Where Music And Passion Are Always The Fashion

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Hotel Wendy Mar

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, February 1, 2008

We timed our visit to Copacabana to coincide with the local Virgin del Candelaria festival. No Barry Manilow at all. Disappointing.

We had initially hoped to get in the day earlier, but the bus heading for Lake Titicaca ran late and left us in danger of arriving at a closed and lonely Bolivian border post. A tiny but entertaining **IN RETROSPECT ONLY** part of our delay came as Liz succumbed to the bodily punishment epidemic mid bus trip, necessitating a negotiated comfort stop. The driver had initially been reluctant to stop as I fumbled some Spanish "Amigo senorita mucho infirmer" and handed a small black plastic bag as a solution. It took charades for me to convince the driving team this would not be a solution, and as I returned to my seat Claudine noted that they were still laughing, possibly to the detriment of their driving skills.

I am a little put out that I did receive a round of applause for negotiating this banio stop. For not only did the one under the weather westerner alight, so too did 25 of the locals, who proceeded to conduct a mass vomitathon outside the bus. There had also been a horrific bowel related incident to the passenger directly behind me that I dared not look around to confirm the nature of which. I guess we were all just glad the windows were welded shut to avoid air circulating the various diseases more fully around the bus.

Puno, the Peruvian attempt to extract every possible tourist dollar from Lake Titicaca, we essentially skipped - arriving late and leaving early. While Claudine, with absolutely good and fair reason, has chosen to castigate some of my dietary selections over the course of this trip, the presence of Mike has been an unexpected ally and diversion. As he tucks into a pre dinner Snickers before embarking on a half dinner chicken and chips it is a joy to me to see Claude shocked into silence. Both feats take a stellar effort, and I would invite all readers to share in showing gratitude and hope that Mike gets better one day.

Copacabana, Bolivia, is nicer than I had expected in many ways. The food (though clearly more Mexican than local) has been a positive surprise, and the parade through town was more fun than I had believed was going to be possible. Central to my enjoyment, Bolivia has been the true spiritual home of the old ladies in excellent bowler hats phenomenon that I had thought was a Peruvian tradition. Photos are the only way to do this justice.

On our third day here Claude and I took a long walk out of town, which proved to be a strong decision. Firstly, its immensely scenic, with enough craggy cliffs and crystal waters to make a visit to Croatia entirely unnecessary. Secondly, we saw trees: really the first in a long time, and I had thought there was some problem with them growing at this altitude. Its also nice as a place where every single person you pass says hello.

Bolivia is ridiculously cheap, but signs of economic failure poke there head through here and there by way of partial explanation. Counterfeit money is an immense problem. Mike was passed a Peruvian five sol coin (AUD$2), and we have been unable to simply move it on as one gets rid of NZ money in Australia, as everyone knows to check every piece of currency to check its real. I paid for breakfast this morning with a heartstarting 200 bolivians note (about AUD$28) and the lady checked it endlessly and offered us a soliloquy on the perils of being in a part of the country adjacent to the Forgers of Peru. Why just recently a major bust had been made and 30,000 bols seized. Hardly seems worth the risk for $4000.

I am forced to recall that when Liz first suggested (months ago) that we include Bolivia I had included a single provision in my acceptance that if we ended up kidnapped and hanging by our ankles being tortured by piano wire then I would be entitled to an enormous I-Told-You-So. As it has happened, I only got the instrument incorrect, and torture has come in the form of a brass band. For festival, they play all night. All night, uno hundred percento del noche.

But on balance it seems worth it.

* * *

We timed our visit to Copacabana to align with the 'Fiesta de la Candelaria'.  This was supposed to be a huge 2 day festival commemorating the Virgin Mary.   

We were not let down.  Scores of locals dressed up in glittering outfits marched throughout the town clutching beer bottles whilst spinning left and right to a repetitive drum beat.  These outfits sparkled.  These outfits gleamed.  One thing I have learned about Copacabana is that The Bedazzler sold astronomically over here.  The one Bolivian Fiesta song played over and over and over.  This was not limited to the daylight hours nor was it limited to the sweet-spot party period pre-2am.  This rhythm played repetitively all night long.  At about 5.30am we turned on the TV as loudly as possible so that we could drown out the sounds of the nearby drums with the hope of sleeping a little better through TV noises.  

I still haven't managed to understand what the various costumes represent.  Nor the relevance of the dancing masked men with spurs to the Virgin Mary, or what the decorative bronze trays represent.  I'm not sure the function of the troops of men with bells up and down their legs either.  You would think they danced, but they never actually did. This naivete is not for lack of asking.  We were informed many times that this was a Bolivian religious festival.  This is just what apparently what happens in Bolivian religious festivals.  

At no time at all while we have been here has any hospedaje, cafe or restaurant played any Barry Manilow nor made any reference to the classic song that has put this town on the map.  This too has been extremely disappointing as it was one of the reasons I wanted to come here. :)  

Copacabana translates from an Aymara word meaning 'view of the lake'.  This lake is Lake Titicaca.  An enormous, brilliant blue lake surrounded by hazy islands.  Copacabana itself is nestled on a peninsular which is surrounded entirely by the lake.  This means there are always fantastic water views.  Astoundingly, the town´s main coastal stretch is so cluttered up with thousands of peddle-powered giant plastic swans that the best views can only be seen from nearby villages or on a boat in the middle of the lake.  

Liz, Mike, Pete and I travelled as a group to Isla del Sol, the island supposedly home to the birth of the Incan Sun God.  This island contains a number of Incan ruins, however we chose to simply climb to the top and admire the views.  

After our three travel companions left for La Paz, Iain and I set out on an 18km trek from Copacabana to Yampupata traversing the entire coastline to reach the closest point to the Isla del Sol.  Despite the low hanging ominous grey clouds, this was some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen in South America.  We passed a few small villages, friendly men on bicycles, plantations of what looked like coloured flowers, farm animals and little children playing in the dirt.  The early morning rain meant we started the walk later than planned. We were informed that the 'movilidada' (transport) returning to Copacabana would dry up after lunch.  So at about 2pm when we saw the fourth vehicle on the road making its way to Copacabana we hailed it and headed back.  We had probably walked about 10km at that stage.  

Sitting in an internet cafe soaked to the bone by local kids who choose to celebrate 'Fiesta de la Candelaria' by super-soaking defenseless tourists, I am looking forward to catching the bus out of here.  However, Mike has just emailed that La Paz locals seem to celebrate this festival with shaving cream instead.  Hmmm, I think I am fiesta-ed out.
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