Ups & Downs On The World's Highest Lake

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December 5th 2015
Published: January 5th 2016
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Chincana Ruins, Isla del SolChincana Ruins, Isla del SolChincana Ruins, Isla del Sol

Looking towards the west side of Lake Titicaca from the old ruins of Chincana.
Booking our bus to Copacabana, on the shores of the famous Lake Titicaca, could not have been easier. We simply asked the lady at the hotel reception and she did the rest.
"El bus recogera ustedes a las ocho menos cuarto por la manana, manana", she told us. All done.
At about 7.30am or siete y media we got a knock on our door while I was still in just my underpants.
A lady stood there and said "en cinco minutos el bus estara listo a recoge ustedes".
"Pero, es siete y media solo - la senora dijonos que el bus llega a las ocho menos cuarto", I replied.
In any case we were downstairs with our bags at 7.40am - five minutes earlier that we were initially told but five minutes later than when we should have been downstairs. There was a local girl waiting for us, who luckily for us, spoke impeccable English.
"Sooo...there has been a bit of a misunderstanding", she said.
No shit.
"The bus has already left unfortunately."
"But don't worry, you'll now just have to take a taxi to take you to the bus's next stop."
"Do we have to pay for the taxi?"

Seen on Isla del Sol. I suspect this will be Fleur's favourite photo. Bred for wool whereas llamas are bred to transport things.
asked Sybe, quite reasonably.
"Yes, but I understand if you don't want to pay for it."
Damn straight we ain't paying for it.
We didn't pay for the taxi in the end, but it did race across town to catch up the bus and we managed to get on it. One last piece of stress for something that should have been so easy, before leaving La Paz - in a way, it was a fitting way to leave.

Once on the bus, we seemed to pass through the endless outskirts of La Paz - an endless sea of dirt roads and unfinished buildings. The odd incongruous glass building would be juxtaposed amongst the all the rubble. Like the buildings we were passing by, the asphalt highway we were travelling down was only complete in parts - we had to take several dirt "desvios".

Before long however, the lake came into view and it was stunning. Just beautiful scenery.
The bus then came to a stop and this weirdo guy who had been spluttering, hoicking phlegm out the window and singing to himself all journey in the seat behind me then suddenly got up and instructed everyone to leave
Sunset Over Lake TiticacaSunset Over Lake TiticacaSunset Over Lake Titicaca

Maybe one of the best sunset photos I have ever taken, on Isla del Sol.
the bus and to buy a ticket for the ferry crossing, all in English. So we assumed he was some sort of guide - and a weird one at that.
We had come to a lake crossing - except there was no bridge. And the ferry wasn't really a ferry, but a dinghy with an outboard motor.
"Que sobre nuestro mochilas?" I asked the driver. There was no way the bus was fitting on the ferry so I thought that surely we had to take all of our luggage with us.
"Las mochilas quedara en el bus" replied the driver.
That is when I saw these rusty old wooden barges with outboard motors on them. They were long enough a bus.
I have actually done a ferry crossing similar to this in the past - but this was a much more primitive version.

Before getting on the boat, I needed a bano so I asked the guy who told us to get off the bus if I had time.
"I am not your guide. Why does everyone think that I am their guide? You should hire your own guide!"
OK...not the response I was after but whatever. In truth, having not got much sleep the previous
Cathedral, CopacabanaCathedral, CopacabanaCathedral, Copacabana

Looking more like a mosque, this church was surprisingly impressive.
night and with the events in the morning still fresh in my mind, I was a bit fed up and just stormed off to the bano anyway. You got up and told everyone on the bus what to do - that is why everyone thinks you're the guide. You twat. And you're a weirdo too. Rude weirdo twat.
The lake crossing was nice though, with the sun reflecting off the water and the contrast of the yellowy-green hills against the blue water creating a stunning scene. "I am sailing across Lake Titicaca!" I thought to myself.
I was still in a mood when I got across to the other side however and had to walk across half the town of San Pablo de Tiquina to find the goddamn bano.

When we arrived in mega-touristy Copacabana, we had about an hour to have lunch before catching the last ferry over to Isla del Sol, the island every tourist visits in the middle of Lake Titicaca. After a pretty average lunch, we enjoyed a serene cruise over to the island where we got talking to some of our fellow backpacking passengers. Turns out that the Australian girl we were talking to
Escalera de Inca, Isla del SolEscalera de Inca, Isla del SolEscalera de Inca, Isla del Sol

The Inca Stairs in Yumani. A tough climb.
was at Cimas del Sol in San Pedro the same time as us and that the Dutch girl we were talking to had already met me at Milhouse back in Buenos Aires. I simply had no recollection, but she remembered me. The South American backpacking trail is a well-marked and well-followed one, evidently. This became more evident when we were reunited with Nicola and Chris from our salt flat tour. Our reunion with Chris was brief however - he was on the next ferry back to Copacabana - but we would get to enjoy Nicola's company for a wee bit longer as we enjoyed a beer in the sun while overlooking the lake - gorgeous.

