A man-made island
The craze for D.I.Y is nothing new. Centuries before the appearance of Pinterest and tutorials on YouTube, they were already putting it into practice in Peru.
There are those who make knitted scarves, lamps for side tables and even wedding invitations…but the height of do-it-yourself culture is making your very own island. If needles and wool aren’t for you, try your luck with the totora reed. This is a kind of aquatic reed that grows on Lake Titicaca, which is located on a high plateau between Peru and Bolivia, and is the raw material used to make the islands that float on the lake, such as the islands of the Uros.
Its inhabitants have been living for centuries on man-made islands built by themselves using the totora reed. The roots of these reeds produce gases that are trapped in the water when they decompose, which helps flotation, and on these blocks, the totora reeds, which have been dried and knitted, form a thin layer (‘khili’) that covers the islands and upon which houses are built. An anchoring system using wooden posts ensures that the islands do not move with the wind or the currents of the water.
The Uros are descendants of the Puquinas, one of the oldest communities in America, and they have been living on Lake Titicaca for centuries. Proof of this are the 87 man-made islands that they have built on it. Each of the islands is inhabited by a family clan and the ground layer is between two and three metres thick. The size depends on how many families live on them, which is usually between three and ten.
The houses and boats are also made of totora reeds. They also have churches, a small hospital and even schools as well as communal areas that the inhabitants of each island can reach using their totora reed boats. The children row to school as naturally as any child would walk to school. The totora reed boats are not just used for transport, they are also essential for the people to carry out their basic subsistence activity: fishing, which together with hunting and the knitting of woollen tapestries, form the basis of their economy.
However, totora reeds are not used just for construction; it’s the main staple of their diet, which they complement with fish and water birds. Also, when their stalks are dry, they are used as firewood for their kitchens as fuel. Recently, with an influx of tourists to the area, they also use it to make souvenirs and handicraft items.
You can reach this fascinating place by boat from the Port of Puno, in the southeast of Peru. You can go on a three-hour guided visit, but travellers who want to immerse themselves in the spirit and way of life of the Uros have the option of sleeping there, both in family houses and in hotels especially designed for visitors. This is the case with Uros Tupirmarka, a floating hotel that can accommodate 18 people. Can you guess what it’s made of?