One day with the Uros... on floating islands

Trip Start Jul 08, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Uros have been living on floating islands in the Puno's bay, on Lake Titikaka, for hundreds of years.  The Uros communities live on many floating islands on which 5 to 6 families live and share house building, food preparation, children education and other necessary tasks such communities require. 
After spending the 30 minutes required from Puno's port to the Uros Islands, we were taught by a local how they live as well as doing a famous totora (straw) boat tour.  A few moments later, we ended up on San Pedro Island, the last stop before our colectivo (boat ride) returned to Puno.  There on San Pedro, my sister and I were invited to stay over.  As sleeping on one of the islands was in our plans we gladly accepted their offer.  For a few $ we were going to have a shelter (straw house), get a dinner as well as a breakfast.  The island was quite small (about 600m2 and counting about 8 tiny straw houses).  As we laid our bags near our home for the next 24 hours, about 10 kids ranging from 1 to 11 years old raced towards us.  I had never seen so many kids happy to see me.  I had not shave for a while and all their little hands were soon to touch my beard.  Some called me Jesus and other papa navidad (santa claus) J .  We danced with them, run after them, span them around in circle and ran away from them for hours.  What we did not know at the time was that they were extra high on sugar and we would have to entertain them for much longer than we initially thought. 
My cell phone-camera became a great attraction for the kids who really enjoyed taking each others pictures.  Then they discovered the video function and shot videos of themselves signing, dancing and laughing.  We now have a great souvenir of our stay, as they took over a 100 pictures and videos of each other, some surprisingly good (video are soon to be added to my site).  For some time, they where the happiest kids alive and when my batteries ran out, I could not let them down.  So I went on a crazy expedition to charge them back.  Why a crazy expedition?  Because living as they were, they had no electricity, no running water (although we were surrounded by water) and of course no toilet (people were pretty much going wherever they felt right).  Raoul, the oldest kid of the bunch who just turned 11 a day before, negotiated me for 20 soles to recharge it.  That is 7$.  It seemed quite a bit at first, but that included gas, oil, renting the generator and 2 soles (0.70$) for him to organise it all and drive the boat.  As these last few moments with the kids have been priceless, I accepted his offer and we left for our expedition.  Living on such an island revealed itself to be a little complicated to do some of the simplest things I am accustomed to.   In order to accomplish our mission, as each of the elements we needed was on a different floating island, we would need a bit more than a good hour.  So we jumped on Raoul's boat with one of his sister and 2 brothers and went on about our mission.  On the way, although these kids were quite mature for their age, I still had to hold on to the little girl who almost fell in the river a few times.  All of this was only possible because I had gladly brought my power adaptor.  Before to come to the islands, we had left our big bags in Puno and took only the minimum we needed for 2-3 days.  After my bags where packed, I saw my power adaptor on the floor and so decided to take it with me.  Life is wonderful!
While I left on my expedition with those kids, my sister stayed behind in part to observe how the women where going to prepare the 10 birds they have just caught earlier and in part to check after our stuff... which turned out to be completely unnecessary, as these people where extremely honest.  She was quite disgusted by them pluming those 10 big birds although she found their technique quite impressive. J
When I came back from my expedition, we managed to get some rest from the children as their excitement for this novelty, us, was starting to fade away and also their sugar rush was coming down.  We were then trying to realize how fortunate we have been so far in experiencing these magical moments.  The adults did not care much for us other then welcoming us and giving us a few handshake.  As little birds perched on a window frame, we observed our Uros going about their lives.  We first observed the group dynamics of the adults, as we have been part of the children one for a few hours already.
About 20-25 people overall (counting the kids) were forming the Uros community of San Pedro, our island.  A group of 5-6 women spent the day together, on one side of the island, preparing food.  They made different types of stew, plumed birds and simply appeared to enjoy the tribal life.  Further away, were 2 other women, one who was weaving and the other one, the eldest, who was preparing food by herself.  Not sure of the story there.  As we had previously being explained on another island, the men were usually in charge of fishing, fixing the island (making sure they float) and building boats (real one and toys one that are sold to tourist).  No men were to be seen for the longest time and for a while we assumed the one man among the women we could see must have been the husband and father of them all.  The kids in all of that were doing everything and anything they wanted.   They had brought me to charge my phone a few hours earlier with no parental assistance, played together, fought each other quite a bit and ate at any given time pretty much anything.  One thing that seemed to keep them all together, as I quickly mentioned earlier, was their addiction for sugar.  The kids faces, hands and clothes where dirty of what we eventually found out to be sugared coated apples, served to them by their parents a few times per day.  Chocolate, caramels, sweets of any kind, anything was going on.  The village even had a store at which occasional tourists who where coming on the island, bought sweets for all the children.  I guess they have not see their smile (which were countless and hard to miss) and noticed that sugar have eaten pretty much all of their teeth.  A sad sight it was for me to see them engulf themselves on so much sugar.
At some point, about 2h before sunset, the wind rose up to shake pretty badly the islands.  Finally, the men appeared out of nowhere.  One of the women even rushed to her house in order to hold it down so it would not be blown away.  We watched her with amusement for a while, until we realized the situation was getting bad and perhaps we should offer our help.  The little birds flew in and while my sister was helping the ladies to cover up their art craft, I helped the men pulling back the islands together.  I was later explained that all the islands are inter-connected by a system of ropes, allowing them to be flexible while remaining close by.  With the strong wind (unusual for this time of the year), I was explained that one of the anchors broke off, creating the islands to break apart.  It was quite a feeling to witness the destruction power of nature.  During the storm, I remembered the story of the 3 little pigs and felt quite powerless as did the first pig and its house made of straw being blown away by the big bad wolf.  Eventually, our wolf dissipated and the calm came back...but not for the kids.  Somehow, this last episode boost them back up and once again, we had to entertain them for a few more hours. J
The night came around 18h and we were eventually eating our dinner (eggs, rice and fried potatoes), with a bunch of kids watching us eat.  The night was extremely dark and the sky was most remarkable with all its stars shinning so brightly.  During the night, we heard all sorts of weird stepping noises surrounding the house we were staying in.  As the lady who invited us gave us her house and could not reach her husband all day (by cell phone), we thought it was him coming back from wherever he had been all day, happy to get in bed with his wife.  I was the one near the door and each noise I could hear, I though a third person would join us in the already small bedJ .  As I said, the house was quite small and contained only a double bed and lots of straw everywhere.  We slept surprisingly well and a few hours later, I witnessed a wonderful sunrise with a flashy greenish sky.  I had never seen such a weird color sky in the morning.  I took advantage of the calm, the beauty, the sun warming me up nicely to meditate and feel the strong energy of the Lake Titicaca.  Shortly after our breakfast (pretty much the same thing as our dinner) we left for another island, a real one this time, called Taquile.
We had no idea what to expect coming here, but it revealed to be one of the best experienced of my trip.  Kids are the future of the world and we should cherish them with all the love in our heart.
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