Copacabana; Isla del Sol; La Paz
30.03.2015 - 04.04.2015
It's certainly been a blogtastic last few days. Here is Bolivia part I.
After the Uros islands trip I was back on the bus again, this time taking me around Lake Titicaca from Puno on the Peruvian side to Copacabana in Bolivia. The famous beach in Rio is named after this town, but quite why is anyone's guess as the places couldn't be more different. Apart from look at a cathedral, there wasn't much going on here. I didn't even meet any showgirls called Lola.
Like most towns I visited in Bolivia, Copacabana is at very high altitude thanks to the Andean mountains, and hence cold, and accommodation and restaurant options were basic to say the least. One thing in Bolivia's favour is that the price conversion arithmetic was easy for a change, having to divide by 10 to get from bolivianos to pounds.
I got chatting to an Argentinian girl called Adriana who spoke virtually no English and a French chap called Timothée (pronounced like the shampoo) who spoke pretty much fluent English and Spanish. We went to a disappointing restaurant that didn't even achieve my low expectations, but we gave them a tip anyway. This came as such a shock to them (the tip itself, not because it was me giving it them) that I haven't tipped anyone since.
My mate Damian visited Bolivia a few years ago and had given me a list of places, restaurants and hostels to visit and for the next two weeks I pretty much ticked them all off. First on the list was Isla del Sol, a very picturesque island in Lake Titicaca off the coast of Copacabana. Adriana and Tim came with me.
Getting there on the boat was the easy part; climbing up the hill to the village with heavy backpacks at such high altitude proved a lot trickier and we pretty much took the first hostel we came across - the Arco Iris (Spanish for rainbow). Again, it was very basic and getting up for a wee in the night was an unpleasant affair given the toilet was a short walk away outside in the bitter cold.
Pretty much the only thing to do on the island is to walk around it. A ticket was needed to walk the trail, which as with a lot of things was more expensive for non-nationals, however Adriana somehow persuaded the vendors we were all Bolivian which saved us a quid each.
It took around six hours start to finish and the sun was out which made it an enjoyable experience, especially as we had great views of the lake. In general it was perfectly silent but every now and then we would encounter a local going about his or her business. Most women over a certain age (40-ish) wore the traditional garb of bowler hats, colourful shawls, pleated skirts and missing teeth, which turned out to be typical of most places in Bolivia.
The hike was memorable for two other reasons. I came across a family dismembering a recently-killed sheep. Everyone was joining in: the husband, wife and son were all helping out and even the family dog was tucking into the unwanted remnants of the unfortunate beast. I also got sunburnt, mostly on my head as it didn't occur to me on such a warm day to consider wearing a hat.
Adriana wanted to spend an extra day there so Tim and I took a boat back to the mainland and a bus to La Paz, the 'administrative capital' of Bolivia (although Sucre is its official capital). Part of the journey involved crossing the lake again and our bus went over on a big raft while its passengers crossed separately in a motorboat.
La Paz was one of my least favourite places of my entire trip - enormous, cold, unattractive, filthy, hilly and smelly from the acrid fumes emitted by poorly-maintained vehicles. I did have a cracking curry at the Star of India that was so good it would not have been out of place on the menu of my two favourite curry houses back home in Crystal Palace.
A 'must-do' in these parts is the so-called 'Death Road', a road through the hills and valleys about three hours outside the city that supposedly was right on the edge of severe drops. These days it is less dangerous as vehicles now use a separate recently-constructed road, meaning the Death Road is now used mainly by thrill-seeking cyclists such as myself.
I'm terrified of heights but the drops were not that bad and it really wasn't dangerous at all; unless you were extremely reckless it would be very difficult to come to any harm. We were all provided with protective clothing (helmets, overalls, knee and elbow guards) but only one person fell off as she failed to negotiate a pool of water that spanned one section of the road, falling into it and getting a soaking.
I still hadn't recovered after my illness in Puno and I felt awful on this day. As enjoyable as it was, I couldn't wait to get back to La Paz and go to bed. After an interminable journey back to the city on an uncomfortably hard seat, we finally returned around 8pm, twelve hours after we'd set off in the morning, and I immediately hit the sack - for 14 hours.
The next day we moved hostel to one that was slightly less shit and booked flights to the Amazon. I had by far the biggest fruit salad I've ever seen, then a quick walk around in the rain and back to the hostel.
Next time - a trip down the Amazon. Find out which animal stood on my head and which animals I put in my mouth.