Published: March 5th 2011February 10th 2011
I returned back to Lima to collect some stuff that I had left there and to arrange my return to England and the rest of my trip. I spent a couple of days relaxing in Marcelo's apartment, organising, and going out with Couchsurfers at night.
I decided that I would do a quick tour of Bolivia before flying to Cuba on my way home. I took a bus to Puno, a town on Lake Titicaca, which is on the main route to Bolivia. The town is not much to look at but is the main transit point for the floating reed islands, known as the Uros, on the lake. I took a tour to visit them the following morning. Like most of South Peru the experience was very touristy.
The islands are interesting - the inhabitants create the them by pegging together blocks of buoyant reed roots and create houses and boats out of the reed stems. There's a little school, a trout farm, and a market (and many people) selling tacky touristy artisan products. However, I had a feeling that their life is very much staged for the benefit of the masses of tourists, from which the inhabitants
of the islands and Puno rely. I heard a rumour that the original inhabitants of the islands died out and were shrewdly replaced by the people from Puno who commute, or maybe live there, to maintain the tourist income.
The same day I took a bus to Copacabana, crossing the border to Bolivia and arriving in the town at nightfall. I travelled with a group of Chileans who I met along the way. They severely stretched my Spanish speaking abilities with their strong accent and completely different vocabulary. But over the following days together I started to get the hang of it.
Copacabana was my first experience of Bolivia and much nicer than Puno. Small tourist bars/cafes and handicraft shops lined the cobbled streets feeding the small unassuming square. The town seemed to be full of Argentinian hippies selling handmade jewellery and had a peaceful laid back vibe, and an aroma of incense and Marijuana. In the morning I took a stroll (and some sly photos) of the markets bustling with indigenous people in traditional costumes - alpaca ponchos with tiny bowler hats perched on their heads.
I climbed to the top of the rocky hill overlooking
the town on which there is (as usual in Latin America) a Catholic shrine and crosses - " the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana". It was originally an Incan temple ("Temple of the Fertility of Kotakawana") and then "miraculously" there was another sighting of the virgin and they turned it Catholic. People climb it and light candles and pray for good things to come into their life such as love, money, work, health. There's a different colour candle for each. I lit three - red, white, and green.
From the shrine I had a stunning view of the town below and the azure, sparkling expanse of the lake disappearing over the horizon. Over the edge of the horizon, some 120km across the lake, was Peru. I remembered the tour the previous day when I learned that the lake is the highest navigable in the world at 3811m above sea level and very deep at an average depth of 107m.
That afternoon I joined the Chileans for a boat trip across to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), the birthplace of the Sun God in Incan mythology. The island itself was harsh, rocky, and not particularly
interesting. Some villagers in traditional dress greeted us to charge us an additional entrance fee for the island and to sell tourist trinkets. The tour was brief and rushed but the view across the lake - after a heavy breathing climb to the ridge - was beautiful. The scorching high altitude sun shone and the sunlight danced and sparkled across the deep blue abyss of the lake. Likewise as the boat made its way slowly back to the shore the light patterns and views were tremendous.
There are more photos below