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Lake Titicaca

October 2, 2009

Beautiful views of Lake Titicaca

Tuesday was my last day in La Paz. I did some I shopping and it started to rain a bit so I returned to the hostel to relax for a while. I plotted the rest of my day around grabbing a cheap falafel at a place I read about online and then going to see a movie at the cinema. Halfway there it started to rain. Then pour. Then hail. It was absolutely insane weather. I huddled under a little overhang in front of an ATM and talked to a couple Bolivian women. One of them told me to be careful, that the area I was in was very dangerous. It didn’t seem like it to me, but with the rain and hail continuing to pour down, I gave up on the idea of finding the food and the cinema and headed back to an area I knew better to grab some lunch. The rain still didn’t stop, so I ended up going back to the hostel and spending my last day in La Paz watching Indiana Jones movies in the TV room. Wasn’t bad, though, as I have actually never seen any of them, and the most recent one actually takes place in Peru (aka where I would be in a couple days) so that was kind of cool!

Wednesday I was ready to move on to Copacabana, on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. When I went down to the hostel reception to ask the best way to get there, she told me the best/safest/fastest way to get to Copa was on the tourist bus…which left at 8:30am. This was around 10am. So that was a bust. My next option was to take a taxi to the El Cementario area and take a public bus from there. So I checked out and did as told. When I arrived at El Cementario a bus was ready and waiting, a Copacabana sign in its window. I thought I was in luck, but when I bought my ticket saw that it still didn’t leave until 11:30. An hour to stand and wait.

When the bus left it was pretty empty, so I moved seats so I could have two to myself. But about 20 minutes later we stopped at a place just outside the city and about a million local people squeezed on. Lots of women with crying babies and sweaty old men. And the women, who are big enough already but then wear huge poofy skirts, could barely squeeze down the aisles, let alone into the seats. It was a way overcrowded bus. I suppose this was my first true local South American bus experience, “chicken bus” style, but it was not a pleasant one.

Bus going across Lake Titicaca

After an hour or two the stench of a bus full of people who have probably not washed in a very, very, very long time was really starting to get to me. I wasn’t near any window that I could open and no one else seemed to have any desire to open their windows. The air was stuffy and thick with just bad smells. And babies that never stopped crying. My head exploding with the worst headache.

The drive would have otherwise been quite enjoyable. You get to the lake pretty quickly and spend hours just driving along it — it’s that huge! And sometimes you can see the snow-peaked Cordillera mountains in the distance, which are beautiful. Eventually the bus pulled up to the lake and we all had to get out. We had to pay another 1,50Bs to get on this little boat and go across the lake (thankfully it was a short trip — the water was really choppy and it just didn’t mix well with my already feeling slightly ill). The bus went on a separate barge that looked a little iffy. Then we met it on the other side, got back on, and continued on until we finally reached Copa.

Colorful church

Once I got off the bus I had no idea where to go. Luckily the town is really small, and in the end I walked all the way down to the lake to the one hostel that I knew of in town, even though it got pretty bad reviews online. The dorm beds were all booked, so I had to get a single room, which was an expensive 60Bs (still less than $10 — and in the end he only charged me 50 a night!) but well worth it, in fact. After having to share dorm rooms with bed-sharing couples in my past couple hostels, it was a HUGE relief to actually have my own room. And I even had my own bathroom as well (I checked for hot water before I agreed to the room — though later this proved misleading). And a double bed and a TV! I was pretty happy with it. I had to get up early for my tour to Isla del Sol the next day anyways, so I didn’t really care about meeting anyone and would rather a nice quite night’s sleep.

I spent the afternoon browsing through the shops on the main street (found a couple more good gift bargains) and visiting the huge church in the main plaza, the main attraction in town besides the lake.

Chaple of Candles and the Virgen de Copacabana

I found the church pretty interesting. Inside, part of it is very European cathedral feeling — Biblical statues and the front was all guilded in gold and very elegant/gaudy. But then the walls and the ceilings were very different. Usually you look up and the domed ceilings are covered in detailed Biblical paintings or carvings, or some kind of guilded something or other. But the walls and ceilings in this church felt very South American, painted in bright blues and oranges and yellows. I really liked the contrast. I suppose it’s just another example of the blend of colonial and native influences in everything here in South America.

