Sunday, August 5, 2012

Paddling to the Uros Islands

My packaraft approaching a floating island. 
Across the bay of Puno and through the reed trails to the Uros Islands, I journeyed in my tiny packaraft (made by Alpackaraft in Colorado). Avoiding the tourist boats, I was able to go further into the reed village and speak with bulsa totora (reed vessel) builders whom may teach me techniques. As tourist boats passed me, people would take pictures and I would yell "cinco soles para la pictura!", or 5 Peruvian soles for the picture.

Big Fish Island, Uros man preparing roof, similar preparation style for traditional sail, now essentially extinct from the building style of the Uros bulsa totoras. 

I came across one island called Big Fish, where I met a man name Jilders. I spoke with Jilders for a good part of the day about the construction process and the possibilities of working together. We talked about the tools and materials used in constructions. Modern materials, we discussed, such as tarps, to seal the boat on the inside, and nylon string, to replace traditional woven grasses, have become very desirable. We agreed that if I attained some of these materials, I would have a free day of lessons in the techniques in building the traditional way. 

Uros friend having fun in the packaraft. 

This week I will spend some time sleeping on the Uros island Khantati, just across the water from Jilders island, where I will work on learning traditional techniques such as reed harvesting.

Jilders in front of his home.

Very few traditional boats still exist on Titicaca. Many boats crafted by totora reeds are not of the traditional style and are built for the transportation of visitors around the islands. These boats have double hulls and wooden decks, neither of which were used in traditional Uros boat building.

Modern boats have replaced much of the fishing and hunting uses, among others. Below you can see a traditional bulsa totora of approximately 3 meters by .8 meters wide, used typically for transportation and reed harvesting. On the nose of the canoe water birds, many of which are domesticated by the locals, relax and take in the sun. The rope used for the canoe is modern nylon rather than traditional rope, which takes a much longer time to acquire bulk. 


  1. Glad you are meeting builders and the alpackaraft is getting good use!

  2. Great website. I am in Bolivia at moment and was told that the last speakers of the Uru language are in a few threatened communities on the Desaguadero river and Lake Poopó though they no longer live on floating islands. I found part of a documentary, "The Men of the Lake", on the Uru-Chipaya in Bolivia. Good luck with your stay on the Uros.