Elise and I did a homestay on Uros Khantati, one of about 50 floating islands on Lake Titicaca. Centuries ago, the Uros people first fashioned the islands out of totora reeds in an effort to isolate themselves from the aggressive Collas and the Incas. Now they keep the government at bay, since they pay no property taxes – only taxes on tourist services.
When I booked the homestay, I had no idea what would await us. Would it mean that we would would be staying in a guest room in the home of an Uros family? What kind of food would they eat? How long would we have to travel to reach the islands? Would there be running water, electricity or proper toilets? Elise was particularly worried about the latter. She needn’t have been.
We traveled by boat only about 20 minutes from Puno, Peru on Lake Titicaca. Soon we spotted our first island!
It really was a floating island made of reeds! As a neat freak, I couldn’t help noticing that there was rubbish strewn on the island, however. Would ours look the same? Soon we started to see many other islands, each with its own personality. Some had a reed lookout tower in the shape of a giant fish, others a giant bird. Many had dramatic-looking reed boats.
Soon, we arrived at our island, Uros Khantati – home sweet home for two days and a night.
It turned out to be a ship shape island with about a dozen cabins, a restaurant, lots of cheerful reed umbrellas and archways, a tall lookout station, and even a bridge and a pond. Walking on the springy reeds was a trip – almost like walking on a waterbed.
Our host, Chistina, greeted us and brought us to our cabin. Surprise! We had the cabin all to ourselves. It had lakeside views, a big bed, colorful wall hangings, and – to Elise’s great relief – a shiny, modern bathroom. As she would discover, the potty was also eco-friendly: the front part had a drain for Number One and the back part a pit for Number Two. Instead of flushing, one poured a scoop of what looked like kitty litter into the pit (we called it humany litter). Elise can be very particular about the hygienic standards of restrooms, but (to my relief) she gave this one a thumbs up. The lights were powered by solar energy.
There was a fun patio just outside our cabin with chairs and hammocks.
After we settled in, Christina’s husband Victor gave us a tour in a traditional reed boat with a puma face, the symbol of Lake Titicaca.
He showed us how they used nets to catch fish. He extracted two small fish from the net and put them in a bowl of water, noting that they were great for soup. Elise, of course, saw that the fish were suffering and asked if she could throw them back into the lake. Victor laughed and said yes. He then demonstrated how they gather fresh reeds using a surprisingly primitive-looking eucalyptus stalk with a blade attached at one end with wire. After he’d harvested a bundle of reeds, he peeled back the skin on one and nibbled on the white center. (He warned us not to do the same, however, since our systems were not adapted to the lake water.) Since the reeds on the island rot away from the bottom, he said that they must be replenished from the top three times a month during rainy season and twice during dry season. Placing the reeds on the ground is straightforward, but placing them beneath the cabins requires 25 people to lift the structures (logs stick out at the base of the cabins for that purpose) in order to pile up the reeds below. While he was explaining this, we saw a man on a small motorboat with an enormous stack of reeds returning to a neighboring island.
Victor told us that there were three families living on Uros Khantati. Since there are no schools in Uros, all the children leave by boat every morning around 6am to attend school in Puno, and return around 4pm. They move to the shore when it is time to attend college. Christina and Victor’s two children returned to island after college to help with the family business.
The islands are all anchored to each other and to the reeds by strong rope. I was fascinated to learn that the islands used to be in the center of Lake Titicaca, but that they were pulled by motorboat to their current location close to Puno three years ago in order to shorten transportation times to the lakeshore.
After the instructional part of our tour was over, we blissed out on the boat as we slowly made our way back to the island. Turns out, given the constant need to research our next destination/transportation/lodging/activities etc, and to write blog posts/select and edit photos, do our bookkeeping, and homeschool Elise – and to experience travel itself! – I rarely relax. But I was deeply relaxed in the warm sunshine and fresh air on the incredibly tranquil waters of the lake.
Christina served us a fabulous meal of grilled salmon, quinoa salad and potatoes, with beautifully arranged fresh fruit for dessert. In the late afternoon we put on traditional Uros costumes. Christina even wove pompoms into Elise’s braids.
It was very touristy, but I photographed our new German friends, Sinem and Fabi, paddling a reed boat dressed in Uros costumes. Fabi, by the way, proposed to Sinem after hiking the Inca Trail just as they reached Machu Picchu. She said yes! He was nervous that the ring would be discovered during security checks at the airport, but Sinem never suspected a thing. Well done, Fabi.
Afterwards, Christina showed us the handicrafts she and her daughter made, which included embroidered tapestries and pillowcases and figurines and mobiles woven from the reeds. There were many things I wanted to buy, but we have to stretch our budget for a full year and also don’t dare add any more weight to our packs.
Very satisfied with the day, Elise and I retreated to our cabin as the sun went down and had a very restful sleep.
The next morning, we relaxed in the sunshine as we waited for Victor to bring the boat to take us back to Puno.
Christina and her sister, who lives on the neighboring island, joined us for the ride back.
Our experience on Uros Khantati was excellent – one of the highlights of our travels thus far. If you are interested in doing a homestay on Uros, Christina can be reached at email@example.com.