Close to Puno, about 5km into Lake Titicaca, are the 30 to 40 floating islands of Los Uros. There are only a few hundred Uros people living on these islands with up to 10 families living on the larger islands but only 2 families on the smaller ones. These islands are made of thick layers (1m-2 m) of Totora reeds which rot away from the bottom & have to be replenished with new reeds, added to the top, every 3 months.
They live in reed huts, cook on little earthenware stoves (stood on flat stones to protect the reeds) & are nearly self sufficient. Some of the islanders have TVs powered by solar panels & there is even an FM radio station on the main island (playing Wet, Wet, Wet & Handel's Water Music ?). Where do they go to the toilet - I hear you ask ? Well, I guess they pee straight into the lake, but for more substantial jobs, they have tiny 'outhouse' islands, moored downwind from the main islands.
They trade with the mainland for food & other commodities but are increasingly reliant on boat loads of trippers from Puno buying their handcrafts.
We motored out for 20 minutes in a decrepit old motorboat to visit the islands. We were greeted by an imposing woman who dragged our boat alongside, tied up & ushered us onto her island where we were made to sit on reed seats (everything is made of reeds) & were given a talk, in broken Spanish, about their culture by a pretty young girl. We were each given a totora reed to eat - the white fleshy root is quite pleasant to eat & contains dietary supplements like iodine. It must be effective, because since then I haven't had one goitre.
Their living huts are quite small, I'm not sure how many sleep in each - they had some special huts like a trophy room containing an array of stuffed birds. We also saw tiny reed huts for guinea pigs - I don't know whether they were pets or lunch. We were then allowed to walk round the island & (most importantly) buy their hand-made jewellery, dolls & trinkets. Walking on the reed island is weird, all squishy - like walking on a huge water bed. For an additional fee, we went on a reed boat to the next island, paddled by a man who was even older than me. The local kids also piled onto the boat, posed for photos & extorted more money from us. As tourism is a major part of their economy & we were guests on their island, we couldn't really object.
On the trip back we went past an old steamship being re-furbished. This ship is remarkable because it was originally built in England, then broken down into pieces small enough to be transported on the back of a mule. It was then shipped to South America, carried over the Andes & then re-built on Lake Titicaca where it sailed for many years.