Copacabana and Isla del Sol

Trip Start Jun 23, 2011
Trip End Aug 30, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, July 22, 2011

We grabbed the early bus from La Paz to Copacabana, on the Bolivian shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The bus ride was scenic and only about three hours. At one point we had to cross a narrow portion of the lake, so we got out of the bus while it crossed on a wooden barge that definitely looked like it could topple at any moment while we got into small boats and were ferried across that way. It was a beautiful day, and we got some great pictures of the whole transfer.

While we were waiting on the far side for our bus to join us we were watching the operation of the wooden barges and the guys who operated them. We saw an SUV drive down to the shore and get waved onto a barge. He drove on and the barge operator untied and shoved off while running to the back of the barge to get the engine started. The RAV4 following that SUV thought that he was waved on to the same barge and headed for it, only at the last moment realizing that the barge was pulling away from the pier and slamming on his brakes. It was too late, though, as his front wheels went over the edge and he was stuck with his front wheels (the driving wheels) dangling off the edge over Lake Titicaca. There was a flurry of activity as all of the other barge guys came over and tried to keep him out of the lake. A bunch of old barge operators tried to lift the front of the RAV4 and get it back on shore, but that didn't work. We found it pretty amusing, but our bus arrived and we had to get on or be left behind, so we didn’t get to see the final result.

We arrived in Copacabana and immediately liked it. It is a very small town – one main street has virtually all of the restaurants and bars – perched on the edge of the lake with mountains on either side. We headed to our hotel – La Cuppola – and checked in. It was a very nice hotel with hammocks in the lawn. Our room was very bright, with windows on two sides and great views of the lake. We hiked around town and up the hill to the west side of town, which had an Inca site on top of it that had big rock formations that were related to the sun. it was a pretty good hike, and we were finally getting used to the altitude. We planned to hike up hill to the other side, as it was supposed to have great views of the sun setting over the lake, that night. We headed up when we thought was the right time for sunset, but it took us so long to get up the mountain that we almost missed sunset. Also, we forgot our camera, so we didn’t get any pictures of the gorgeous sunset over the Lake, but we knew we’d get another chance the next day from Isla del Sol. We had delicious, garlicky cheese fondue for dinner at the hotel restaurant. mmm...mmm...good.

The next morning we jumped on our ferry to Isla del Sol. The Island of the Sun is where the Inca civilization and the sun itself were born, according to Inca tradition. According to our book, many people in Bolivia and Peru still believe this. We took the ferry to the northern (far) end of the island, to a town called Chalampapa. About 5,000 people live on the island, split between two main villages, one in the north and one in the south. From the northern village we hiked almost to the north tip of the island to see a large area of Inca ruins, including a big building and a huge ceremonial rock table.

One frustration that we had here and at every Inca site is that no one knows what the functions of the most of the ruins were. The Incas, for all of their advanced stone work and astrology and road building, did not have writing, so after the Spanish conquered them and killed a large portion of the people and their way of life, there was no written history to study to learn about them. The conquistadors were not very concerned with documenting what the buildings were for, but in plundering the gold and silver and tearing down any buildings concerned with the Inca’s religions and replacing them with Catholic churches and symbols. Even though the Inca civilization flourished only 500 years ago (about 1400-1530), we know less about it than we do the ancient Egyptians. In almost all cases, all we have are guesses and theories, and usually several competing ones about the use of each site. I wish I could go back and actually how the Incas used these sites.

We hiked from the northern end of the island to the south. It took about three hours and wasn’t a hard hike. It wasn’t an easy hike, either. The altitude and the sun are pretty intense. There are also some long uphill sections. The village in the south is called Yumani, and it is built on the ridge at the top of the island, so that it has amazing views in all directions of Lake Titicaca. The amazing thing about this village is that there is no running water. The water all comes from a spring that is nearly all the way down the hill to the port. Every household, hotel, or restaurant goes down each day to get water and haul it up the hill. This is a good 20 to 30 minute walk up steep steps. We did this walk a few times, and even after 10 days at or above 10,000 feet in altitude, it’s still difficult. I can’t imagine doing it with a huge tub of water. The other thing we saw a lot of in Yumani was donkeys, sheep, and llamas going up and down the hill. Apparently the villagers take them down to feed during the day and bring up to their pens at night. We enjoyed the sunset from our private balcony attached to our room overlooking the lake.

We went to a restaurant and K-money had a pizza (Upon walking into Yumani at the end of our hike we were faced with about 10 restaurants on either side of the path, all with huge "Pizza" signs out front. K deadpans, “Hey, where do you think we can get pizza here?”) while I ordered trucha (trout freshly caught from Lake Titicaca). We were in this tiny restaurant on the ridge and there were two other tables in there – a total of six other people. The restaurant was small, but it had tables enough to seat about three times that many people.

Despite that, we looked up from our 4th backgammon game to realize that it had been over 30 minutes and our quinoa soup hadn’t even come yet. We started paying attention to the kitchen and realized that it was just a husband and wife team back there, and they were simultaneously running the little store across the path (there are no roads or vehicles of any kind on Isla del Sol), so whenever customers would go in there, one or the other of them would scurry from the kitchen, up the hill, and help the customers in the store. We also saw them several times run over to the store and come back with some foodstuffs – ingredients for our dinner. It was pretty funny. We definitely could have cooked the meal ourselves in less time than it took them to deliver it. It was delicious, though.

The next morning we got up and hiked to the southern tip of the island to see some more ruins. They were interesting, but at this point we were kind of like, eh, to more ruins that weren’t Machu Pichu. We hiked back to the port and got a ferry back to Copacabana. After we got back we had delicious, amazing hot chocolate at Bistrot in Copacabana and visited Nemo’s bar, in honor of our friend Nemo, and had some awesome cocktails, including our first Pisco Sours. Chile and Peru fight over who invented Pisco, but I don’t think anyone thinks it’s Bolivia, but that is where we had our first one (of many).

The next morning, we grabbed a bus across the border to Puno, Peru.
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Sarah on

So glad to hear from you guys... that was quite a dry spell! XO

Bob massey on

What is the historical story with all the salt. How did it get there ? Was that area covered by an ocean at one time? Or did someone not tighten the shaker?

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