walkscape Titicaca Lake
The owners of the lake
Posted on July 31, 2018

The Titicaca Lake is not just populated by marine species and birds. The legend tells that the Uru people, an ancient Andean population, they considered themselves the owners of the lake and water. But, how can they live on the lake? The solution is in building artificial floating islands made of totora reeds. This special kind of solution seems to be a defensive result of the Spanish raids.


The closest island is about 30 minutes of navigation from the Peruvian city of Puno. Once on the boat, the route goes through the totora reeds used to build the islands. The route seems to be a real aquatic highway which is very easy to find other boats sliding back and forth between the islands and the city. Before to enter into the Uros Islands territory we also have to pass a border checkpoint.

Once in, we get in a huge canal where a multitude of boats is sailing between the little islands. Immediately the view is captured by the traditional yellow boat made of reeds, whose shape reminds a big floating banana. Later we found out that those boats are a tourist trap more than a traditional means of transport. 

Once get on one of the islands, the president receives us. He usually is the older person on the island and he has the duty to welcome the tourists and tell history and facts about this floating world. 
Each island can host between 7 and 10 families and actually, the people of Uros are around 200. Every reed platform is anchored to the bottom of the lake to hold the island in place. From here, a series of layers of reed are arranged in contrasting directions until the density of the platform reaches between 3 and 4 meters. Usually, the islands can last until 25 years but new layers of reed need to be added constantly to replace the rotting bottom layers. 

After the explanation, the president tells us how the people live their daily life. Traditionally the Uru people were devoted to fishing, but this activity would not allow the livelihood of every family. For this reason, the main profit comes from the tourist flows. This situation becomes immediately clear in the second part of the tour when, visiting the humble houses, we are basically forced to buy every kind of handicraft produced by the women of the island. Unfortunately, those textile and trinkets can be found in any local market, so they are not so unique.

The tour is about to end and the last part of it is to get on the biggest island where to chill out in a bar drinking a quite expensive coffee. The way to get there can be even more like a local, sailing with the banana boat, which obviously provides an extra pay. So we get on with the president but before to sail, another special event is going to happen. Suddenly, the women line up on the edge of the island and start to sing a ridiculous international pop song to say us goodbye. They looked so uncomfortable as we were in that moment.

The idea that this population could live only thanks to tourism is probably also due to the new generations. Basically, they don't want to live in the middle of the lake, so they prefer to settle on the mainland. At this rate, and without a conscious tourism, the island will rapidly going to disappear. 
Although could appear as a curious experience, actually it hides behind a more complex reality in which the unique nature of the Uru people is damaged by a failing tourism. Probably, the true owners of the islands are the tourists and not, as the legend says, the Uru people.