Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Tourism Keeping Peruvian Islands Afloat

For centuries, the reclusive Uros tribe of Peru have lived in a real-life waterworld on Lake Titicaca in the Peruvian Andes.

Building huge floating pontoons from the buoyant totora reeds, the Uros Indians' waterborne communities of Islas Flotantes (floating islands) have afforded them protection from rival tribes, the Inca and Collas.

Now, despite hundreds of years of isolation, the Urosway of life is threatened by the encroaching land-based population in nearby Puno, Perus major port town on the 8300 square kilometre lake.

The plight of the Uros was highlighted in a feature story on National Geographic Channel recently.

"The issues facing the people living on the floating islands are multifold," says anthropologist Arrufo Alcantara Hernandez, director of the faculty of social sciences at the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano in Puno. "The waters of the Uros have been overfished by commercial fishermen, tourists are affecting their traditional culture and sewage from Puno is causing environmental and health problems."

Paradoxically, the growth of tourism on the lake has been something of a relief for the Uros, bringing them much-needed cash. This has reduced their reliance on the dwindling fish stocks and enabled them to purchase motorboats and medicines.

Speaking to National Geographic, Melchora, one of the elderly Uros women selling handicrafts to the tourists, said the amount of tourists grows every year. At first, only a few Uros chiefs permitted tourists, now nearly all the islands take tourists.

Given their resilience, Hernandez remains confident that the Uros people and their culture will remain intact.

"They've successfully dealt with many serious challenges over the last few centuries," he says. "I think if the Uros people use foresight and care, they'll be able to overcome their problems and balance their traditional lifestyles with the modern world."

Pioneering adventure travel operator, Adventure Associates, has organised tours to South America, including Peru and Lake Titicaca, for more than 30 years.

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