Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lake Titicaca and the Isla del Sol

The Isla del Sol or Island of the Sun is the center of the Incan creation myth.  The sun god Inti bore the first Inca, Manco Capac out of stone on the island.

We booked a bus to Cuzco with a two day stopover in Copacabana through the same tour company which took us to Tiwanaku.  They picked us up at 7 in the morning and spend the next two and a half hours driving around La Paz picking up the people lucky enough to be able to sleep in or at least stay at their hotel until breakfast began.  It was pretty miserable, especially since I was having digestive problems.  If you’re going from La Paz to Copacabana via tour bus, make sure you’re the last people picked up.

On the way to Copacabana there’s a strait that connects Lake Titicaca with the smaller lake to its South.  Bolivia, not believing in bridges, has an original way of dealing with this.  Get off the bus, pay 20 cents, get on a boat for 20 minutes and wait for your bus to cross, passengerless, on a flat barge.  I suppose I can’t blame a poor nation with as many regime changes in its history as telenovelas, but this bridge would need to be half the size of the George Washington Bridge in New York.

We made it to Copacabana where for the first time in our travels we didn’t have a hostel pre-booked.  There were slim pickins when it comes to the town of Copacabana on hostelbookers.  In La Paz we bumped into the German couple we had met at La Dolce Vita in Sucre and they recommended a hostel called La Cupula.  Although it sounded expensive, the town of Copacabana looked run down, and we decided that if we could find it, we would take it.  It was well worth it.  Beautiful views of the bay, nice rooms, good showers, who cares if it was our most expensive hostel in Bolivia.

We had no time to lose, we went to the office for our tour company in Copacabana, confirmed our bus to Cuzco, and booked a boat to the Isla del Sol for only $3.50 each.  The next day when we arrived for our 8:30 boat, the reason for the inexpensiveness was evident; there were already more people on it than it could fit.  We squeezed in and spent two and a half hours on a very slow boat to the Northern part of the island.  

We arrived in a small town with pigs shading themselves under small boats, took a quick look at the museum and got started on our hike.  The scenery was grand, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  The island is sunbaked but not a desert.  Grass grows and livestock graze along terraces that become very steep at parts.  The walk was 8 kilometers and the road was pretty well worn.  It follows the spine of the island and shows terraces gliding into crescent bays, smaller islands dotted in the infinite blue of the world’s highest lake and the largest lake in South America.  Across the lake to the East, the Cordillera Real rose above the clouds which made the peaks look disembodied, like jagged, foundationless castles.   Llamas, vicunas, and alpacas roamed, the earliest Incan ruins still stood unmoved including an ancient altar.

We joined up with two other hikers, Jag and Ben, a married man from London whose wife didn’t feel up to the hike and a medical student already accepted to Vanderbilt taking a gap year, respectively.  We walked and talked and admired the views.  Different people had set up gates on the trail and extorted more money out of us as we passed although it was less than a dollar each time we were pretty indignant at the arbitrariness of it all.  The boat ride back was equally crowded and even slower than the boat ride to the island.  I seemed to be staring at the same mountain just in front of Copacabana for an hour and a half without getting any closer to it.  Eventually though, we did get back and I discovered that I was far more sunburnt than I anticipated being.

So we prepared to leave the next day, everything was shaping up for our entry into our final country, Peru, and then we found it.  An eight month old calico kitten.  Amanda was in love and I was questioning whether we’d ever leave this hostel for anything.  It was adorable and yes it did try to play with my face in the night as we let it sleep with us, but even I was enamored of this guileless being.

Copacabana's town center.
Somehow I convinced her to leave and get on the bus the next day and we walked into Peru.  We changed buses in Puno and because of very poor communication on our guide’s part had seats across the aisle from each other on the six hour bus ride from Puno to Cuzco.  To make matters worse we were each sitting next to Peruvian women who had made a trip to Bolivia in order to go on the shopping spree of the century.  They were rude, they piled their goods on top of themselves until they were up to their heads, they tried to put their shit on top of us, and they wouldn’t switch seats with us even though they were traveling together and it would have given them more room to put their crap.  To make matters even worse, they had a 12 year old boy with them who they neglected to purchase a seat for, so when the person whose seat the boy was sitting in boarded the bus he had to sit on a bag in the aisle.  Eventually he just laid down in the aisle and started to sleep… on my foot.  Since everyone had excess baggage and children in the aisle it was also impossible to get to the bathroom.  Our first glimpse of Peru was the bus ride from hell, but in our path stood Machu Picchu so there was reason to be optimistic.

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