Sunset Over Lake Titicaca
I had to make my way back to the border with Peru to renew my passport as itâ€™s already been 3 months that Iâ€™ve been in Bolivia. I decided that it was high time to see Cuzco and Macchu Pichu since Iâ€™d already spent 5 months in Peru and hadnâ€™t been to the most famous monument in South America. Most foreigners fly in to Lima and then immediately head for Cuzco by plane or bus, walk the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu and then get out of Peru. I did everything backwards. I spent nearly a month and a half in Lima and after traveling all throughout the north on my first trip last year, and then the southern coast this year before going to Bolivia, Cuzco was still on my list of things to see before I could say that I had really seen Peru.
Basilica of Copacabana
But first I wanted to make a couple day stop-over in Copacabana
on Lake Titicaca and see the Isla Del Sol which I had missed on my trip through there when I crossed the border at the end of February. The trip from La Paz
to Copacabana was not too difficult. A few short hours and we were already on the peninsula and nearing Copacabana. The setting sun painted the long high snow-capped ridges of the Cordillera Real in the middle distance with a violet-red glow and as we crossed the narrow bay in a motorboat, the smudge of Mt. Illimani slowly faded from view as night fell over the still rocky landscape.
Cholitas with Flower Petals
I joined James, and English guy I had met in La Paz a couple of weeks earlier, and his friends for a pizza and we discussed our plans. They were going to camp on the Isla Del Sol for three days but that wasnâ€™t feasible for me. After dinner we agreed to have a beer and outside the restaurant was a party in full swing because the next day, Thursday, was the Feast of Corpus Christi and there was a live cumbia band playing. I was regretting that I hadnâ€™t brought my camera because I had never seen the likes of the scene in front of me. A crowd of cholitas, quite drunk and some of them barely able to stand on their feet, were dancing to the cumbia lowland music. There were two long rows with nary a male in the group, and they had their cases of beer between them.
Road out of Copacabana
As time went on, the groups broke up and it became more of a free for all. One of the older ladies had commandeered a hapless tourist and she wouldnâ€™t let the poor guy go. Even though she was dancing wildly and halfway unconscious, each time the guy tried to get away she would come after him and drag him back to dance with her. I could only imagine her headache the next morning, and for that matter, of the whole group of cholitas. The men just hung back and drank in the plaza. On the other side of the plaza was a smaller line of younger locals, the girls on one side, the boys on the other. They were dancing in a certain fashion, shuffling back and forth to the simple, and in my mind boring, cumbia beat. James had to pack for his camping trip and I was tired so we turned our backs on the spectacle and headed for the hostel.
Herding the Llamas
My plan was to walk, skirting the bay, to a town called Yampupata nearer the island and from there take a boat. The walk was supposed to take about five to seven hours. I found out that a bike could be rented for a reasonable cost and decided instead to do it that way. The day was clear and warm and it seemed to be a perfect morning for it. What I didnâ€™t count on was the remnants of my cold and cough slowing me down, so much that I barely made it to Yampupata in the extra time the tour agency allotted for me to arrive. The scenery was magnificent. I passed through sleepy little villages where nothing could be heard but the lowing of cows, the grunting of pigs, the twitter of birds and the lapping of the water at the shore.
Few vehicles passed me during the two and a half hours on the road and I was glad of it. I was alone and content. I had a very difficult struggle at the grotto of Lourdes because I took the shortcut from the main road and it was clearly not meant for a bike. I pushed the bike up steep rocky slope and by the time I reached the top I felt like I couldnâ€™t go on. For the rest of the ride I walked the bike up any incline. By then my right knee was hurting and I was out of breath and energy. But I finally arrived and my contact was there to meet me. They had phoned ahead to him to tell him that I would be coming. There was a group of men lounging by the shore and one of the older ones beckoned to me and we got into his rowboat and he started off for the island.
The 78 year old oarsman
As he vigorously pulled away from the shore I asked him how old he was. â€ś78â€ť he answered laconically. He seemed to have the strength of a much younger man. I asked him a few more questions but he was intent on rowing me to the island so I just sat back and enjoyed the feeling of being on the lake and having the breeze cool me off after my morning of exertion.
Once we reached the shore he let me off on a rocky point and I climbed and then followed a path to a collection of a few buildings back near the shore. I was very hungry and tired and there was an inviting restaurant with tables covered in bright tablecloths. A French group had arrived ahead of me and the lone waiter was busy serving them. By the time he got to me and told me that they only served one dish, a kind of hodge-podge of boiled potatoes, eggs, and chicken, I was disappointed because I had wanted trout or kingfish.
