(Originally published March 10th, 2010)
Hearing the water lap gently against the gunnels, I smell fresh, clear air mixed with diesel fuel as our small boat chugs along Lake Titicaca.
Our first destination is the Uros Islands. These small islands in South America are man-made and have been used by the native people for generations.
Reeds are the life-force of this band of floating nomads. Reeds are also the raw material used to build the boats the natives fish with. They are a source of food, are used for home construction, and reeds are even bunched and woven together to form the islands the natives live on.
Before today I had only heard about these remote islands, islands on which the residents float gently around on one of the highest lakes in the world. Warm, high-altitude sun beats on my face as a cool, gentle breeze blows down the back of my neck. The first leg of our eight-hour boat ride nears to a stop. Our captain, smelling of damp wool and no shower, smiles a coca-leafed smile and slows the engine. Chug..chug.. chug… a bow line is secured to a large wooden post with a creek of the rope.
Our cheesy band of backpacker tourist begins to exit the boat. Each person jumps about five feet from the deck onto the floating island. It sounds like kids playing in a hayloft. Alas, it is my turn as I land with a crunch and immediately feel my brain kick-start the part used for balance. It feels like standing on the old waterbed I had in college. I shift my weight and feel one foot sink a little deeper into the reed matt, reveling in childish enjoyment.
Suddenly I’m very young and back in my parent’s basement looking at a National Geographic, lying on the floor, wrapped in an old quilt that smells safe; like Grandma. I don’t think I could read very well at that time, but I definitely remember those pictures, the pictures of floating island made of reeds.
Smiling, thinking back to my youth in Nebraska, I see that even though it may have taken a few years I now know the ground really does move when you walk on the floating Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca.