Copacabana - not the beach in Rio!

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
Trip End Nov 30, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We had one final day in Cuzco on Saturday and spent most of it whiling away the hours in a café with wifi. Andrew and I had to check out of our respective accommodation (I would say hotels but mine was certainly a lot less plush than his) by 10am and our night bus to Copacabana wasn't leaving until 10pm. So after wandering around the city and doing some laundry (much needed after Andrew’s four days of trekking), we decided to catch up on correspondence and further travel plans for Chile and Argentina.

After a bite to eat in one of my favourite restaurants so far on this trip (Jack’s Café) we walked back to Andrew’s hotel to pick up his bags. The bellboy then hailed us the smallest cab in the world (I think it was an old Toyota Starlet), which was fine for the two of us and his bags, but we still had to collect mine. So in my new and improved Spanish I directed the cab to my hostel and asked him to wait a couple of minutes. His face was a picture when I reappeared with my backpack and hand luggage! Needless to say we had a very tight squeeze with us, two large backpacks and three daypacks but fortunately it was only a short ride to the bus station.

We checked in for the bus and then had to wait around for about half an hour until the surge of people heading towards the departure gate suggested our bus was here. However, we were stopped at the gate because we hadn’t paid our departure tax of 2 soles (60 cents). Not much you may think, but with careful budgeting we had used every last sole we had. So I rummaged around looking for a dollar bill and Andrew went off to pay, only to be told they wouldn’t accept the dollar (worth 3 soles). So after a begging request to fellow travelers in the queue, a kind Australian guy gave us 2 soles but wouldn’t take the dollar in return. Things like this remind me there are still good people in the world, despite all the horror stories we hear.

This was our first night bus and the seats were reasonably comfortable- certainly an improvement on most airlines economy class! We both managed to get some sleep before being turfed off the bus in Puno at 5am where it was bitingly cold. After checking in for the next bus we once again had to pay 2 soles departure tax, but this time one of the shopkeepers changed my dollar bill so we didn’t have the embarrassment of having to beg for money once again!

After a couple of hours waiting we boarded the bus which was going to take us along the shores of Lake Titicaca to Copacabana. My heart leapt slightly when the driver’s assistant asked the guy at the front of the bus whether he had a visa for Bolivia- we didn’t. Andrew confirmed we didn’t need one, but the guy at the front turned out to be from the USA and as such was going to have to pay $175 at the border. Ouch.

The border crossing was surprisingly smooth - except my heart leapt again when the Bolivian immigration official looked at my passport and said "Ah, South Africa". I don’t know whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, but the fact he mentioned it worried me slightly so I managed to very quickly say in Spanish that I was born there, but I am actually British. I was very relieved when the stamp was put in my passport - Bolivia is one country I don’t think I’d like to be stuck in.

Only a short ride on the other side of the border and we were in Copacabana, a small lakeside town which immediately gave the impression of being very chilled out. We had managed to book a room at Las Olas, Lonely Planet’s top pick for Copacabana, and it was just as funky as we had hoped. The room had stunning views over Lake Titicaca but more importantly it had hammocks inside and outside, a loft bed, wood burner and plants in the shower!

In the afternoon we wandered around the town and sorted out our ferry tickets to Isla del Sol for the next day, and bus tickets to La Paz for Tuesday. Just before sunset we decided to make the short but steep climb up the hill on the northern side of the town to Cerro Calvario to watch the sunset over the lake. It was beautiful, if a little chilly at the top! We were going to keep it simple and have an early dinner at the hotel when we got back, but unfortunately the restaurant had been closed down for a few days by the Bolivian tax authorities due to tax arrears and there were great big bureaucratic closed signs stuck across the doors. We soon realized this was a common sight in the rest of the town so clearly the tax department had decided to focus on Copacabana this week!

We could see Isla del Sol from the beach at Copacabana and I was wondering why it was going to take 2.5 hours in the ferry to get there. Once we left I quickly saw why - the boat, fully laden with tourists and two small outboard engines, chugged along very very slowly. However, there were some lovely views towards the snow capped Andes and Isla de la Luna.

On arriving at the northern end of Isla del Sol we quickly disembarked as we had been told to try and get up to the Chincana ruins ahead of the crowd to get the best photographs. So off we steamed, following our hand drawn map from the hostel… which needless to say wasn’t quite as accurate as it could have been. So after a slight detour, we arrived at Chincana after most people had left! We still got some nice photographs but had now put ourselves under pressure to walk the 8km from the north to the south and arrive in time to catch the ferry back - we had 2 hours and 45 minutes and the average time taken is 3 hours!

8km isn’t that far really, but when you are walking along a ridge line at an altitude of 4000m it definitely seems a lot further. The uphill sections, which usually wouldn’t bother me, were tough and I was having to stop to catch my breath more frequently than I expected. We did manage to overtake some people so I was happy in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be last to the boat. The walk was nice, and there were some lovely views over the lake and surrounding islands, but the beating sun and altitude took a little bit of the enjoyment away. At three separate points we had to pay a toll to walk the route, and I did feel like they should be paying me to walk it rather than charging me for the experience! With only a couple of short stops for snacks and water, we made it to the boat 15 minutes before our departure time and were able to breathe a big sigh of relief.

Unbeknown to us, our ferry wasn’t going directly back to Copacabana, making a detour instead to Bolivia’s floating islands. As we hadn’t stayed in Puno we hadn’t visited the famous ones there, and this was the Bolivian equivalent. Unfortunately it was quite obvious that these islands were actually made of wood with a scattering of reeds on top, and really nothing like the ones in Puno. However, it did provide the opportunity for me to see a fish farm. Trout and Kingfish are all over the menus in Copacabana but I had seen no sign of any fishermen on the lake, and this answered my question as to where the fish was coming from.

We had a few hours to explore the town the following morning which included a visit to the cathedral to see the famous black Virgen de Candelaria, the patron saint of Bolivia. Considering she is made out of wood, and is called the black Virgen I was obviously expecting her to be said colour. In all truthfulness I would suggest that I am as black as she is!

Next stop La Paz.

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Saku on

Aww, I'd love to visit South America, to see Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and especially one of the most important historical monuments in human history. Maybe one day... :) Loved browsing through your travelogue, thank you! :)

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