Isla de la Luna and Cordillera Real Mountains
So I picked up my things and climbed back up to the path and set off for the main village. The waiter told me it was 45 minutes away and I expected it to be as long as an hour and a half, being well-experienced with the Latin American concept of time, but I was surprised when a half hour later I was in the village. A long winding stone staircase led down to the port but luckily the houses and hostels and restaurants where higher up. Seeing an inviting terrace and a menu listing fish, I dropped my backpack, unable to take another step. I was done for the day. I ordered some trout and took the cholita up on the offer of a room for 30 bolivianos. I didnâ€™t even need to see the room. After eating the fish I moved outside to read and finish my Fanta.
A family with two young girls had arrived while I was eating and they were looking for a place to sit down. I had occupied the bigger of the few tables and seeing them try to huddle around a small table, fit for 2, I asked if they wanted to trade tables. They said they could sit with me if that was ok, and we began talking. They were from Holland and traveling around the world for a year. Nicole had worked on Carnival cruise ships for some time as a card dealer in the casino so she was familiar with Americans and her English was perfect. Her husband Robert worked part time in a wine store so we had plenty to talk about as well. The older daughter, Rebecca, was 13, and the younger daughter, Saraya, was 9. At first they were shy but as we talked and then walked up the hill for some dinner and to watch the setting sun over the lake, they opened up and especially Saraya chattered on and on.
I was surprised when they told me that the girls were just learning and practicing their English on this trip, and that at home they were just learning it in school without much practice. They spoke very well! We played some card games and then came back to turn in for the night as we were all exhausted. Something about the clean air has a soporific effect too. It was only 8:30 but I was asleep very quickly.
The next morning I was up early to watch the village slowly wake up. A donkey was braying mournfully on the hillside nearby. A cholita was setting out her bundles of potatoes to dry behind her house. Two children were playing with plastic bottle caps and fetching water from down the hill with a donkey, and the men that were laying concrete to extend the terrace came back with more cement to finish the job.
Hospedaje Las Islas
The guests of the hostel gradually wandered down but getting breakfast was a painfully slow process. The smart ones realized there was no service so they went inside to order. Robin and Robert and the girls came down and Robin ordered inside. After a while I decided that I wanted an orange juice and when I went in the two cholitas in the kitchen were just sitting there doing nothing. I came out and said that they should pray for their food since nothing was going on inside. After a very long time one of the cholitas came out with a basket of bread. We were joking that maybe all that time they were thinking about how to arrange the rolls in the basket. Then some time went by and the butter and jam arrived.
Me with Robert, his wife, Rebecca and Saraya
The tea came later along with the orange juices. We said thank you each time with no reply from the cholita. That kind of service is often typical, especially with the indios or natives. They just have no conception of customer service. I am still trying to figure out if it is part of their culture or if it is a resentment at giving service to outsiders. Either way it is disconcerting. I could give many more examples and experiences of this but Iâ€™ll save that for when I write about La Paz and Bolivian culture in general.
After breakfast Saraya was eager to play more games so I suggested 20 questions. We had a lively few rounds of it with everyone joining in and then Robert and I set off to walk the rest of the island.
Woman Drying Beans
It was supposed to be a couple hours to the next village, where the main boat service was, and then another hour to the northern tip where there are Inca ruins. Two French girls asked if they could walk with us because they didnâ€™t have a map and were uncertain about the path. As it turned out, even with the map we got off course although the island is so small that we were able to find some local paths and still get to the village. It was tiring though and we hired a boat and local old man to row us the rest of the way. Stopping there for lunch we inquired about the boat service back to Copacabana. The boats left at 1:30 in the afternoon and only private boats, at ten times the cost of the public service, would go later in the afternoon.
Drying adobe bricks
Even though there were several people asking for a later boat so that they could have lunch, walk to the Inca ruins and come back, the locals were inflexible and said that the boats only left at 1:30. It made no sense to pay ten times the fare to take a private boat so I resigned myself to missing the Inca ruins this time around. Again, there seems to be no though process for the needs or wants of tourists. They decide something and thatâ€™s that, even if itâ€™s totally illogical.
Robert and the French girls went on ahead and I went back. They were going to spend another night on the island so it didnâ€™t matter but I wanted to get back to Copacabana by that evening so I could plan the rest of my trip and get on to Puno or Cuzco by the next day.
Me and Robert
The trip back was long but calm and with beautiful views. I had a headache from the intense sun and my lips were chapped and my face sunburned from the two days. I had a coffee and met a Canadian girl from Montreal and I practiced my French as we talked for awhile. Later in the evening I had some pasta that was about the worst pasta Iâ€™ve eaten in years. The Spaghetti in Salsa Blanca was gummy spaghetti in warm milk. There was no taste whatsoever and I took a couple forkfuls out of hunger but just couldnâ€™t go on. The ownerâ€™s reply was, â€śwell, you canâ€™t please everybody.â€ť Ahh, the joys of traveling! I went to bed early and prepared to get up early and take a bus to Cuzco the next day.