a golden glow on the autumn landscape.
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8:44 a.m. Sun rays through the fog
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8:54 a.m. – This park has two lakes. This picture was taken from the sandy beach as the morning mist rose.
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8:54 a.m. – Morning mist dissipates as the temperature rises on this warm fall day. At this hour, the lake’s surface was so still that it was like a mirror reflecting the land and sky.
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