The church also had another weird surprise — a room called the Chapel of Candles. It was basically this very long dark hallway, covered in graffiti, which ended in a couple long tables with some little candles, and then this showcase with a statue of the Virgen de Copacabana, which is apparently a big deal. Apparently they believe that if she is moved from the chapel at any time other than during certain festivals it will result in terrible floods.

I wanted to walk along the beach, which is footsteps from my hostel, but sadly it’s pretty unappealing. It was a bit gray and dirty, not really somewhere to relax.

On the boat to Isla del Sol

Thursday morning I was up bright and early, ready for a hot shower (nope) and grabbed a boxed lunch to take on my day trip to the Isla del Sol. The boat ride was almost two hours to get to the north part of the island. There our “guide” took us to this tiny little museum then up a forty-five minute walk to some ruins. From there we were let loose and told to walk the entire length of the island and be at the south end by 3:30 for the boat.

We didn’t really know what was going on, but we started walking. The entire walk was along the top ridge of the island, so the views were incredible. I befriended a British guy who had a pretty interesting life story. He was on vacation with his wife and young son, he lived in Australia, and he owned a wine marketing/call center business in Sydney. He’s even consulting on one in Napa that he told me to look in on! But like I said, he was an interesting guy, and we spent the next hour or so walking and talking about things like transcendental meditation (“TM”) and lot of other random things…Long story!

The trail

The trail

Eventually we also met up with an Irish guy and Belgian guy and fantasized that we’d come to a giant waterslide that would take us down to the lake. Sadly, we never came across such a thing. We finally finished the walk nearly 45 minutes later, though we’d thought we were almost done. We got lost a bit at the end, though. After about 11km and having to buy three separate tickets, we made it to the port, where we then had to wait another hour or so for the boat. There we befriended an Irish couple that was really cool. Then on the boat back I sat and talked with the Irish couple and the British guy and his wife about how great Sydney is (the Irish couple had just spent around six months working there as well), so that was fun.

We arrived back in Copa exhasuted from walking and sun. I met the Irish couple for dinner, which was an experience in itself (it was storming like crazy and the wind was blowing all the ash from the fireplace in the restaurant all over us, then the food was terrible!), and called it an early night.

Pigs, sheep, llamas, donkeys -- everywhere on Isla del Sol!

Today I ended up on a bus with all of them to Puno. The border crossing to Peru was by far the easiest so far! Stamped out of Bolivia, walk across the border, stamped into Peru, all in less than ten minutes and we were back on the bus and on our way. Unfortunately, I think all the traveling (and cold!) has started to catch up with me, and I’ve begun to feel a bit of a cold coming on. I took a taxi to my hostel, which has only been open for a few weeks, and found it to be basically empty. I’m in a 12 bed room all by myself. I picked the hostel because it was supposed to have cool stuff like a sauna and massage area (which I’d kill for right now!) but of course none of that is finished and open yet. Oh well.

The guy that works here is extremely friendly, though, and we are using each other to practice our English/Spanish. I’m a bit weirded out by the shower room…it’s a small room with four showers, and two are wide open while the other two have only frosted glass. I guess it’s a good thing there’s no one else here, then! I wandered around Puno already to grab some money and dinner. It’s an OK town, the main street was crowded with people. But overall there is really nothing to do or see in Puno except for going to see the floating islands, which I’ll do tomorrow, so it’s nice to take another day to relax, go to bed early, and hopefully keep from getting sick. And adjust to the time difference — one hour behind! Haha.

Accomodation: Copa: HI Brisas del Titicaca (50Bs/night for single room w/bathroom) – Not great, but I don’t think anything in Copa is. Shower was bad, bed was OK. Having a TV was cool. No social atmosphere whatsoever.Puno: The Point (22 soles/nt for 12 bed dorm) – Can’t comment much yet. Water is supposed to be really hot (but the shower room is quite awkward, with four showers with either nothing or only frosted glass — aka not very private at all!), there’s wifi, there will at some point be a sauna and hopping bar, supposedly, but it’s brand new so none of that is open yet. Really friendly staff, though.

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