The beer was a bad idea though.
From everything we had read in the Lonely Planet, Isla del Sol was a small and eminently walkable island - but nowhere was it mentioned that the island is also basically just a massive hill and that we had more vertical distance to cover than horizontal. So imagine how shocked we were when the ferry came in and we saw that we had to lug our backpacks up this mountain at an altitude of 4,000m.
To make things worse, we had no reservations anywhere so we needed to
Bay Below Chincana RuinsBay Below Chincana RuinsBay Below Chincana Ruins

In the north of Isla del Sol.
find a place to stay - which opened up the very real possibility that we would be traversing up, down and across the whole island in search of somewhere, with our backpacks, at 4,000m.
We only made it up fifteen metres before we were literally out of breath. A kid approaches us offering accommodation; there was a three bed and "matrimonial" suite available. The rooms were fine by me and I was exhausted. I was very unwilling to continue climbing when I had perfectly good rooms available here for just 40BOB for the night (£4). Which became 35BOB when it looked like we might continue our search. It was a done deal. We had settled on the first place we came across because we couldn't go any further - some would say it was a cop-out; others would say it was a result.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the southern part of the island, where we were staying. The Inca Steps and gardens were pleasant; the Inca Fountain was a huge disappointment - basically a pipe coming out of a wall, spewing water into a stone bath.
Busting our lungs to get to the top of the island, we eventually made it and walked south to check out the Pilko Kaina ruins...which we could tell from a distance were a bit shit. Luckily, this was made up for by the outstanding view across the lake. Stunning, again.
The best was yet to come however.
At the very top of the island is probably the best restaurant on the island - it certainly had the best view, as we watched the sun set over the lake over a rather nice bottle of Bolivian red. As night fell, we enjoyed a candlelit dinner where the food matched the setting; my trout was excellent and Sybe, Fleur and Nicola rated the pizza as the best they have ever had. High praise indeed. The restaurant also had a set of playing cards so we got the Scum going again, just like we did on the salt flat tour and in Sucre.
The walk back down with only cellphone flashlights to help us was also memorable, as we tried to avoid the loose rocks and donkey/llama/alpaca shit on the ground (fail on both counts). All in all it was an awesome night - such a contrast to what we had experienced
Breakfast ViewBreakfast ViewBreakfast View

Nicola, Fleur and Sybe enjoy breakfast at our hostal on Isla del Sol.
in La Paz. It was so nice to be away from it all in such a beautiful setting - a night of serenity and satisfaction.

Our cabin didn't have a bathroom door that could lock but what it did have was a brilliant view for breakfast after which we bade Nicola farewell again for the umpteenth time - we should see her again in Cuzco - before we set out on a hike to the island's north.
Even without our backpacks this time, climbing steep hills at 4,000m was gruelling and exhausting. Walking about half as fast as normal, we had to take constant breaks and were all breathing hard even after the smallest climbs.
The views were the reward for our hard work though although stunning as they were, all they really did was serve to remind me about how lucky I am to be from New Zealand, as these were sights and vistas readily found in my home country. OK, minus the Inca ruins and sacrificial tables, even if they weren't the most amazing things you've ever seen. It really was all about the view.
Covering the whole island is possible in a day with a gargantuan
Could This Be New Zealand?Could This Be New Zealand?Could This Be New Zealand?

Bar the donkey, yes, this scene from Isla del Sol could be from New Zealand.
effort, but we didn't have an entire day to spare. Nor did we have the energy. By the time we had got to Cha'llapampa, the biggest town in the north, we had missed the 1.30pm public ferry back to Yumani, where our bags were. It would be a huge challenge to hike the remaining two hours back to Yumani for the last ferry to Copacabana by 4pm, so we had no choice but to shell out £20 between us (big bucks in Bolivia) for a private boat trip back to the south. Nice as the island is, there isn't too much else to do so twenty four hours here is enough. I was so tired, that I passed out for most of the private boat ride back to Yumani.

Back in Copacabana, with Fleur and Sybe wanting to splash out a bit on a fancy hotel, I was not so flush with money so needed to find somewhere to sleep for the night. I also desperately needed wifi as I needed to arrange more money to be transferred to my checking account and I had a backlog of about seven blog entries that I needed to clear.
Well, I
View From My Hotel In CopacabanaView From My Hotel In CopacabanaView From My Hotel In Copacabana

About the hotel's only redeeming feature.
managed to find a Lonely Planet listed hotel a couple of doors down from where Sybe and Fleur were staying where I got my own room for the first time in ages for just £8 a night. You get what you pay for though - along with sketchy wifi was a lack of hot water which isn't ideal in sub-10°C night time temperatures.

