This day, visiting the Floating Islands of Uros, truly meant the world to me. It was such a heart-warming, profoundly enlightening experience. A day I will cherish for the rest of my life. When I originally planned our trip to Peru, I was most excited about seeing Machu Picchu and exploring Sacred Valley (which are so incredible in their own right). However, I never imagined how impactful my time among the Uros people would be – I never realized how this would be the experience I’d walk away from Peru changed by. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Peru, please visit these islands on Lake Titikaka. It’s another life out there; a wonderful, beautiful, simple, joyful, hard-working, loving, colorful life. I decided to share my photos of my visit here along with a few words vs. all words and a few photos. Why? Because I feel these photos say a thousand words themselves. Take a look into the faces of these beautiful people and catch a glimpse into their home and lives . . .
When our boat drew near the specific Uros island we would be visiting for the day, I immediately gazed upon the surrounding colorful and decorative reed boats. I saw a multitude of reed homes and couldn’t help but wonder if we would be accepted among the people living there or viewed as imposing tourists.
As the boat came in to dock, my suspicions were put to rest as this kind family greeted us with the warmest welcome. They waved and smiled and assisted us onto their floating home.
I quickly grabbed a photo in front of their home’s entrance arch as the family prepared seats for us. They scrambled around their huts, bringing out blankets left and right to lay down over their reed benches. It was such a generous gesture, I was instantly overwhelmed with gratitude. They were so caring and concerned for our comfort that they offered up their personal blankets for us to sit upon.
My husband, Doug, and I sat on their warm wool blankets, bursting with happiness and excitement – ready to learn so much more about our sweet hosts and their way of life.
To begin with, a demonstration on how they created their various reed products and artwork was given to us. The woman, on the left, began to tightly weave the reeds in between one another as the man, on the right, flattened them (for her to braid) using a large, curved stone. They were so fast and so efficient, working flawlessly as a team – I was utterly impressed.
They passed around one of their creations; an art piece resembling their traditional reed boats. A miniature toy version, you could say. I can see myself, as a child, floating this little boat around on the waters as it carries my little dolls over the waves.
The Uros people make everything out of Totora reeds (which can be found in abundance throughout Lake Titikaka). Not only do they make their homes and boats with them – but they also decorate their island with Totora reed artwork such as this impressive shrine. How unbelievably talented are they!? It is mind-blowing.
Hildar, el presidente of his family island, continued with the demonstrations by explaining to us how they build their floating islands. That’s right, they BUILD their entire island – each island is built by its Uros family using Totora reed roots.
First, they saw off the Totora reeds from their roots and form individual root blocks. Next, they stick wooden poles in the middle of each root block (as Hildar is showing in this photo). Then, they attach each root block to one another using rope. Once they have a large enough base for their island, they lay down the flooring by layering reeds on top of the banded root blocks. The flooring is layered with a considerably large amount of reeds in order to prevent water saturation. With that being said, the water will still, eventually, saturate its way through the flooring. Thus, the families must rebuild their entire island floor EVERY 15 DAYS! That’s nuts! Can you imagine having to rebuild your home that often? We complain about doing laundry once a week – these people have to rebuild their entire islands! I mean.. come on! Yet, they do it all with a smile on their face. Like I said, they’re such beautiful, simple and HARD-WORKING folk.
Touring the family’s island, we saw their kitchen (photo on the left) and their food storage (photo on the right). The little pond in the middle of their island contains a large net that the Uros family uses to store their live fish. This keeps their meals fresh and readily available – making it easier for those days when the fish aren’t biting or when other chores become a priority.
The eldest man in the family kindly invited me into his hut that he shares with his wife. Stepping inside, I was struck by the vibrant colors surrounding me – so brilliant! I also took note of the simplicity; a bed, a table, a few tote bags below and clothes hanging on the wall. That was it. And that was enough.
The elderly man encouraged me to try on his wife’s clothing – could this family be any sweeter? He giggles at how loosely they fit and places a reed hat atop my blue hair (I wonder if he’s ever seen blue hair before?). In Uros culture, it is considered beautiful to be full-figured and to have long, un-touched, natural hair. Such a contrast to the American beauty standards I’m use to.
One of my favorite moments of our visit was when we all sat in a giant circle and went around introducing ourselves. After all the introductions, we asked each other questions to get to know each other better. One question that Hildar asked stuck with me – he asked about divorce and was extremely baffled and appalled by the concept. In Uros culture, they do not have divorces. When our group told Hildar and his family that about 50% of American marriages end in divorce, the look on all their faces grew incredibly unsettled. My heart sank. I felt as if we were telling them, for the first time, that not all love lasts. That not all people keep their promises and stay true to their vows. In that instant, I knew I wanted to be more like them. I wanted to live among people who believed in everlasting love; who know how to love one another, unconditionally; who know the meaning of commitment and the sacredness of a vow. I envy them.
