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Published: August 26th 2005
First some travel information: Anyone thinking of going to Titicaca beware that, a) the town you will most probably start at, Copacabana, has no cash machine. You can get a cash advance for a commission, but it´s best to just stock up on Bolivianos before you go. b) nowhere on the Illa del sol will take US dollars unless you offer about twice the price. Most locals will tell you a dollar is worth 6 Bs, when it is 8 and will accept nothing else (though a friendly lady changed some for us at 8). Take warm clothes too, it´s cold!
A Cholita is a traditional Bolvian woman. She wears four or five layers of skirt, several sweaters and a poncho. Often you will find one with a baby wrapped in a blanket and somehow tied to said Cholita via the neck area. Sometimes you will find one squatting and peeing on the side of the road. They have two pigtails (always), tied with a strange and wonderful knot/bell pulley item (Laura bought one, so most of you can see at some point what I mean). They range in age from 2 years (obviously they need those years to
develop good pigtails), to about a million it seems. Sometime this week we found ourselves being rowed from one side of an island to another by a well aged Cholita, and several times we have seen TVs in the street broadcasting, and selling DVDs of, Cholita wrestling (do not get on the wrong side of them, this is no WWF. Blood and all!). Oh, and they all wear bowler hats, and they are all too small for them.
In any case, we have had a relaxing (mostly), and enjoyable few days on Lago Titicaca. We caught a bus from La Paz to the little town of Copacabana, which, though not as famous as the beach in Rio de Janeiro with the same name, was certainly not without beauty, sand, mountains (what mountains!) and peddleboats by the million. Our first day there however, we discovered virtually none that the town had to offer. The 4 hour journey (about one pound 30p each), bizarrely made us incredibly tired, and on arrival, after a brief walk along the beach and haggle for acommodation (40Bs a night, double, en suite. 1Bs is 7p), we crashed out and slept until about 8 in the
The next day we were more adventurous, and hired a peddleboat. That is, after watching a Cholita and a teenage boy argue over the rights to the Gringo customers.
Travelling for so long, sleeping in different beds every few nights, and that dastardly explosive diahhorea, have taken their toll at this point, and it´s nice to just kick back and no next to nothing.
Copacabana itself has little to offer tourists other than a) shopping, which we did, and b) the cathedral, which is quite something, and the ´blessing of the automobiles´ceremony which occurs every day, twice. It´s something quite extraordinary to watch. A priest comes out of the cathedral to greet the parade of cars queued outside and down the road. The owners greet him with bottles of beer, champagne, wine, confetti and flowers; all of which end up all over the vehicles, street, and priest.
The blessing ceremony involves sprinkling areas of the cars, bus, coach or whatever it happens to be, with alcohol. That´s about it; maybe a prayer or two here and there, and maybe some drinking of said alcohol too. Nearby stalls sell models of houses, cars... and llamas to be blessed
during the ceremony, in the hope that the holder may be blessed with such an item in the next year.
After checking out the cathedral, ceremony and strange hall of candels devolted to the Virgin,
we decided to explore some of the Incan and pre-Incan ruins that Titicaca is famous for.
One thing to bear in mind here is that the map provided in the Lonley Planet book is so bad that it transcends conception. Often the information in LP is bad, sometimes plain wrong or misleading (as we shall see later). The maps, however, are something else. We had another map, bought in La Paz, but even that left much to be desired. one thing you need in a mountainous region is gradients on your map. Nada.
Anyway, in the end we found something. After a long and exhausting climb (the altitude is still near 4000ft, and the sun beats down like an angry Cholita), we found a pre-Incan astrological observatory. It was at this point that a book on the sites in Titicaca, explaining what things were etc, would have come in handy. Alternatively, though, fluent Spanish, in this situation, would have worked fine. At
the summit we were greeted by two little Bolivian boys, very keen to give us a guided tour of the area. We could hardly refuse (or believe quite what was going on) as they ran up the steep rocks telling us (presumably) what we were seeing. They couldn´t have been older that about 6 a piece, and certianly knew how to pose for photoshoots. It was tough keeping up with them, and breathing breaks were taken often.
Later we ate some darn good food in a pizzeria at the bottom right of calle 6 de august (go there!) and went to sleep early again.
The next day was a day to explore. We got the boat to the Isla del Sol, the largest island on the lake. We huffed up the Incan stairway to the top of a mountain, encountering llamas and donkeys as we did so, and housed ourselves with some Cholitas in a friendly little place for 40Bs a night. We then got very lost looking for ruins.
Later that evening we happened upon a tiny little museum, literally hidden in the mountains. We would never have found it if it was marked on any
map. We found out why it wasn´t on the LP map after entering. The room was tiny, but contained some amazing things - Incan skulls, pristine metal and ceramic artifacts. It did, however, smell very strongly of BO. Whether it was the Cholita, or the previous inhabitant that caused the stench is questionable. Those inhabitants, we discovered via an English langauge letter to LP on the museum wall, were Pumas. Apparently they had been rescued from some kind of poachers and raised in Cochabamba and then Copacabana. The letter was a furious rebuttle of the coment in (an old) LP Bolivia book that dismissed them as ´caged pets´, the only ´downer´ to Copacabana. We saw their cage, and on a Bolivian budget it was pretty impressive - better than the zoos we´ve seen, anyway. In anycase, the comment has been removed now, but the musuem is not marked on the map. I wonder why.
The following day we got lost agian, trying to trek all the way accross the mountain range. We were successful in the end, but it took us about 8 or 9 hours, and we had to stop at a little hotel on the beach for
lunch because we forgot our biscuits (and it was one of the nicest meals we´ve had, ever, for 12Bs each - troat caught from the lake).
The views were worth it though, and the side of Bolivia we had both wanted to see most of all - none of this big city nonsense - mudbrick houses and grubby little children, rushing to see the white people. It was quite an experience.
We managed to see some ruins before sunset, and then crashed out for 15Bs.
We woke early yesterday to catch a boat back, but as so often happens, Lonely Planet information was dudd. We waited from 8.30 until 1pm for a boat. We were offered a private hire for 120Bs to take us back to the South of the island, where we stayed the first night, but declined. Later we were offered what turned out to be private hire for TEN Bs for both of us! In anycase the wait was not in vein, as we made friends with several donkeys and numerous pigs (and a dog and a cat which Laura hated me for touching, but which were only loving).
The boat guy ripped us off
in the end, however. He took us back to the staircase when we had asked for ruins further down, and then charged us 13Bs to float around ONE corner. Scum. We didn´t turn up for his ride back to Copacabana.
The ruins were entertaining enough, but a few minutes after we arrived we were swaped with tourists. Oh well, it was still a beatiful place to be and explore, and we hitcheda ride with a private hire group back to Copacabana, and even though the boat broke half way, we were in high spirits, and ate a decent meal before bed.
Today an even worse bus back to La Paz. We´re tired of this city, and tired in general so it is bedtime for the both of us. Tomorrow we explore Tiwanaku ruins.
Almost forgot, our last day in La Paz was spent in the Valle de la Luna, which is just North of the city and an incredible place to be - check the photos for a better description than I can give of the place.
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