Sunday, 27 December 2009

Islas Uros

Islas Uros were the first of two stops we made on out tour of Lake Titikaka.

The islands are famously large floating masses of reeds built and maintained for the past 2000 years or so by the Uros people. As was explained to us during the visit, the islands themselves and the small houses built on top of them require constant renewal, the houses being rebuilt entirely at least once or twice every year. Also, the reeds are not just a building material, their roots and flowers are used for food/drink, and their high flourine and iodine content supposedly gives the locals their startlingly bright, white smiles.

We tasted the root: it was good!

Modern technology has not bypassed the islands entirely, of course. Although they hold onto their traditions, nylon rope had replaced straw as the preferred method for tying reeds together and anchoring the islands, every island had at least one solar panel (the first arrived in 1996) and the little house we visited had a tiny TV/radio-set. Apparently the arrival of solar electricity dramatically reduced the incidence of fire from candles on the islands... When it comes to clothes, changes are obvious in the men, who wear jeans and t-shirts, but more subtle in the women, who still wear traditional clothes. But the thread and yarn they use to make the clothes is bought in Puno markets and probably comes from modern factories. And finally, tourism has of course changed everything and being strange and interesting has become the Uros people's main source of income - the resource which makes all the other changes possible.

We bought a beautiful tapestry depicting creatues, real and mythical, from the lake.

One of the more interesting things about this stop had little to do with the islands themselves. Our guide had us gather round and sit on reed benches, while he explained many things about the lake itself: how the lake is shrinking due to global warming, it evaporates faster than it is replentished, how the lake is a major route for smugglers bringing cheap electronics from Bolivia into Peru, and how an introduction of trout and kingfish in the years 1942-55 resulted in the extinction of many local types of fish.

Interesting stuff.

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The past!