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Published: June 22nd 2008
The Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca
Although 41 natural islands dot Lake Titikaka’s waters it also plays host around 30 manmade islands - created from their very foundations by their inhabitants.
These people are resourceful with a capital Reed. They build their islands, houses and means of transport solely out of the native reeds (and they even eat them too).
By using the reeds’ root blocks they build the island foundations. They cut them loose from the bed of the lake where they pop up much like corks. By joining together multiple sections of this material with sticks and rope and anchoring the whole group to the lake bed (again with sticks and rope) they provide a stable and stationery foundation for their homes.
On top of this soily base they lay down criss-crossing layers of the reeds that inititally lived in the beds (about a metre worth). This creates a very springy, but suprisingly stable base on which they then build their communities.
A day tour gave us access to one of these manmade islands, a trip on the community reed boat and a tour to another more conventional island.
On the floating islands we
were given a traditional greeting and a translated explanation of the process involved in making the islands. Some of the more interesting parts were descriptions of the social dynamics of floating island life.
Take neighbourly disputes. Floating island dwellers solve these problems much more simply than those of us whose habitats are geographically set. When a family isn’t pulling their weight, or isn’t getting on with the others in the community, they are simply ‘set free’. The part of the island that they live on is sheared from the rest - leaving them floating and free to find another island to join. There used to be 12 floating islands. Now there are 30. Will people never get on?
Another interesting part of their life comes to play when inter-island marriages happen. Like anyone else on the planet attending a wedding, there is a high likelihood that guests will drink too much and not be fit to drive home. Unlike everyone else on the planet, floating islanders solve this problem by taking their houses with them on the boat to the host island - guaranteeing a place to crash and eliminating the risks of drink-boating for all!
an hour exploring the floating islands our boat continued another 3 hours to Taquile Island. Here we saw hiked for a bit (no mean feat at almost 4km above sea level), saw some traditional dancing and had lunch in the town square followed by some shopping in the local handicraft stores. Although there are 17 restaurants on the island, to avoid conflict and competition each and every restaurant serves exactly the same thing, for the same price.
Unfortunately, in the process of showing us their ‘daily lives’ the very same lives of the native inhabitants people has been completely consumed by the tourism that now supports them.
Where life used to be about subsistence it is now consumed by at least 3 daily tours of their home. The rest of the time is spent weaving the handicrafts to support the tourists’ ravenous appetites.
On the whole Taquile and the floating islands were little more than a series of nicely spaced photo opportunities of locals sitting around being ‘authentic’. A little hollow but, damnm the photos were *good*.
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