Far from the mainstream tourism circuit, dozens of islands handmade from native totoro reeds float off the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca.
The Uros Islands provide inspiring lessons in sustainable building and local sourcing. Nearly every item in this collection of photos (taken on a recent trip to Quantati Island) was hand crafted from the reeds growing along the lake's banks--boats, toys, furniture, watchtowers and, of course, the islands themselves. Every two weeks, residents bolster the very ground they walk on with additional reeds as the bottom layers start to rot away.
While many traditions remain, the islanders have also embraced new ideas -- like drawing inspiration from Italian architecture for decorative window arches or weaving upcycled plastic bottles into their boats for longer usability. Some islands have incorporated solar power, a much safer option than candlelight.
While hundreds of years ago the biggest threat to islanders' way of life was an Inca invasion, today it's the onset of the modern age and the lure of a better income on the mainland. But the people of Uros are deftly embracing ecotourism while keeping their unique culture afloat. Becoming a viable eco-tourism destination has not only opened their world to curious outsiders; it's provided an economic engine to sustain the next generation of islanders.
Molly Conley is a senior designer for BBMG, a sustainability focused brand innovation firm in Brooklyn.