Titicaca. It’s just fun to say.
Described as the largest high-altitude lake in the world, Titicaca will be our gateway from Peru to Bolivia, as the border runs right through the lake.
On the Peruvian side we stop at Puno, right on the lake. The town itself is a pretty disappointing place: unfinished and vacant buildings everywhere, with a strip of crappy touristy pizzeria-slash-peruvian restaurants. Remember, Léa and I are pizza snobs! However, great news, half our group from the Salkantay trek happens to be in Puno right now, so we better find some goddamn tasty pizza to celebrate this reunion.
After a final evening of pizza, drinks and jenga together, the group disbands and we each head our separate ways.
Léa and I cross the border to Bolivia, heading to another lakeside town called Copacabana: originally “copa cahuana” which means “lake view” in Aymará.
We spend a night in this little town and get accustomed to a new currency, a new cuisine, and new types of beer – even new types of tourists it seems.
The next morning we hop on a ferry out into the lake to visit Isla del Sol. Our plan is to explore the island for a day, spend the night there, and then ferry back the next day. The island is very important in the history of the region. They say the sun was born here before creating the first two Incas.
Our ferry pulls up to a small village, and the first thing we see is three Aymara women in their traditional dress, smiling at one of their small children who has a cell phone in each hand and, on top of this, is struggling to carry a cat, stumbling, almost falling along the dirt path between the adobe buildings.
We step onto the island and continue along a path that leads us through this town, past a beautiful bay with a white sand beach, and up a hill towards the north side of the island. It’s a peaceful place. No cars.
Eventually we come to a stone table that was used for sacrifices. While we’re trying to figure out how to take the best picture, another tourist comes by and encourages us to make a bit of theatre.
Immediately after the sacrificial table, we find ourselves in stone ruins leaning off the west side of the island above another bay.
They are a bit of a labyrinth, wherein some rooms are dead-ends and others lead to unexpected passages and new sections of the complex.
After a bit of exploring there, we decide to climb to the peak at the north end of the island to get a view of the whole thing. It’s not a far climb, but we move slowly, our lungs struggling to pull oxygen from the thin air.
It’s only about three hours to cross the island from tip to tip along the main path that goes along the central ridge. In order to make a day of it, we decide to also dip down into another town on the east coast right in the middle of the island. The island is mostly bare, save a few patches of eucalyptus trees that offer much-appreciated shade and some sections that have been made green due to agriculture. We go off the main trail, and eventually find ourselves improvising a steep descent into the small town where we stop for lunch and then pick our way through rural houses to get back to the main path.
During the last few kilometers of our hike we are accompanied by a dog that we name Rastaculo, or Tacu for short. He stays by our side until we find our accommodation for the night, and then he takes off. Just like that. Loves us and leaves us. Léa and I cry inside.
Suddenly we are consoled by a room with an amazing view of the lake, a few beers, and the most beautiful sunset we’ve had on our trip.
After a good night of sleep, we wake up to the same view with sunlight trickling into our room. Slowly we make our way down to the port on the southern part of the island and wait for our ferry.
On the way back to Copacabana, we decide to sit outside on top of the boat to catch clearer views and a bit of breeze from the lake. Our driver makes it part-way out into the lake, but then turns the boat around and heads back towards the island. All the passengers look at each other wondering what is going on. Thirty minutes later we’re back at the island and our driver starts exchanging loud words with other men on the island. Suddenly a tourist appears, hurrying towards our boat, and she hops on. Apparently she had got the departure point confused, missed our boat, and then had someone on the island call us back. They turned a whole boat around for one person. Mind you, there are boats that left thirty and sixty minutes after ours.
In Bolivia, we will need paciencia.
Feet back on the mainland, we book into a hotel for a final night at Copacabana. Léa does a bit of research and finds an adorable hostel off the beaten path, with a great restaurant that serves fondue. So we fill our mouths with cheese.
Also in the restaurant is a young couple with matching T-shirts declaring the fact that they had survived the World’s Most Dangerous Road on a mountain biking tour. Léa and I decide we’re going to do that too. We’re going to do the tour, get those T-shirts, and then wear them together in a restaurant so that everyone knows.
Leaving Copacabana, heading for La Paz, we learn our second lesson in paciencia. Our bus is about twenty minutes outside of the town on curvy paved roads taking us through the mountainous coast along the lake when suddenly a motorcyclist pulls up next to the driver’s window and begins shouting things to him. Our bus driver then stops the bus, turns around and heads back the way we came. Léa and I are thinking, “Oh great, we’re going back for that damn tourist again,” but suddenly we pull off on a dirt road and follow that for several kilometers. Our bus is slipping and sliding in the mud passing tiny rural huts, donkeys, pigs, etc. Finally we make it back to a junction on the paved road and our bus driver starts shouting with other drivers of all kinds of vehicles, to get information….about a road block? about police looking for drugs? about road bandits? Léa and I are confused. Eventually he decides it’s safe to continue, so we keep driving.
I look out the window and see a sign that says La Paz in 133 kilometers. Yet the lake is on the wrong side of the bus. I know it’s supposed to be on our left. What does this mean?
Our bus arrives in a village on the coast and pulls to the shore of the lake, and then onto a long, flat raft that is docked on the shore. We’re looking out the bus window into the water. We are asked to get off the bus and hurry to a ticket booth, where we pay thirty cents, then we’re ushered to a small boat that begins to take us cross the lake. Meanwhile our bus remains on the raft in the town, with all of our stuff.
After waiting on the shore next to a pack of llamas, we finally see that the raft takes off and the bus floats across the lake, joining us on the other side. Big sigh of relief.
We all get back on the bus to continue our way to La Paz. We make it about another ten minutes and are pulled over by the narco-policia. We are all asked to get off the bus again, while the police search us each individually, search the bus, search our bags.
Thankfully, nobody was trying to smuggle any drugs (I mean, that we know of) so they let us get back onto the bus. We hit the road again, and make our way through the dry basin that leads to La Paz: the highest capital city in the world, with the Illimani peak towering overhead at over 6,400m/21,000ft.
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