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Construction and Maintenance Cycle of a floating island

In the Uros, we cut the reeds from the wetlands. To do this, we use a tool called KiniƱa; (long stick at the tip of which a very sharp knife is tied). We never cut the cattail from the base of the root; what we do is leave about 30 cm. approximately from the root to the point where it is going to be cut – in this way, after 6 months the cattail grows again.

To build a floating island, we went to the heart of the Titicaca national reserve to look for small or large blocks of floating totora roots, since only these types of roots can be cut and moved to the desired point, they are also the only ones that can be used to assemble large reed blocks, some of the blocks are approximately 15 centimeters and others are up to 1.50 centimeters thick, these blocks are later joined by stakes and ropes, forming larger blocks. The number of Kilhi pieces for the construction of the islands will depend on the number of families that will inhabit them.

When the pieces are in the river, the anchoring of the blocks begins. The anchors are configured from eucalyptus trunks of about 3 m., Which are tied to the blocks by ropes made of straw or “keswa”, reinforced and sunk with stones.

When the blocks are in a stable position, they are covered with long layers of dry cattail in the cross position, covering the entire surface, until reaching a level of 1.30 m thick. This totora layer covering, added to the 1.5 m kilhi, make up a 2.80 m final floor thickness. For its better conservation, the inhabitants have a constant work of covering with reed beds every one or two months, in order to avoid the disintegration of the islands, since every year the islands sink approximately between 50 and 70 cm.

When finishing the final layer of the soil of the islands, we proceed with the construction of the houses or chukllas. For this process, we place an extra piece of kilhi and totora on the ground, which serves as a base or top 45 cm thick, in order to counteract humidity. Each house has a single room and is structured based on wooden frames and cane fabrics. The kitchen is exterior to prevent fires and the bathrooms are located on an island independent from that of the houses.

However, the houses have a duration of about five years. The Islands for their part, have a life of between 30 or 40 years approximately, after this time, the Kilhi will rot with the water and the construction of a new island will begin.

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