Published: May 20th 2010December 26th 2009
You may think that we had seen the last of the Incas once we entered in Bolivia. If you did, then you are wrong. You have undestimated the extent of the Inca kingdom. Originating from Cusco, the Inca empire once stretched north to Ecuador, south to northern Chile, east to the coast, and west through the Andes and partway into the Amazon. Present day borders in South America do not reflect past realities.
That said, to my mind Lake Titicaca seemed a strange place to find major Inca ruins. Most of their important buildings were set in mountains. They seemed to have had little interest in lakes or even the Pacific ocean. However, Lake Titicaca was important to their mythology. In some of their creation myths, the Inca people originated from the lake. At least two islands have major ruins. The Isla del Sol is so named because it was visited for sun worshipping cermonies. The moon was worshipped on the nearby Isla de la Luna.
We arrived at the town of Yumani near the south end of the Isla del Sol in the afternoon of Christmas day. Yumani is built along a steep cliff on the water's edge.
Coming as we did by boat, we arrived at the bottom of the cliff, and had to lug all our things up, looking for a place to stay. We didn't know it at the time, but we were walking up another flight of Inca built steps. Generally people were less pushy with tourists in Bolivia than in Andean Peru, but here we attracted the interests of a 10-year-old who wanted to take us to his parents' hostel. The kid spoke english quite well and was friendly, but his charms faded as he followed us up the hill. At one point he advised us against one hostel we were checking out, saying it was "no good." I am not sure his parents would have wanted him disrespecting a neighbour that way. We never made it to his parents place, and he was obviously mad with us when we picked a different hostel, a small establishment run by a friendly family. We took a brief nap in our room, enjoying from our large window, a fine of view the lake with a handsome donkey in the foreground. We awoke ready for dinner, and enjoyed pasta and fish at a small resturant further
up the hill. We were feeling tired after the Christmas Eve festivites, and retired to bed again shortly after dinner.
We awoke early the next morning. The weather was beautiful, bright and sunny but not too warm. There was an Inca ruin at the southern tip of the island, not too far from town. We went there to investigate shortly after breakfast. It was a small ruin, built in the 'rustic' Inca style. Perhaps we were spoiled after Cusco, or perhaps we're still uneducated and didn't know how to look, but we didn't find much particularily interesting about these ruins except for their location right at the water's edge. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the walk to the ruins, passing by farmers' fields. Both men and women were in the fields harvesting potatos, and greeted us with friendly smiles. As before, I wondered what the local people thought of the cultural legacy left by their ancestors, whether it meant anything to them beyond the odd dollar to be made off of curious foreigners like me. The young educated men in Cusco, the tour guides and artists, were quite proud of this legacy, and could be offended if you didn't show the
same appreciation, or didn't buy their Inca-inspired paintings. As for what the average indigenous person thought even Saulo, our tour guide on the Macchu Picchu trip, could not say for sure.
The main Inca ruins were on the north side of the island. As there were no cars on the island and we didn't own a donkey, there was nothing for it but to walk there. We had a great day for walking anyways. We gathered the rest of our things and set out for the north. The first part of our walk took us through the rest of the town. It was pretty unbelievable. There were not too many tourists on the island that day, but the capacity for tourists vastly exceeded the local population. Somebody must have told these folks that tourists like pizza, because there were wood-fired pizza places everywhere. At one point there were two huge, empty pizza places on either side of the donkey path we were following. Actually, this was representative of a theme we had seen again and again through these small Andean towns. Whether it was pizza in Yumani or Ollaytatambo, trout in Copacabana, or 'set menu' in Agua Calientes, restauranteers
completed with their neighbours by offering... the exact same thing.
Most of our walk took place on a high ridge along the 'backbone' of this elongated island. We had beautiful views of the lake, the bays, and the small villages along the shore. Except for the clear blue skies it reminded me of nothing so much as walking along the Newfoundland coast. Then again Eva would probably say everything reminds me of Newfoundland. [Note: Yes, as probably do most readers of this blog.] We had a great day for hiking, though a little shade would have been nice.
It was around 3 pm when we finally made it to the north end of the island to see the most important ruins. We were rewarded with three main sites. The first (and to me most striking) was an alter, made of a beautiful, light colored stone. The second was the sacred rock, a natural formation in which the Incas perceived the form of a puma. I confess it was not that obvious to our eyes. The third was a large building complex set in the bank at the edge of the lake. It is called Chinkana or labyrinth, and
is thought to have been a seminary for the Inca priests. Its stone work is a bit rough for such an important site. We were tired by the time we got there, and explored just a few rooms, enjoying the
views of the lake framed by the rock walls.
It was only about a 45 minute walk from the Chinkana site to the quaint village of Challapampa. Set on a small spit of land, with sandy shores on either side, this village was surprisingly quieter and less touristy than Yumani. Many of the locals were enjoying the day playing on the two beaches or on the basketball court. We enjoyed the beaches ourselves for a bit before turning in around dark.
We caught the 8:30 ferry the next morning back to Copacabana. We treated ourselves to a stay at the charming La Cupula hotel. Our comfortable, cheery room was only $20 US dollars, which is a bit expensive in Bolivia. Eva slept and read while I took care of laundry. The front man for the laundry biz was a solid 10-year-old. Uncomfortable with giving the kid money, and not having exact change anyhow, I asked for his
'madre'. He shrugged his shoulders, as if he did not know, or as if it didn't matter. Did this kid own the place? I got change from a nearby store and paid the little man. In truth, anybody traveling on a tight budget in Bolivia will at some point do business with children.
That evening we ate German-inspired food in the little restaurant. A good night's sleep and we were ready for the bus trek into the capital, La Paz, the next day.
There are more photos below