While there are numerous islands within Lake Titicaca on both the Bolivian as well as the Peruvian side of the lake, there is one curious distinction that separates a few of the islands from the others: a few of the islands have anchors.
Intrigued? Las Islas de Uros are a collection of islands off of the port town of Puno, Peru that are entirely made out of floating mud and totora reeds, and each island actually has its own anchor so that it doesn’t float away. Little more than a 45 minute boat journey from Puno (which is a total dump, by the way), the islands are a quirk of the lake that are well worth the couple of hours that you’ll spend away from shore.
In order to make the islands in the first place, large blocks of floating mud are cut from much larger blocks that are found out in the middle of the lake. The mud blocks are then towed closer to shore into shallower water, where they are then literally tied together with rope via stakes that stick down through the mud. Finally, once all of the blocks have been tied together to form an island, large swaths of totora reeds that grow naturally around the lake (the same reeds that the fishermen in Huanchaco, Peru used to construct the world’s first surf craft), and are laid in a criss-cross fashion until the entire island has a massive crunchy cushion. Then, one-room houses are eventually built from the reeds, as are boats, and then people move into the houses and decide to call the floating island home. Oddly enough, when a motorized boat passes one of the islands, the entire earth below you ripples as it is hit by the boat’s small wake.
While the islands are unfortunately largely over commercialized (where isn’t?), the undeniable fact remains that people have actually lived like this for centuries and still decide to live like this today. The people who inhabit these islands are the descendants of the Aymara people, and the Aymara language is still spoken amongst the villagers of Uros to this day, as opposed to the Quechua speaking islands of Taquile and Amantani that lie further out in the Peruvuan sector of the lake. According to a local of one of the Uros islands, seeing as 60% of Lake Titicaca belongs to Peru, whereas only 40% belongs to neighboring Bolivia, the joke amongst locals here is that Peru gets the “Titty” and Bolivia gets the “Kaka”. It’s refreshing to know that even amongst simple locals living on islands of floating reeds there is still room in the day for a little bathroom humor.
One final highlight of a quick Uros Islands tour is getting a ride on one of their handcrafted totora yachts, which are massive 2 story ships that have been constructed entirely of wood and the totora reeds. Much more elaborate than a simple dugout canoe, the totora yachts look like massive wicker pirate ships complete with massive dragon’s heads on the bow. There are no engines on the boats, and little Aymara women serve as your motors as they row you from one floating island to another. While reeking somewhat of the dreaded “tourist trap”, the islands are an authentic slice of Andean culture and a true testament to the ingenuity of the local people who call this harsh landscape home.