Sunday, September 11, 2011

Copacabana and Isla Del Sol - Bolivia

Well it all sounds like it should be enjoyed with a cocktail doesn’t it?  Alas no, this is Copacabana in Bolivia not Cuba and Isla Del Sol on Lake Titicaca and whilst the latter sounds like it should be a Spanish island full of beer guzzling chavs it is in fact an island paradise.  However, you can still enjoy these places with a cocktail as long as they are made with Pisco or Coca liqueur.  We had arrived the previous night on an overnight trip from La Paz having just arrived back to civilisation after our jungle experience.  The day provided us with the opportunity to enjoy what the town had to offer and book our boat trip to the Isla Del Sol for the next morning.  We started by going to the town’s church which looked fairly unique for South America in that it appeared to have some Middle Eastern influence yet inside it was in the most part orthodox. 

Our challenge of the day came from our hike up the hill that promised a full on slice of exercise as it had a serious incline, those steps were tough and took some climbing.  We were met at the top by a lungful of foul smelling candle wax that the locals were burning along with other waste from a party that had taken place recently and this was hard to get away from which was a bit of a shame.  Still, we had reached the top and as expected the views over Copacabana were superb.  That evening we treated ourselves to some Mexican food (the town was quite tourist ready and therefore had a larger range of dining options) with Gaelle which was tasty but took ages to arrive as the restaurant was practically full and in some kind of comedic Basil Fawlty capacity the waiter disappeared for periods of time only to later be discovered cooking and washing up as well as waiting on customers in a one man band operation.   

The town's church

The harbour from the viewpoint

Sunset at the viewpoint

The following morning we packed our lunch, bought our bus tickets to Cuzco in Peru for our return and headed out on the boat into Lake Titicaca towards Isla Del Sol.  The ride was pleasant although we did spend a lot of it making and eating our avocado sandwiches and chatting.  We bought our return boat ticket off a member of staff on the boat as we thought that this would be easier than finding the office on the Island with our limited time.  We arrived at the north of the Island and were greeted by a family of pigs along with some cattle letting us know that we would be in a rural environment for the next day and a half.  The plan was to make the pleasant walk across the island from the north and depart from the port of Yumani, breaking it up with an overnight stop.  We bought the permit ticket which included entrance to a rather meagre museum and our entrance into the north of the island and set off on our way.  We hadn’t gone far along the beach when we saw a big fat sunbathing pig and decided that it would be a good idea to join it for five minutes before continuing.  It was initially cold with the wind but the sun was also beating down and after taking our first few steps uphill we took off the jackets and began to get a sweat on.  Many of the locals used donkeys to transport their goods as there weren’t any cars, so they could often be seen on or next to the walking track and they were all docile and friendly, that includes the locals.

Piggies at the beach

Herding cattle through the stony streets

Sunbathing with a pig (not Gaelle!)

A donkey and an ass

The north of the island also has the historical draw of some ancient ruins which we visited.  After an hour or so walk we came across a village which has been tactfully restored and later even a table upon which human sacrifices allegedly took place.  We continued to walk and absorb the amazing scenery until we reached a checkpoint when you had to pay another fifteen bolivianos or so (about one pound fifty) to access the middle of the island.  To the right were the beautiful island formations over a bright blue sea and to the left was an equally amazing view with mountains in the background.  We reached what we thought was more or less the point where we wanted to find accommodation for the night but there was no path down to the bay so instead we made our way down the side of the steep hill in order to reach our destination.  It was quite a downhill climb but we eventually made it to the bottom where there were more pigs, a school, a jetty, a couple of empty looking hostels and not much else. 

When we asked the first hostel if they had room they simply said no, yet we walked further down the beach and bumped into a Colombian man who introduced himself and said he was staying at the hostel that we had just checked.  Well he was sure there were rooms so we went back and discovered that there were indeed rooms but we had to wait for the owner to come back.  We found this attitude occurred quite often in Bolivia, people would say that something was closed or not working simply because they didn’t want to serve you, perhaps because they were put off by not being able to understand our bad Spanish or just plain lazy. 