At the risk of sounding over-privileged, Bolivia's poor infrastructure has made things really difficult since I arrived in La Paz. Showing up somewhere without a place to stay and going wifi-less might be considered old-school, 'real' travelling but having developed such a reliance on the internet to sort out my affairs, this was proving a real pain in the ass. While understanding that Bolivia isn't a first world country, the lack of fully functioning infrastructure was putting a dampener on my overall Bolivian experience.
There also seems to be a lack of business acumen here - service is often poor and there is a general malaise of laziness in terms of getting things done.
Shower curtains don't seem to exist here in Bolivia, ensuring bathroom floors get completely wet after someone takes a shower...there isn't much

From the ferry going towards Isla del Sol.
hot water available...there is no decent wifi...I was running out of money...and to top things all off, my watch broke here too. I really wanted to get out of Bolivia.

After having some rather disappointing grilled trout from the revered lakeside restaurant stalls, I set about on a solo mission to find yet another place to stay (my current hotel was full for the night) and sorting out a bus to take us to Cusco. Walking from hotel to hotel and from tour agency to tour agency, my Spanish was getting a good workout.
I succeeded in achieving both of my mission objectives - I even found a hotel with decent wifi! I spoke too soon - the wifi crapped out as soon as I finished WhatsApping Sybe and Fleur and I now had no means to contact them. I could've used old-fashioned text messages but then I had run out of credit on my phone - and to top it back up, I needed wifi. Of course.
I eventually got hold of them and we went out for one final meal in Bolivia. Sybe and I had silpancho - a thin slice of meatloaf-like meat served on a
Reed BoatReed BoatReed Boat

Traditional Inca boat docked at Yuman, Isla del Sol.
bed of rice, topped with a chopped onion and tomato salsa. It wasn't bad.

As I am now leaving Bolivia, I will leave you with some observations of the country;
- At 4,000m altitude, the clouds are noticeably lower - as if they can't go any higher.
- Coins of the same value often come in different sizes.
- Bolivian people are really hit and miss. They are either really rude and lazy, or really friendly and helpful. There seems to be little middle ground.

And with that, I end my Bolivian experience. It has certainly had ups and downs in equal measure - the amazing salt flats which were tempered by harsh conditions and altitude sickness; adventures in a mine laced with danger and moral awkwardness; the hustle and bustle of the capital brought down by fear and loathing; beautiful views and relaxing times on a beautiful lake frustrated with accommodation hassles and battles with infrastructure. And it's never really been that hot anywhere apart from one afternoon on the Death Road - looking forward to some warmer weather as I head north...firstly, into Peru.

Hasta luego,

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Toll GateToll Gate
Toll Gate

To pass to the north of Isla del Sol.
The HikeThe Hike
The Hike

Sybe and Fleur hiking to the north of Isla del Sol.
Table Of SacrificeTable Of Sacrifice
Table Of Sacrifice

Located in the north of Isla del Sol. Probably used to sacrifice llamas and other animals rather than humans.

Main village in the north of Isla del Sol.
Tiquina StraitTiquina Strait
Tiquina Strait

Crossing we had to make across Lake Titicaca to get to Copacabana.
Andes & Isla de la LunaAndes & Isla de la Luna
Andes & Isla de la Luna

View across to the east side of the lake from Isla del Sol

'Restaurant Street' on the main village in the south of Isla del Sol.

The path to the north of Isla del Sol. Gruelling at 4,000m.
Decorations On Sale, CopacabanaDecorations On Sale, Copacabana
Decorations On Sale, Copacabana

There was some sort of festival going on when we were in Copacabana that necessitated the sale of these decorations outside the cathedral.
Fish Restaurants, CopacabanaFish Restaurants, Copacabana
Fish Restaurants, Copacabana

Lining the lake shore of Lake Titicaca.
6 de Agosto6 de Agosto
6 de Agosto

The main commercial drag in Copacabana.
Bolivian Military BandBolivian Military Band
Bolivian Military Band

Caught these guys marching through Copacabana while we were there.
Bus BargeBus Barge
Bus Barge

This was what transported our bus across the Tiquina Strait.

7th January 2016
Breakfast View

It's all about the views
It doesn't get better than this. Wonderful times in this blog of great times to be had on the World's highest lake.I related so well to your descriptions of La Paz with it's miles and miles of unfinished buildings...and the climb climb climb required on Titicaca islands. Who'd forget the climb climb climb?

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