Thankfully, mercifully, whatever one may say about a three hour journey that took us from La Paz to the shores of Copacabana on Lake Titicaca, we arrived safe and unharmed for what would be a two night stay. Rather than stay in the town of Copacabana itself, a pleasant place with all the creature comforts you could hope for at this stage of our trip, we decided upon the advice of others to stay on the Isla del Sol itself, situated within the lake accessed via 90 minute boat ride. Given the natural beauty of the island and its place in the history of the Incas, it was not such a difficult decision.
The lake itself is found at 3,841m above sea level and despite other smaller lakes found around the world being at higher altitudes, no other lake as deep, and thereby navigable by large vessels, is found at such heights. Its name is thought to derive from a misuse of a translation for “Puma Rock” as locals thought the shape of the lake and its islands resembled a puma hunting a rabbit, though this is not accepted as fact. Of course one of these islands is
that which was so important to the Incas.
The history of the remarkable Isla del Sol is ancient in every sense of the word, with science uncovering evidence of human activity here as long ago as three thousand years before the supposed birth of Christ. However, its more famous roots stem from the Incan times of 15th
century AD, but its mythical status as the place of birth for an Incan Sun God, Manco Capac (also known as the first Incan and son of Inti, the Incan solar deity) is a source of opinionated etymology. Whilst it is commonly accepted that he emerged from a crag in the ‘sacred rock’ on the northern tip of the island, in one version of the legend, the Incan people were throw into darkness for days on end before the sun emerged from this sacred rock leaving the people to assume the dwelling place for our closest star and their God. In another version, others believed the sun hid under the sacred rock whilst a great flood occurred. When the waters subsided, the sun re-emerged to give light to the skies once more.
Departing Copacabana bound for the
southern shores of this mystical island, the weather graced our journey with clear skies, or perhaps more accurately, clouds encircled the lake, the hills of Peru to the west and the snow caps of the Cordillera Real to the east, but never ventured over the island itself...island of the sun indeed! Slowly, we anchored in the southern village of Yumani, basing ourselves overlooking the port itself in simple accommodation. Further up the historic (and steep) Inca staircase was the village itself, a place where we would later venture for dinner, in a basic but delicious restaurant where pasta and lasagne filled our hungry stomachs, preparation for our trek the following day. Retreating for the night back to our accommodation, startlingly clear skies gave us cover for the evening, countless stars silently watched and we in turn gazed back. When our trip is completed and we return home, I will remember fondly the nights we were treated to spectacular night skies, particularly since the north west of England rarely sees such beauty during the hours of dark, owing more to the cloud and rain than the ambience of its cities.
The following morning, we rose early, day packs
at the ready and set off bound for the northern coast of the island and the Incan ruins of the village of Chincana, a round journey of approximately 15km over a ridge route along the spine of the island. Stepping out onto our balcony the skies appeared ominous with clouds gathering overhead, a culmination of the surrounding cloud the day previous, so we included our raincoats just in case.
Describing the Isla del Sol as beautiful would be failing to do justice to this truly mesmerising place. Of the large and beautiful lakes of the world, we have been to a few on our journey, from the floating villages and the unique fishermen of the magical Inle Lake of Burma to the fascinating Batak culture of Danau Toba in Indonesia. Interestingly, despite each being a large body of water surrounded by hills and mountains, we can assure you that each is, aesthetically, extremely different and remarkably beautiful in its own way.
Lake Titicaca is perhaps the ‘bluest’ body of water I have ever seen, an impossibly still blue expanse stretching for miles in each direction, its calm reflecting the perfectly clear skies overhead which
given the altitude, are a much deeper shade of ‘azul.’ This gathering of water surrounds what is a very rural island, steep pastures of largely treeless fields fall away into the blue waters on which hills Llamas and sheep graze and farmers caringly watch over their flock for much of the day. Winding our way along the ridge, past fields and ancient rock formations, we were exposed to the elements but thankfully, it seemed whatever clouds in the sky were keeping their distance, again gathering over the Cordillera Real and Copacabana to our east and south – directly overhead was cloudless blue and strong sunshine.
After a long but enjoyable morning, seven kilometres into our day we reached the ancient Incan site of Chincana, a labyrinth of primordial stone structures which formed what would have been a spectacular setting for an Incan village on the northern shores of the Isla del Sol next to the Sacred Rock. From this village one has a beautiful view over the lake west towards Peru and far below at the foot of the hill appears a decent beach. However, with no swimwear and tired legs, we quickly found a secluded spot
on one of the grassy terraces within the Chincana complex to slump against one of its walls and enjoy some lunch and the amazing views. In no time, we found we had company – a small gathering of sheep tentatively approached where we lay, devouring what grass they could take into their hungry mouths.
For close to an hour way lay, taking in the magnificence and serenity of our location, barely speaking but completely content with each other’s company. With some reluctance, we packed up the remains of our lunch for the return journey and said goodbye to this truly beautiful site. Since we were staying on the island itself, we had to return to Yumani the way we came back over the ridge. Taking in less of the scenery and much more of the pain and breathlessness from aching muscles and lack of oxygen. Though just as beautiful as a few hours previous, with each step our weary legs grew heavier, our heads hung lower and as the hours passed we generally yearned for a decent meal and our beds for the evening.
Salvation came in the form of a small restaurant on
the western side of the island complete with outside terrace perfect for sunset viewing. After ordering a few drinks and large pizza, we settled ourselves in as the sun began its descent behind the western hills of the Isla del Sol. With what few clouds remained in the sky, the sun cast a few spectacular shades before disappearing behind the landscape. With our stomachs full, Amy huddled under my arm and some traditional music coming from who-knows where to see the sun down, it was the perfect way to end the day on this wonderful island.
The night passed and the following morning came as did the end of our time in Bolivia, one of the world’s amazing places and a place which will not soon be forgotten. Next up Peru and the heart of the Incan empire...
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