Sunday, 4 December 2011

Lake Titicaca

Uros - the floating islands

Often on my trips the ingenuity of people amazes me and the islands of Uros are the perfect example. Even though they explained to us exactly how the islands float it is still difficult to get your head around it when you`re standing on them. Despite knowing that you can`t sink, the fact that the ground beneath you is not quite stable makes you question how that`s possible. In case you`re wondering, here`s how to build your own floating island:

1. Cut the roots of the totora plant (which float) and bind into blocks.
2. Connect the blocks together securely, using rope.
3. Fasten down with stakes buried into the bed of the lake.
4. Now the the base of the island is complete, create the floor by building up layers of the totora, alternating them back and forth, on top of the roots.
5. Every 15 days add new layers on top of the old ones. (When you need to redo underneath your house - which is also made of totora - simply lift it to one side.)

Easy right?
A beginner`s guide to making your own floating island.
When we arrived on the island we were shown into the house of a couple who had only married two months ago. They proudly showed us the one small room where they cook, eat and sleep. The husband was also extremely excited to explain how their tiny television set was run from a battery, which was powered by a little solar panel. It was the equivalent of someone at home explaining the benefits of an iPad to you.
Cutting-edge technology for island life.

Although the couple make some of their money from fishing, like most of the families on the islands, the majority of their income comes from tourists who flock to Lake Titicaca on a daily basis to marvel at the way they have been living their lives for years.
While the islands are very beautiful it is sad to see the effects tourism has had on their inhabitants. Everything on the islands now has a price, from the handmade goods the women sell to taking a photograph. I even met someone who had been part of a group which had visited a school where the children had been trying to sell the work from their desks, encouraged by their teacher.

Amantani Island


We were lucky enough to stay the night with the Quespe Yanarico family in Amantani. Fredy and Violeta and their children Deigo (13) and Selina (6) welcomed us into their home and gave us so much more information about the island than a guide book ever could.

Life on Amantani is hard and although the family has guests once a month, they mainly rely on agriculture for their income. Violeta (who is only 26 - you do the maths) also knits jumpers and hats from alpaca wool. When I bought a hat from her, which had taken a week to make, she hugged me so tightly and was so grateful that I actually felt embarrassed that I`d only paid about 7 pounds for it.

Education is very important to Fredy and Violeta and they pay 50 soles a month (about 12 pounds) to send Selina to a private school on the island, as the state school does not have a very good reputation. Deigo walks two hours a day to the island`s only secondary school and his parents hope that he will become a tour guide when he is older. Tourism really is seen as a way out of poverty here.

As well as giving us lovely meals and a cosy room for the night - the family has no heating but I had so many blankets on my bed I could barely move - they also dressed us up in traditional clothes to go to a dance in the island`s main hall.

A warm bed for the night and amazing lake views, a girl couldn`t ask for more.

The clothes the women wear are beautiful. Bright colourful skirts, white shirts, embroidered with flowers and black shawls with more embroidery on, which I was surprised to hear the men actually sew, with each shawl taking a couple of months to make.
Nice outfit, shame about the boots...
Staying with a family allowed us to experience another side of island life aside from the obvious tourism and although things are not easy for the Quespe Yanaricos it was nice to see how Fredy and Violeta, like parents the world over, are working hard to ensure their children have a better quality of life.

The lovely Quespe Yanaricos.

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