Bolivia 1: Isla de Sol / Copacabana

The 13 hour bus from Cusco, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia was a fairly straightforward one. Leaving Cusco at 10:30pm, with me paying 65 Peruvian Soles (£16) instead of 55 soles so I could get a downstairs single seat with Huayruru Tours, we weren’t disturbed until around 8am the following morning where we were briefed on what would be coming up; the first stop for the toilet and to change our soles into bolivianos (the Bolivian currency), the second stop to get stamped out of Peru (where our migration card was a necessity), where we would then walk across the border to our third and final stop to be stamped into Bolivia, for which we had to fill out various forms.

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The border crossing from Peru into Bolivia

We would then continue in the same bus into Copacabana, where we arrived at around 12:20pm (Bolivia is one hour ahead of Peru). I didn’t have anything booked for Copacabana and decided to get a boat straight to Isla de Sol across Lake Titicaca, paying 20 bolivianos (£2.50) for the 1 hour 15 minute journey that departed at 1:30pm. It wasn’t as rough as I had expected but it was slow and the sun was high.

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The ferry port, Copacabana

We arrived at the South side of Isla de Sol, the Yumani Communidad, at around 2:45pm where you have to pay 10 bolivianos (£1.25) to enter the island. I had reserved two nights in Hi-Inka Pacha, which is a steep climb up the side of the mountain, and this is where most of the hostels are located. It is generally recommended to leave your main bags at a hostel in Copacabana as the steps are steep, the sun is hot and the altitude is high but, as I had just arrived, I had no choice but to battle my shortness of breath with the heavy load and clamber up the stone steps, as local Bolivian women trundled past me with huge bags slung over their backs, mules at their sides.; the first experience I had of how impressive and strong, both mentally and physically, these women are.

I finally made it up to my hostel at around 3:30pm, which had the most incredible views over the ocean. Sadly I didn’t have the best start with the lady running it as she was trying to charge me more bolivianos than I believed I owed and she refused to give me the wifi password so I could check my email confirmation. Marcelo – a Chilean whom was staying there and helping out – could understand English and, sensing my difficulty, tried to help by talking to her, but this just riled her up more.

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The view from Hi-Inka Pacha, and Marcelo with the sheep.

Once I paid what she was asking she then typed the wifi password into my phone, first refusing to let me use it on more than one device, but after tutting and muttering she eventually typed it into my iPad and my other older phone (remember I took it snorkelling?? One phone works for whatsapp and the other works for google maps – not ideal). I dumped my bags and sorted myself out – feeling tired and frustrated – before deciding to go on a walk and explore the island.

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I hadn’t really been able to appreciate the view of the beauty of the island on my hike up due to how weary and demanding it is, but now I could really take in the vast, shimmering water of Lake Titicaca and the beautiful colours offered by the island itself; the greens of the trees, the yellowy-orange of the land, the bright blue of the water and the multi-coloured houses and local apparel for sale dotting the streets. I decided to walk to Mirador de Palla Kasa, a spot that offers panoramic views of the island and the surrounding lake but which is fairly exerting due to the uphill climb and the altitude.

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Fortunately the time of day eased the heat of the sun and there were a few flat points that offered respite. Along the way and at the viewpoint itself are local woman sat on the ground, their crafts splayed out before them as they try to lure you in to buy. Their long black hair, tied in two pig tails and then looped together at the bottom, give an air of innocence and youth that is betrayed by their worn faces, but they never fail – even when out of breath as they climb uphill – to greet you as they pass.

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After enjoying the view I walked slowly back down towards my hostel and stopped at the restaurant next door, Ls Islas Restaurant Y Hostel, for dinner. At just before 6pm I took a seat on the patio outside for views across the lake and ordered my menu del dia – Quinoa soup (a soup local to the island) followed by Trucha (trout) with vegetables, rice and chips (quite possibly one of the best pieces of fish I have ever had) and banana covered in chocolate sauce for 40 bolivianos – only £5 but still on the higher side of things. At around 7pm, just before my “dessert” of banana, I had to go inside as it was freezing – something about this island means it is boiling during the day but freezing cold at night, and after that point I just couldn’t get properly warm. I got into bed at around 8pm in an attempt to warm up, wearing two pairs of trousers, two tops and one jumper, 2 pairs of socks and a hat and gloves, before somehow managing to fall asleep. The past week of hiking, early mornings, sun and altitude had taken its toll and that night I got a full 12 hours of sleep, waking up just after 8am the following morning.

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“Trucha” – the best trout I have EVER had

After enjoying a proper lay-in and not having to move for anything, I got dressed and walked out the front of the hostel, which has the most incredible views – and found Marcelo tending to the sheep, trying to tie them up properly so they wouldn’t run wild. I offered to help, but I’m not convinced I didn’t just make things worse.

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I eventually left the hostel at around 11am and set off towards Templo de Sol – the Sun Temple – was which much more of a flat, gentle walk than the others. Starting by walking back down from the hostel a hundred metres I then took a right turn slightly uphill, to then walk flat for about 15 minutes before starting a gradual descent down towards he Templo de Sol. I had been warned I would need my ticket from arriving on the Island but, other than local women wanting to sell merchandise, I didn’t come across anyone. The temple itself was pretty but nothing spectacular, however I enjoyed sitting by the water and listening to it lap up against the rocks before I started my walk back up.

