Island in the Sky

Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
Trip End Jun 05, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sitting at the bus terminal in Cuzco waiting for a ride across the border.  Im slightly nervous, a little anxious and very excited to start the next leg of my trip.  I tap my fingers,  try reading my book, eat half a banana, but nothing takes my mind off the impending trip to an exotic and unknown place... Bolivia.  I board the bus, sleep through the night, and am awoken at the border in the morning.  The European travelers line up and get their passports stamped without hassle.  When they see my American passport, they demand a copy of my vaccination records and passport, make me sign documents and charge me 130 dollars for a 90 day visa. (Read the last 100 years of Bolivian/US history to figure out why the government holds grudges).

As we continued the journey around the edge of Lake Titikaka, I struck up conversation with two German guys sitting behind me.  We hit it off talking about our shared interests in climbing, music, and adventure.  I have been partaking in all of these activities with them since.    We set up camp on the ancient Incan astronomical observation sight on the hill outside the town of Copacabana.  The giant vertical stones that had once been used to measure the movement of the stars in the sky perfectly suited our needs as bouldering rocks.  The next morning we rented kayaks and spent the day on the clear turquoise water exploring the smaller islands along the edge of the lake.   We spent the night in an inexpensive hostel and rested for our trip to Isla del Sol in the morning.

Isla del Sol is a small island on the south side of Titikaka filled with mystery and spiritual importance.  A large red rock on its north shore was believed by the Incas to be the birthplace of the sun, and the origin of all creation.  There are ruins all over the island and also an Incan city lost under water off the north coast.  This city was first explored by Jacques Cousteau (who invented the scuba tank), and later by a team of Japanese treasure hunters who took large gold artifacts from the site, and then all died on the return trip.  No one has gone for the gold since.  Paleoclimate studies predict that the lake water level used to be as much as 100 meters lower (when the city was built), and the islands inhabitants believe that when the sea levels rise, the lake level will again fall and the lost city will be revived

We walked all morning from Copacabana to the peninsula that reaches out towards the island.  Along the way a one-eyed man loading construction wood onto his boat offered to give us a ride to the island.  We got there right before dark, with enough time to set up our camp in a eucalyptus grove looking out on white peaks on the other side of the lake.  We were surrounded by shades of blue as the sun began to set.  The next day we hiked along the ridge from the south to the north side of the island.   When we reached the far north we were stopped by a woman with gold teeth in a tall bowler hat sitting by some ruins.

"Do you want to die?" she asked in excited Spanish
"No, I want to camp," I responded begging further explanation.
she began shaking her head furiously "This is the house of the Inkas," she told me, "The north part of the island will disappear tonight and you will be eaten. No one sleeps here. If you wake up in the morning you will be crazy forever. Bad place, bad place to camp."

We thanked her for her advice, explored the creation site and then found a secluded beach with better spirits to spend the night.  It rained hard the night of the summer solstice, so we lit candles and cooked rice in a cave on the beach.  The next morning we woke up and it was still raining so we passed the day in a large cavern deeper in the cave.  We were warned not to take anything off of the beach (or we would die).  So we carefully emptied our pockets of all of the cool things we found and made our way to a Refugio with simple rooms where we could pass one more night of rain.  In the morning we caught a boat back to Copacabana and then a bus to La Paz.  Bolivia is a wild place,  very different from Ecuador and Peru.  More adventures to come.  Merry Christmas. Happy New Year! 
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