Yes, I live in an Airstream and yes, I take vacations on airplanes too. I am so grateful for a recent opportunity to travel to Peru, South America. I say the name America because so often in the place I grew up called the United States, I am guilty of what so many others are, thinking the United States and America means the same thing. Well, really Canada is America, Mexico is America, and in this case Peru is America. So I’m going to be a bit more aware and start calling my country The United States.
I feel so fortunate to have experienced The Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca in Puno, Peru. Yes, Machu Pichu, Cusco, and Lima were all amazing too, but the people on the Floating Islands really touched my heart. They are Indigenous people from Peru and Bolivia and have lived on these islands for a long time, but tourists have only been visiting for the last twenty five years. And like Machu Pichu, it is very likely that one day tourists will no longer be able to visit, in this case becasue they may no longer exist.
Their lifestyle is simple, beautiful and happy. Today, there are eighty five islands, each made from the root systems of the reeds found in the lake, and maintained by the layering of fresh reeds every fifteen days. They are located in a quiet part of the lake to avoid the ten foot waves that can be found elsewhere. Some of the islands are used to house pigs, each staked in its own area. Most of the islands are covered in a variety of housing. The housing we got to experience were the houses made also of the same reeds the islands are made of. And then there are the big beautiful boats also made of reeds. All of the clothing is colorful and tells a story as to whether someone is single, or married, and more.
The people greeted us with so much warmth, kisses, hugs and songs. They were so happy to see us come visit them. They invited us into their homes and shared their customs. They told us please don’t give them money for tips as it was not worth much to them there. They might use it as toilet paper. Although I suspect they do use it on the mainland.
The children row their boats to various islands for kindergarten and elementary school. We were fortunate to get to take a ride in one of the bigger boats. If the children choose to go further with their schooling, they attend secondary school on the mainland, where they often seek jobs and leave their traditional costumes for blue jeans, one of the threats to island living. The main threat to island living is global warming. If the lake goes down one more half meter, it will make it hard to get the needed reed roots to sustain the islands.
The people here live by three rules: Don’t lie. Don’t steal. and Don’t be lazy! They are hard working clever people who live off the land, mostly sustained by fishing the lake. The lake is peaceful and noticeabley void of ski boats and jet skis. The community is void of drama, violence, grafitti or any of the other things we see as signs of poverty in the U.S.
When I started tiny living someone asked me to reflect on my values for tiny living, my why. I love tiny living for several reasons. I love the community it builds among others doing the same thing. I love the freedoms it affords in terms of forcing me to focus on what is most important to me, spending time and resources on just that and only that. I love the mobility it offers, allowing me to travel and see friends and families. And I love how stress free (although not problem free by any means) it is.
The people on the Floating Islands I noticed shared a lot of these values. Everything was about working for the good of the whole, supporting comunity within and connecting to other communities. Their life was simple and their homes were tinier than mine, but they were happy with the few possessions they had. Everything was made from what they had, like the reed houses and boats and island itself. They could move if they were not happy where they were, just pick up anchor, their version of hitching up to the truck and driving somewhere new. They didn’t have a heavy reliance on money and could enjoy the arts and each other. They were definitely stress free. Life expectancy is over one hundred years. The last woman who died on the island was one hundred and twenty six. Life expectancy on the mainland is sixty five. These Indigenous Peruvian folks ae definitely on to something. And even though here in the U.S. living tiny is a newer trendy thing, I think we are feeling the pull from some ancient ancestors somewhere and experiencing our own kind of floating islands.