Enjoying Lake Titicaca and the Isla del Sol

Published: August 5th 2011
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We arrived in Copacabana, the town which sits on the edge of the sapphire blue waters of Lake Titicaca, late on Sunday afternoon. We had been passed reroute from Sorata by many cars decorated with flowers and upon our arrival in Copacabana we saw cars being decorated in front of the Cathedral in the main square. The fascinating custom - the Blessing of the Automobiles, takes place here every weekend. It is like a spiritual insurance policy - once you’ve had your car blessed presumably you’re less likely to have a car accident. Since our arrival in South America though we’ve seen dozens of roadside shrines to road accident victims (many decorated with the broken windscreen or tyre from the car) - unlike most Australian shrines there are very rarely only one cross - we’ve regularly seen up to a dozen in a row - no doubt mini bus accidents. They are a sobering reminder of the dangers of being crammed into tiny buses here.
Our taxi driver quickly dropped us off and no doubt headed back to Sorata. We walked, after settling into our hotel, down to the edge of the lake. It was bright blue and looked like an inland sea. That afternoon we had seen some truly magnificent scenery - Lake Titicaca through which the border between Bolivia and Peru passes, is the largest high altitude lake in the world. It sits at an elevation of 3800 meters and covers 8400 square kilometres and is surrounded by the stark browns and yellows of the Altiplano and backed by the beautiful snow capped mountains we had been enjoying at close range in Sorata.
We arrived just in time to watch the sun set - the sky glowed golden - really impressive! The tourist area of Copacabana comprised of a wide street lined with restaurants, travel agencies and souvenir shops, leading down to the edge of the lake. All around the waters edge were many bars and restaurants as well. Definitely a full on tourist town but easy to see why! Above the town was a small though steep hill with a large Cross on the top. It is a religious pilgrimage to walk to the large cross, passing by another 14 stations of the cross (14 small shrines visible from below). The Cathedral in the main plaza was very unusual - with domes covered in blue, green and brown
Blessing the cars for good fortruneBlessing the cars for good fortruneBlessing the cars for good fortrune

Outside the Carhedral every Sunday in Copacabana
tiles. I loved the heavy wooden door with it’s carving of Christian and Mayan figures.
Devin lived in Bolivia in 1996 (he was an exchange student here for 12 months) and one of the girls who had been in his class at the time now lived in Copacabana so we planned on seeing her. Tatiana was lovely, very friendly and well travelled, and owned with her Irish husband, a café in the tourist strip on the main street. It was great to meet them both. Their café (Condor and Eagle) was a very welcoming, calm environment and the food tasted great too! We loved hearing some more stories from her about Devin’s time in Sucre but also enjoyed swapping some travel stories with them - they had visited many of the places that we had also. They recommended a couple of restaurants for evening meals - there are major problems in the town with vegetables being washed in polluted water. The people living in the town only get water pumped from the lake for one hour a day - the rest of their water has to be purchased at a high cost and carted to the town via trucks. The water in the lake is very polluted - even now sewage is still pumped into the water from Copacabana - and Tatiana told us most of the restaurants in town combine their two water supplies into one tank therefore polluting the clean purchased water with the dirty lake water. This causes major food poisoning outbreaks regularly. Not something I needed another dose of!
Next morning we changed hotels - the first time we’ve down that this trip - but we both woke up with sore backs from a saggy mattress. Another quiet day enjoying the view, chatting again in the Condor and Eagle Café and a long walk around the edge of the lake. The transport strike had eventuated and the roads out of the town were blockaded with rocks and taxis. At 3pm that afternoon everybody was standing around in groups listening to the radio - a decision re the strike was obviously being announced. The town was full of people who couldn’t go anywhere - lots of unhappy travellers who couldn’t go in any direction as the border between Bolivia and Peru was still cut with the ongoing strike on the Peruvian side and now they couldn’t even leave in the other direction!
Thankfully the strike was over (at least for the moment) the next day so we were able to book a trip to visit the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) - the birthplace of the sun in Inca mythology. It was a two hour trip - we arrived at the northern end and from there walked the length of the island, visiting some of the Inca ruins on the way. It was a stunning walk - cold, but with very bright sunshine (we were at 4000 meters). It took only 4 hours but at 4000 meters by the end we were both very tired. We loved every second though - it’s impossible to describe just how beautiful it was. The walking track was all stone and went up and down over the contours of the island - there was only a little vegetation for most of the walk but constant vistas of the incredible blue water and the snow capped mountains in the background. There were a lot of people walking the path but as we were all going in the same direction everybody was well spaced out so we were alone most
Cathedal doorCathedal doorCathedal door

I loved the Christian and Quecha combination
of the time.
We spent the night in a small guesthouse on the island. The previous evening we had been told that there had been a large festival on the island, with lots of drunken dancing, brass bands and elaborate costumes on display. We were lucky enough to catch the ‘after festival’ party and what fun that was to watch. Still lots of dancing, no costumes but the women were dressed in their best outfits, a couple of brass bands and lots of alcohol. The party was held in the grounds of the church - we were very amused to see that all the alcohol was stored in the church itself as constant supplies of crates of beer were bought out regularly. It was a party for the locals - they danced and partied in the church grounds and all the tourists stood around the fence watching - but the local people weren’t the slightest bit upset about us being there. They just kept partying and getting drunker as darkness fell.
They danced in big circles to the brass instruments - bottles of beer were passed around the circle - and the dust from the ground got thicker as the evening wore on. They certainly knew how to have a good time! We left to find something to eat - as everybody on the island was at the party it was difficult (all the cafes were closed), but a couple of enterprising local ladies realised they could make a bit of quick money and opened their houses up for meals for the tourists. No menus - you ate what you were given - but at least we were fed. And we had a great view of the sun setting over the peaks - which turned all the snow pink! Thankfully the party stopped about 8pm - there was no electricity in the church grounds so no lights - as with the noise from the brass bands nobody would have been able to sleep! Though it was still bright because it was actually full moon which added to the appeal of the island for us. Back to Copacabana next day - we were accompanied by all the costumes piled on top of the boat. We were told they were rentals from La Paz and had to be returned.
That afternoon we had planned to travel around some of the small neighbouring lakeside villages by local bus and return to La Paz the next day. We had to be back in the city by Saturday as we wanted to watch the largest street parade/festival in the city. However we were told that the transport strike was going to begin again the next day so we made another spur of the moment decision to return to La Paz that afternoon. The buses were very busy as many people obviously decided to do the same. I wander how the Bolivians manage to live with all these strikes - they are a constant part of your life here - and hotel staff told us they affect the general tourist economy a lot. Copacabana had been severely affected by the Peruvian border closure because the region is usually the first place people visit once they have come from Peru. We were disappointed as well because when you see anything on the television re Lake Titicaca reed boats and islands are always mentioned. These are however on the Peruvian side so we were unable to visit them. We had heard that they were a bit of a tourist trap /theme park now but we would have still visited them had we been able.
We returned by bus to La Paz and the lovely Hostal Naira only to find that the strike was cancelled that evening so we could have enjoyed another day beside the lake! We found plenty to do in the city however (already written about in La Paz blog) and my next blog will mainly be photos of the amazing Gran Poder parade. On Monday we had a flight booked to fly us over the Andes range to the jungle.

Additional photos below
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15th August 2011
Sunset over Lake Titicaca

Great Photos
I'm still catching up on your blogs... some fantastic photos ..safe trip home...Love A & F

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