A mother and her two daughters stand up to introduce themselves. In the middle is Gladys, who was all smiles our entire visit. Her and her husband have a little son who is the most adorable little boy.
Gladys gives her son a snack. Not only is he the cutest kid, he’s the most well-behaved. He quietly stayed by his mom’s side our entire visit, playing among himself and chewing on the end of a Totora reed. His father is tenderly looking down on him. Even though Uros people do not believe in divorce (it’s not even a thing there), they also do not believe in waiting until marriage to have children. In fact, it is common for them to have children and live together for years before marriage. The reason for this being that their weddings are HUGE events that cost more money than they have – they must save for the wedding for years prior. However, from what I’ve heard, their wedding is an event not to be missed! The ENTIRE community (all 1,900 people from all the floating islands) is invited.
After conversing with the Uros family for quite some time, they offer us a ride on their traditional reed boat. Their family boat is bright yellow with red trimming. The front displays two puma heads, likely in honor of Lake Titikaka itself. Titikaka means, in Aymara, lead-colored puma. The lake is lead-colored and is the shape of a puma, hence its name. Also, fun fact, Lake Titikaka is the highest navigable lake in the world sitting at 12, 507 feet.
As we departed the island in their traditional reed boat, the family members staying behind sang us joyous songs and danced for us – it was another favorite moment of mine. Not only of this day, but of my life. There was no room for anything but love, happiness and thankfulness in my heart and soul. I was so thankful for everything in my life that led me to this day, this moment. I knew that I was lucky to be living such a magical day. To be in the company of the best of people. I rarely cry from happiness, but happy tears welled at this sight. My heart was full. And still is as I think back to it.
Gliding through the waters of Lake Titikaka on the traditional Uros boat was a blissful experience. I felt at peace as Hildar and his co-captain rowed us around the neighboring islands. Looking out at the lake, mountains and surrounding community, I wondered what I had done in my life to deserve such blessings and fulfillment.
Doug and I hugging at the end of our boat ride.
Getting off the boat, I thanked Hildar for rowing us around and for being the most gracious host any one could ever ask for. We hugged and snapped this cheerful photo together. This photo is everything to me. It encapsulates so many emotions and aspects of my visit to the Floating Islands of Uros.
Even more, Hildar was such a fun person to be around – I didn’t want our friendship to be so short-lived. He told us so many hilarious, animated stories. One of the best: He told us how there are no bathrooms in their huts or on their island, so when duty calls .. they must hop into a boat and row, row, row their boat to the “potty” island. He continues by exclaiming that even if they have diarrhea, they still have to row. They have to row FAST. As he tells us this, he simultaneously rows all panicky with his arms. Everyone is so entertained. But, it also makes you so appreciative for in-home toilets. Could you imagine waking up in the middle of the night with a stomach bug and having to get in a boat and row to a completely different island to do your business? Woah.
Reluctant to leave, we began to say our good-byes. I studied the face of each family member before departing, forever engraving their likeness into my mind. I never want to forget them.
I want to keep their endearing, soul-touching image with me through the rest of my life – able to be recalled at any given moment and remembered with fondness and hope. Hope for the world to one day adopt all the love of the Uros people. Hope that if such pure and good people can exist here, that they can also exist elsewhere. Hope that the world can be better. That it IS better than what we perceive.
Meeting this Uros family was the most enlightening experience I’ve had to-date.
As they sent us off, they sang once more – clapping along to their tune. Hildar even shouted “hasta la vista, baby!” and we all laughed! They learned this saying via one of the few American films they’ve seen, the Terminator (obviously, lol). They recently installed a few solar panels around their island and just began watching older films on their little 13” television screens. They get films and re-stock supplies by taking their boats inland to Puno. They never ceased to amaze me.
With the Floating Islands of Uros now behind us, I watch as we go past countless Totora reeds sprouting from Lake Titikaka – pondering how ALL of what I just saw and experienced came from ONE plant. Unreal. Life is unreal.
I can’t stress this enough: If you ever journey to Peru, be sure to visit this wondrous place. It will change you. After all, that is the purpose for traveling… isn’t it? 🙂
Much love and happy travels! xoxo
Photos are taken by both Doug and I. Captioned ones are those taken by Doug. ❤