Uros, The Floating Islands of Perú

When I visited in 1996, I was surprised to learn that the Floating Islands were no longer floating. The water level in Lake Titicaca had dropped (the Peruvians blamed a drought; the Bolivians blamed the Peruvians for diverting water for agriculture). The islands were resting on the bottom. If my guide had not so informed me, however, I never would have known. The islands still had the same spongy surface of totora reeds as they always have and the local residents continued to go about there daily lives as they have for centuries. It may be that by now the islands are once again floating.

Uros, as the islands are known, can be reached from the city of Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I traveled from Cuzco to Juliaca by train and from Juliaca to Puno by minivan (it is possible to take the train all the way to Puno, but there is a two-hour layover in Juliaca and the drive by van from Juliaca to Puno takes only 45 minutes).

The islands themselves were constructed over the generations from the totora reeds that grow abundantly in Lake Titicaca. Every six months or so a new layer of reeds is laid down. The reeds are also used to build houses and boats. The islanders welcome tourists and try to sell them everything from small model boats to stuffed birds (which I can't imagine anyone buys). Aside from this predictable response to visitors' interest in their unique environment, the islanders are still going about their traditional business: grinding flour by hand; drying fish in the sun; collecting reeds from the lake; weaving new boats; and tending to the several cows and pigs around the islands

A visit to the islands takes only a few hours, if you are in the Puno area. Although, there's not really very much to see, it is always interesting to come in contact with a lifestyle that is so completely divorced from the modern world. One wonders how much longer it will continue. On the islands, I saw only older people and young children.