Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Waking up to see the world floating past your window would fill most people with a deep foreboding and have them running outside to see what catastrophe had just occurred – was it shock flooding or a nightmarish storm that carried your house away? Or it could be just another ordinary day on a buoyant bed of reeds in Lake Titicaca.
Sitting high in the Peruvian landscape at 3,812 m (12,464 ft), are around 40 fully-functioning floating islands. Initially created by the Uros people of Peru in Inca times, these wonderful islands stemmed from the need to escape incessant fighting and trouble on the mainland. This way the quiet Uros tribe could, quite literally, steer clear of aggressors, and because it has worked so well for the inhabitants for centuries there seems no reason to move to solid ground.
Painstakingly built by hand, these floating villages are constructed from layers of bundled tortora reeds, which are fastened to a floating base structure, like a pontoon. The result is one massive, deep raft able to withstand surprisingly heavy loads.
The islands are remarkably sophisticated and hard wearing but the flotillas need to be constantly repaired to maintain their strength. As the dead reeds break away from the base new reeds are replaced on the surface, which are conveniently collected from the edges of Lake Titicaca. The islands are anchored in place by ropes attached to wooden poles driven into the bottom of the lake.
Only a few of the islands accept visitors, which isn’t a bad thing as there are reports the Uros traditional way of life is changing quickly because of increased interaction with tourists. These lake dwellers consider themselves guardians of the lake and are said to predate the Incan civilisation, and according to their legends passed from generation to generation, existed before even the sun, stars and moon. So it’s no wonder they’re worried about being inundated with inquisitive sorts.

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