Finding that my body still desired to take things slow I then decided to walk down to the port and grab a bite to eat. I settled on a restaurant slightly uphill for better views of the water and the Glacier mountains in the distance, where I ordered an almuerzo of quinoa soup followed by pejerrey (king fish – another local dish) with, you guessed it, chips, rice and potato. Not just one carb, but three; the Bolivian way, it would seem. Whilst the fish was lovely and the vegetables in the soup making it a bit more balanced, I was already beginning to tire of the food, which I had been warned wasn’t great. Although I wasn’t suffering with my bowels or anything, I felt there was only so much plain white rice and plain boiled potato I could take; even my attempts to dress it up with mayonnaise, a favourite of mine, was wearing thin. For the rest of the afternoon I found a spot on the grass by the water and layed in the sun listening to music, before the sun went behind the island at around 4pm and left me feeling cold.

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The Port, Isla de Sol

I gathered my things and made a slow hike back up to my hostel where I had a warm yet dribbly shower (washing my thick, knotted hair took a long time!) Having slowed down after a busy, active, fast-paced week I could feel my mind and my body lacking in energy, enjoying the break from go-go-go, so I dipped into the restaurant that was part of the hostel and sat and had a hot chocolate on the sofa while gazing out at the views. I eventually decided to go for a walk along the island, this time dressing warm so as not to get so cold I wouldn’t be able to warm up again. Most people had headed for another Mirador so for he majority of the walk I didn’t run into anyone other than some locals, and it was lovely – the island was so peaceful.

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Back towards my hostel I picked a different restaurant and ordered a cheese, onion and tomato omelette for 8 bolivianos (£1), which was particularly greasy but satisfied my egg craving and filled the small hole that had developed following my large lunch. I was once again back at my hostel at around 8pm where I found myself climbing into bed, well layered up, reading a few chapters of Marching Powder before eventually falling asleep at around 9pm. I awoke at around 7:30am the following morning where I packed and checked out the hostel before making the climb back down the island, purchasing a return ticket to Copacabana for 25 bolivianos this time (£3.25) for the 10:30am boat. Isla de Sol is recommended for relaxing and hiking – I probably did far more relaxing than hiking but it was just what I needed.

Back on the mainland of Copacabana just after midday I was stunned by how the place had changed since two days previous – hundreds and hundreds of tents lined the beach with families preparing food and kids playing on their bikes; the lake was filled with jet skis, pedalos, water cylinders and banana boats; market stalls selling sunglasses were on overdrive and you literally had to squeeze through the crowds. I had been warned Copacabana was popular during the Easter period but I wasn’t expecting this. It was like Broadstairs on speed.

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Copacabana beach

It also meant most hostels were “occupation” and I spent some time trudging around looking for one nights accommodation, to be told that everything was full in the centre and to look on the outskirts. At that moment a female traveller asked me if I was looking for somewhere and if I wanted to share a double room, as dormitories were non-existent. So we found a hotel and paid 80 bolivianos each (£10) to stay in a twin room for one night. A bit expensive but we had little choice.

I spent the afternoon wandering round the streets and absorbing the Easter culture of Copacabana. There were hundreds of stalls and street “games” on offer including foosball, pinball and roulette. Locals in their hoards were entering Basilica de Neustra Senora de Copacabana to lay their flowers purchased from outside. A nearby chapel was filled with people lighting candles and placing them on the tables.

and the beach, where I spent a good hour just sitting and watching, was filled with the family spirit over the holidays as they basked in the sunshine. As my travels have neared the end I have become more homesick and emotional, and this just made me miss my family so much – I have missed out on every holiday now and I so wanted to be at home celebrating with those I love.

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Towards late afternoon I decided to walk up to Cerro Calvario; a steep climb up rocks that leads to an amazing viewpoint over Copacabana with some religious statues and offerings at the top. I would have thought that, after the heights of Ecuador and Peru, I would be used to the altitude but I still found it hard to get oxygen in my lungs, the air feeling thick and hot in my throats as I made the ascent.

It really doesn’t matter how physically fit you are, the altitude is an absolute killer. Still, it makes the achievement more satisfying and the view from the top even more rewarding, and the late-afternoon sun shining down on the lake below, causing it to shimmer, was incredible. 

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After making my way back down and perusing the market stalls (I could literally have bought sooooo many jumpers here, they all looked super cosy) I headed to the local food Mercado for some dinner. While there are restaurants that offer food for a similar price I like going to the Mercado as this is where the locals all dine, and you end up squished next to one another while you chow down on your meals made by local Bolivian women whom bark their daily offerings to passers by, deafening you as they do so. Trout is the local speciality in Copacabana but after having both trout and pejerrey on Isla de Sol I wanted something other than fish so I opted for pollo dorado (fried chicken, on the bone) with pasta (I’m so over rice) for a very reasonable 13 bolivianos (£1.75) but then had food envy when I saw the enormous portions of delicious looking trucha being devoured beside me. 

 

Afterwards I headed outside where I picked up a glass of Api (similar to Morado – a hot, thick berry maize drink) for 3 bolivianos (40p) whilst watching the locals in their families sitting and drinking this hot drink whilst eating hot snacks (similar to doughnuts) on this crisp evening. I then heard the beginning of the Easter procession in Plaza 2 de Febrero so I wandered down to have a peak. Crowds were swarming around the procession, of men dressed in white cloaks carrying a cross and other symbols, while one man offered a speech before the procession began moving and the crowds followed. I made the decision to partake and, after committing, there was little chance of getting out again. It was literally heaving. I admired the faith and commitment of those following but, after a while, made my escape down a side road. 

Having slowed down over the last few days my body was enjoying the rest and craving more so, at around 9pm, I headed back to my hostel and got yet another early night before checking out at around 9am. I went for a coffee at a cafe with a terrace overlooking the lake and then spent the next couple of hours down at the beach amongst the locals, probably being one of the only white people there. Around midday I made my way back to my hostel to pick up my bags before heading to the tour agency where I had booked my bus to La Paz for 1:30pm at 35 bolivianos (£4.50). After a lovely 3 days of rest, I was ready for the energy of La Paz.

LS

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