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Published: October 11th 2013
Sacred Island I'd been visiting Incan sites and steeping myself in their legends for months in and around Cuzco, Peru, the navel, the center of the Incan Empire. Now, on the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca, I was high on a ridge on the tip of the island at the womb of the empire--the Sacred Puma Rock, the site of their creation myth, where their sun god and first people emerged. I'd come full circle. The Isla del Sol, off the coast of Copacabana, Bolivia, was wonderfully remote, serene and primitive--no internet or cars, but lots of pigs, sheep, cows, and donkeys wandering around or hanging out on the beaches. I love towns where, at sunset, old people or children drive these animals from their pastures, through the streets and to their safe, night pens. It takes me back a few centuries. The island would have been accessed by the Inca and the Aymara before them in tortola reed boats, which are still available for splurging tourists. I, however, was whisked out on a faster 2.5-hour ferry, where I sat on the top deck with the wind in
Cholas watching the dancing
Isla del Sol, Fiesta of Santiago
my hair, marveling at the pre-Incan terraces everywhere and tiny communities dotting the mainland and islands. We made a couple of stops on the way, one to give fuel to another ferry who'd run out and was drifting, and another to let people off at Yumani, the southern, larger, touristy community. I was headed to the north, Challapampa, a smaller, more authentic Aymara village where most still fished and farmed for a living.
Island Paradise Disembarking the ferry, most headed to more upscale rooms along the beach while I followed the dirt road to its end and up a hill on a funky stone path to Alfredo's, a name passed to me by other travelers. Fortunately, I had only a daypack and had left my roller suitcase, aka The Elephant, in Copacabana--it wouldn't have made it up and over those stones. I was led through a labyrinth of hand-built structures to a simple $3 room with a comfy mattress on a concrete slab, the sound of the wind in the eucalyptus and fabulous views out over the bay and the town. The best views though--of the snow-capped Andes
and the lake--were to be had from the open door of the little privy down the hill from my room. Thank goodness I was there for the full moon since it was a little tricky walking there after dark. Water was a precious commodity on the island, and Alfredo's place had only one tap which was near the outdoor kitchen. There, the women filled buckets of water for the sun to heat for bathing and carried 5-gallon jugs over a rough path to fill a tank for the water that flushed the toilet and dribbled through the tap. Sometimes though, there just wasn't any water, and the bathroom became predictably fragrant. Still, this added to the adventure. The island was scalloped with sandy bays, covered with terraces, topped by a mountain range and crossed by pre-Inca trails fanning out in all directions. Two great trails crossed the island north to south. One, halfway up the mountain, followed the coast along the bays, connecting villages and offering constant views of the snowy Andes against the azure lake. The other followed the ridge with views forever across the huge lake. At 4000
mts/13,123 ft, the air was thin and the sun intense. Thus, I just took day hikes on these and other trails passing through little adobe settlements, animals grazing and farmers still working the pre-Incan terraces. Paradise is having beautiful trails to hike in nature, peaceful places to sit and read and friendly people with whom to chat. Once again, I'd come home!
Aymara/Incan Sacred Site A favorite hike was to the Incan Chincana archaeological site on the island's tip. The site had been sacred to the Aymara people for millennium and the Inca, like most conquerors, appropriated it when they took over. It consisted of the Sacred Rock, supposedly in the shape of a puma, a ritual table (maybe for sacrifices) and a labyrinthine settlement some say had been a monastery for priests, all overlooking beautiful bays and beaches and my favorite little scalloped and geologically uplifted island.
Fiesta of Santiago--Indigenous Style The town had a wild, three-day celebration for the Catholic festival of Santiago (St James). Early each morning, dancers and a brass band paraded around town to the various compounds of the four subgroups (extended families maybe?) distinguished in
the dancing by the color of their outfits. The blue group met in a little compound down the hill from my hostel. From evening until late at night, live, loud, amplified music blared all over the town from the plaza. People gathered there, getting pretty tipsy drinking beer, socializing, and watching the young people in their traditional clothing do traditional line dances. Santiago was nowhere in sight. The festivities ended before the weekend when day-tripping hordes of tourists scrambled off the ferries, visited the little museum and the ruins and rushed back on the boats. I was so glad to have let my planned two days stretch into five. Actually, I would have stayed longer, but the food I'd brought had run out and a couple of Argentine hippies moved into the room next to me playing the guitar day and night--time to return to Copacabana and a shower.
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