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« Pic For The Day - Piazza Salimbeni, Sienna, Italy | Main | Lima: One Girl's View »

Lake Titicaca and the Uros

We landed in Cusco with a hotel booked for three days. Altitude adjustment claimed our first day, and the next day we spent wandering around with our new (super-helpful) friend Doris, looking for a place to live for the next few months. We found a place that day, but we couldn't move in until the end of the month. What to do? Hit the road again for a while. We took off for Lake Titicaca.

We went to Titicaca to see the Uros and their islands. The Uros are a pre-Inkan people who live on floating islands that they make out of reeds. That's right - artificial islands made entirely - of layers - of reeds! Each island is about 30 yards across, and has 5 to 8 houses on it. It's mind-blowing, really. Imagine the skill and knowledge, passed down through generations, that it takes to live life with such limited resources, in the middle of a gigantic lake. Humans are so full of ingenuity!

For years upon years these people lived and breathed the totora reed. They ate it, made rope out if it, used it to treat wounds... They made their houses out of it. They made their land out of it! They fished and hunted birds and birds eggs, and traded the totora reed with the mainland people for anything they couldn't provide themselves. Then things changed. The tourists discovered them. Now the islands are completely tourist-centric. The Uros spend their days making little toy boats, mobiles, and embroidered hangings for tourists to buy. They show us how they keep their islands floating, how they strip the reeds to eat the flesh, how they make their traditional boats, that they then take us out in for 10 soles per person.

Humans are so full of ingenuity. These people have responded to a changing environment remarkably well. No doubt life is much easier for them now.  Food is easier to come by, and things like rope and material come from the mainland. The family we talked with most, Willie, Amelia, and their four-year-old son Max, have a solar panel on their roof, and a TV and radio in their tiny hut. I asked Willie what work he spent the most time on each day: patching the island? collecting food? talking to tourists? He pointed to Max, sitting on the ground playing with matches, and laughed. My kinda guy!

Not all of the islands have 'converted'. Thankfully - there are still Uros Islands where tourists don't tread, and things are done the way they always have been.

Our family has had long talks about the impact of tourism on cultures and environments. Tourists tend to talk about how 'the place has changed', with a dismayed shake of the head. But everything changes, with or without human intervention. Should we really wish for the world's people and cultures to stay stagnant? It's a hard question. One with no clear answer. But as a good friend says:

There is no answer. Seek it lovingly.

The floating islands are a fascinating place, and the people are warm, and welcoming, and kind. I'm glad I got the opportunity to meet them.


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Reader Comments (13)

Wow ...
I am SO envious of your travels and experiences. I LOVE your blog and I really love learning through your family.
Thank you Thank you Thank you.

Jul 9, 2010 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterTodd Grace

he he he he he


Jul 9, 2010 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterYo Lama

Wow, I think that's one of my favorite places that you've learned about because I've never heard of such a thing. That's amazing.

Jul 9, 2010 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterLima

Very interesting, had never heard of this either. I have learned so much through YOUR travels and experiences. Thank you so much!!

Jul 9, 2010 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterpamela

WOW! The colors and beautiful faces. Your pictures are great! Keep shooting and meeting wonderful people

Jul 9, 2010 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterDarleen


Marty (my husband) got to go to Peru in '07 on a mission trip. This was right after the devastating earthquake in August '07 near Ica. They delivered some relief supplies to Ica and then traveled to the area of the Yauyos, southeast of Lima where our church has a mission. He was able to get some wonderful photos on the trip... your photos of the ladies in brightly colored dresses reminded me of his trip. The light (is it the altitude or the latitude?) is amazing in all your photos. While we specialize in nature photography, it was not hard to get some wonderful photos of the Peruvian people. Take a look at a few from Marty's trip. Here's the link:

Our website is "". Unfortunately, we haven't kept it updated since Sam arrived 2 years ago!

I'm looking forward to seeing more photos and hearing about the different cultures you and your family meet.

Have fun!

Gina in Arkansas

Jul 9, 2010 at 10:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterGina in Arkansas

Long ago, when I was a little girl, I had a picture book about Donald Duck on Lake Titicaca. You've brought back memories. Wish I could see that book now. Sorry I didn't get to Titicaca when I was in Peru. Beautiful photos - thanks for sharing.

Jul 9, 2010 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterMargery

Thank you so much for writing these posts. I look forward to them and DO feel that I am getting to see the world through your adventures. You must all bel learning so much. This is just the very, very best field trip EVER! What a super education for the kids.

Jul 10, 2010 at 8:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterBobbi

This page shows up very weird in Safari, I wonder if it's the Amazon widget or what?
We visited a couple of the islands and they also had electricity from the solar panels, apparently donated by some president during an electoral campaign. Did you go to Taquile or Silustani? How did you get to Puno from Cuzco? Great to hear about your travel, thank you

Jul 10, 2010 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterMihai

great pics! i agree with the reader above..what a super education for the kids. i really commend you as parents for giving them this amazing opportunity.

Jul 11, 2010 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterClaire

I really learned a lot today from your photos and writing. I never knew about these people even thoughI knew about the lake.
What an insperation for taking what one is given and using it wisely. The colors of the clothing are beautiful and the people seem so serene. Keep the photos and informtion comming.........cannot wait for the Amazon!

Wonder how Bob liked the totora weed?

Jul 12, 2010 at 7:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterMOM


I was expecting a couple of breats and some floating excrement, but ll kidding aside, I'm blown away with the culture of the Uros. BTW, we're in Italy at our house and we have 2 more weeks here! Ciao!

Jul 12, 2010 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Mancini

Incredible! Perhaps the "conversion" of some of the islands, allows the other islands and the culture itself -dare I say it?- to 'evolve'?? I dunno, but one thing in your writings jumped off my screen; Willie's answer about what he spends most of his day doing.. It seemed to me impossible to imagine a place and its people so far from the 'world' we know here back home.. Yet, when afforded the luxury, the choices made by an individual there reflect a basic same-ness we ALL share, the essence of what it is to be human?? Then it struck me that I was amazed by that.. It is not a wasted notion on me that perhaps the Uros are far far closer to an ideal life than most of us here state-side could ever be afforded to realize.. The more "civilized" we become, the more insulated we are from what it really means to be "human".. Maybe I just "got-it", or at least "got" something profound in "my reality", either way I believe you are achieving the goals you set and published at the beginning of your journey! Bravo..

This is just an amazing odyssey, layer upon layer of an education that could only be had through the experience itself.. Yet, I thank you for allowing a glimpse of it, stirring the coals of an inexperienced fire within me to go where ever it wants to take me! -Eric H.

Jul 16, 2010 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric H

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