How would your life be like if you had to rebuild your house every year? If every 2 weeks you had to work 4-5 days just to keep your house afloat? If the only mean of transport you could use were a boat? If you woke up one morning and realised you were still in your house, but had different neighbors, or maybe you were even in a different country?
On Lake Titikaka we got to meet some of the Uros people, who sure have quite an unusual way of life. They live on floating islands which they’ve made themselves, using earth and reeds gathered from other islands. Each island is small, hosting a few families. We visited the Huacahuacani Community, 27 people from very young to very old.
They make a living from tourism – arts and crafs they sell to the people visiting their little island. They also grow potatoes and some poultry for own consumption.
Life on the small island is not easy, as they have to maintain their houses afloat. The depth of the island is 2 meters: one is made of floating earth they had brought there when the island was first ‘built’, and another meter is made of reeds. This layer obviously gets soft and rottens quite fast, so every 15 days they have to add a new layer to maintain the thikness and keep the island afloat. They grow the reeds on the island, but when not enough, they need to bring the necessary from 6-7km away.
Adding the extra layer takes around 4-5 days, so basically by the time they finish, they get a few days rest and need to start all over again. On top of this, they need to always make sure the island is properly anchored so that the wind doesn’t take them to Bolivia over night. And on top of this, they need to completely rebuild their houses once a year. To protect themselves from the acute risk of rheumatism. To work to make a living. To raise children. To send them to school on mainland. To keep good relationships. To smile all the time. To joke about their condition. To give you a hug.
I asked if they liked it there. They said it was tough. I asked why they don’t leave. They said others have left, moved to the mainland. But they’ve been living like this for hundreds of years… where would they go? What would they do? They don’t know how to live any other way.
‘It’s in their culture’ Elias, our boat driver, told us with a kind smile on his face. ‘It’s just the way it is for them!’