Copacabana and Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca Bolivia
23.04.2011 - 28.04.2011 24 °C
After an early departure from La Paz, we arrived in the Bolivian lakeside hub town of Copacabana on Easter Saturday. The town was heaving with people from near and far who had made the religious pilgrimage for Good Friday's celebrations. Bolivia's most popular "beach" was crammed with tents, ladies wandering up and down selling candy and toys, pinball games for kids, kids flying kites and families huddled around gas-stoves cooking fish and potatoes. Rubbish was littered on every spare square of ground. This was definitely not the image a town named Copacabana had conjured up for us.
After checking in to a horrible hostel we set off for some food and to find some better accomodation. Along the beach front we sat down for a typical lunch of "trucha a la plancha" (grilled trout) in a busy, street-stall kiosk. After this we squeezed our way through the crowds and vehicle-clogged dirt roads to find a peaceful guesthouse perched on the hill overlooking the town's chaos. Our bed was comfy and our room opened onto a garden complete with deck chairs and hammocks. We then crept back to our first hostel, grabbed our bags and bolted back to our new hostel where we lazed away the afternoon.
That evening we climbed the hill above Copacabana to watch a dazzling sunset while sipping (very average) Bolivian red wine. We got chatting to an inebriated Bolivian grandma who had made the pilgrimage from Potosi after her god had spoken to her and told her to come. Her granddaughter sat patiently at her side while we exchanged somewhat slurred Spanish pleasantries with her grandma.
On Easter Sunday we gathered in front of the town's church, where priests were blessing cars. Yes, that's right, we watched this bizarre ritual incredulously - cars, vans, trucks and buses were scattered with flowers, showered in champagne, fire crackers popping on the ground by the cars, and then the priest's blessing. This was followed up with a family photo with the blessed car. This yearly ritual is supposedly the country's substitute for car insurance.
Isla del Sol
Happily leaving crazy Copacabana behind, we took a boat to the beautiful Isla del Sol, or 'Island of the Sun', where according to Inka folklore the sun god was born and the Inca civilization created.
Upon arriving to the island we were presented with the challenge of the 'thousand steps', a stairway built by the Incas up the incredibly steep island's mountains. The walk to our hotel nearly killed us, walking up a staircase of over 300 steps in the blazing sun at a breathless 4,200m altitude wearing our backpacks. Although this was far less than the supposed thousand steps we could appriciate why it was dubbed this. But with the coaxing of a nimble 10 year old local boy, we staggered the remaining distance to our hotel. Rewarding ourselves with a cold beer, we sat in the hotel's restaurant taking in the amazing views of Lake Titicaca.
Once we'd gotten our breaths back, we hiked even further uphill to the highest point of the island to be awestruck again by the sunset. We were afterall on the island that mythically gave birth to the sun.
The island abounded in pizza joints, which is where we found ourselves that night, enjoying a good Chilean Cab Sav, and experiencing Bolivian customer service at its finest - when the wrong pizza arrived on our table we informed them of the mistake, and their only response was to stare at us and shrug their shoulders. Ee had to beg them to take it back and make us the pizza we'd ordered, and was probably only saved by another table deciding to take the incorrect pizza.
The next morning we set off on a round-trip hike of the island. The northern point of the island was home to inca ruins, overlooking white stretches of sand framed by clear,sparkling water of the lake. The path took us through tiny beach-front villages and communities, passing kids walking home from school, ladies carrying corn and farm produce on their backs and men with their donkeys and sheep. As we walked on we stepped further back in time, looking down on women sowing and harvesting their crops and pigs sunning themselves on the path.
Exhausted after 6 hours of exploring the island, we arrived back at our hotel and collapsed onto chairs and cheersed ourselves with more cold beer.
The next morning we farewelled the island and chugged slowly back to Copacabana, where our plan was to board the next bus to Puno, in Peru. However this turned out to be less straight forward than first thought. Learning that there was a transport strike that day and we had a 5 hour wait until the next bus would be allowed to leave that evening at 6.30. This was annoying, but not surprising. So we bought tickets for the bus to Puno from an agent. After this we had a mere 27 Bolivianos to our name (less than $4) so decided to go to the local public eating hall and had a very tasty two course meal of soup and meat, rice and potatoes, all for a mere 10 Bolivianos ($1) each!!! We then realised we could use our credit card at a few of the bars and killed the next few hours watching Champions' League over a few beers.
At 6.30 the agent told us we would travel to the Bolivia-Peru border in a micro (local mini-van) as there was still no tourist bus, and another bus would meet us on the other side of the border. Given the nature of strikes, we didn't question this and squashed into the mini-van with a few others. Once we'd crossed the Bolivian border, we were given our backpacks, got our exit stamps and walked through 'no man's land' to the Peruvian border crossing.
It was here as we waited in the massive, freezing queue to have our passport stamped, that our 'agent' informed us that unfortunately there was no bus to take us the further 2 hours to Puno. We realised we'd been scammed from the start. No refund, no apology, our 'agent' became angry that we were angry with her (naturally), and the six of us now had no mode of onward transport once we'd crossed into Peru. Turning down the woman's offer for all of us to fork out more cash for a Peruvian mini-van to drop us off at a village "somewhere" on the way to Puno, we then told some police offiers of our being ripped off, and they sent an officer and his dog chasing after the woman, who was by then making a run for it back across into Bolivia. With the help of the police and a few backpackers with fluent Spanish, we convinced the bus driver of the only remaining tourist bus to let us on board (at a cost) and stand in the aisles of the packed bus. And so, we made it into Peru and to Puno!