Lovely view from the north of the island

The Inca ruins

Gaelle sacrificing me on the Inca table

More scenery along the walk

The bay that we climbed down to in order to stay the night

Yet more pigs

There wasn’t much else to do whilst we waited other than get our pale bodies into the clear cold water of Lake Titicaca which was extremely refreshing!  The proprietor eventually returned, gracefully welcomed us and made up the room with three mattresses on the floor and a window with a spectacular view for less than a pound each.  It also transpired that our lovely owner was also an excellent cook and did us an amazing dinner, one of the best we had in Bolivia or perhaps it just felt that way because it included fish and we hadn’t had fish for at least a month prior.  Unfortunately the fish wasn’t the trout that I had been dying to try as the lake is famous for producing tons of the stuff. 

Our new Colombian friend Rodriguez turned out to be a ‘shaman’ and was writing a book on all types of spiritual healings and firmly believed that the world is due to end in less than twelve months.  He claimed that he had cured two people with aids alongside giving a paraplegic person the ability to walk again but aside from that he was a very chatty and harmless guy.  The next day we had breakfast, helped Rodriguez finish off the rest of his shaman translations (he was compiling a sheet) as best as we could and enjoyed letting the food go down on the jetty.  Out of nowhere a poochy friend came to join us which was nice although probably nicer for him with all the cuddles he got.  We named him Aslan and he followed us back off the peer and around the hostel for the rest of the morning until it was time to leave in order to make sure we caught our boat back to Copacabana.

About to do for a dip in the lake

Kate enjoying her dinner

Bolivian lady carrying her child in a traditional cloth

Boaters on the lake

Rodriguez the magic shaman

Gaelle having a shower whilst some livestock trundles past

Kate and the pooch we named 'Aslan'

After more amazing views and more donkeys than you could shake a stick at we arrived at the town of Yumani where we knew we had time to have some lunch before making our way down to the port.  The view was great even if the lunch wasn’t but at least I had finally eaten my elusive trout.  The journey down the steps to the port involved negotiating our way past a heard of sheep and a couple of llamas thrown in for good measure.  We had some hassle on the boat and the driver didn’t want to take us because we had been issued with stubs for our return journey and he wanted us to pay again no matter how much protesting we made about the fact that we bought the tickets off a member of staff on the way over.  We refused to budge and said we would go to the office with him after we returned but we were not going to pay again.  The boat took a while to return as there was a detour to a touristy ‘floating village’ which was actually just a bunch of floating shops, but we had left plenty of time before we needed to get our bus into Peru so we weren’t too perturbed.

There appears to be a llama staring at you

Dodging sheep to get to the boat

When we arrived back in Copacabana the driver mentioned what had happened to another member of staff who seemed unsurprised and simply waved us on along with another couple who it seemed had the same problem.  It wouldn’t have been hard to catch the rogue member of staff who sold us the bogus ticket as there were only two on the boat the previous day.  We had enough time to buy some snacks before we needed to board our minibus to the border where we would be transferred to a larger bus on the Peruvian side which we would then ride until the town of Puno, then boarding the ‘cama’ (bed) bus to do the rest of the overnight journey to Cuzco.  Unfortunately in between the office and boarding the first minibus Gaelle managed to lose our tickets!  This would almost ALWAYS result in the vendors from the company rubbing their hands as you shelled out for another one but on this occasion they were great and the representative did his very best to make sure we were accepted onto all the buses (unfortunately with the exception of the bed bus and we were in for a bit of a cramped, uncomfortable night’s sleep but such is travelling) with Gaelle's excellent Spanish helping a lot as usual.  Holding up Peruvian customs and immigration was Aussie Tim who we had originally met in the Bolivian Jungle and was also on his way to Cuzco which was great and we made arrangements to try to meet up on the other side.   

Bolivia had been an amazing experience with some thoroughly entertaining, historical and cultural experiences.  In spite of the county’s poor infrastructure or perhaps because of it we really felt like we could enjoy ourselves and feel like true travellers again.  The whole country is easy on the wallet, the people are rough around the edges and renowned for being a bit cold but like the Chilean’s once you strike up a bit of a relationship you really feel like you’ve made a good friend.  We were correct to see Bolivia as a bit of a milestone after visiting the more expensive, comfortable and developed nations of South America and it really is a bit of an adult playground for the traveller with all manner of things to do on the cheap such as horse-riding, trekking, exploring mines, jungle experiences, mountain biking, sightseeing, historical sites and the amazing salt flats.  Where else can you get your shoes shined on the street for ten pence, Peru maybe?  Que bueno, viva Bolivia!                                              


  1. Just a quick note, it is spelled "colombian" and not "columbian"

    1. Thanks *red face*. Hope you enjoyed the article

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