Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Lake Titicaca (Bolivia)

By Sanne

We left Coroico on Saturday morning when it seemed like all of  La Paz was descending on the sleepy little town for the weekend. We were headed for Lake Titicaca but to get there we had to go back through La Paz. This didn’t worry us too much but on this particular Saturday, the council of La Paz had decided to dig up the whole one side of the main avenue in the city centre. This meant that all the traffic going in that direction was being redirected into the narrow side streets. Long story short, the half hour it should have taken us to get through the city turned into two hours. But this is the only time we have had problems with the traffic in La Paz.

We made it onto the autopista which took us up to El Alto and onto the altiplano. El Alto is the fastest growing city in Bolivia and is a massive sprawl of mostly half-finished buildings which spread into the almost dessert-looking landscape that is the alti-plano. The highway to the lake was really busy and the drivers were driving like lunatics, with one 4wd actually swerving at us on purpose because we flicked our lights at him, just barely missing us and forcing us out into the gravel.

After only about 40 kms or so outside La Paz, we saw the lake. But we still had another 100 kms to go to get to Copacabana as the road wound its way around the lake. To get to here we had to cross the water at one point with a derelict-looking old barge. But we saw that trucks and buses went on them so we figured it would be pretty safe. 20 mins later and 40 pesos poorer we were on the other side and rode the last 30 kms to Copacabana. Copacabana is a small town nestled in a little bay right on the lake. From here people go out to Isla del Sol, one of the islands in the lake.

The day after the next we took a boat to the island and got off at the northern end as we had heard that was the nicest. There are no vehicles on Isla del Sol so we had to leave the motos on the mainland and pack our needed belongings into whatever bags we had. This 70 sq km island at 3800m has several traditional, indigenous communities (around 800 families) which are distributed throughout the island from the northern settlement of Challapampa to Challa in the centre and Yumani in the south. The Incas believed that the sun god was born here, hence the name. There are over 80 ruins on the island with most of them dating back to the Inca period circa 15th century AD. 

Two words describe this island: beautiful and tranquil. As you walk along the trails you can observe how these people go by their daily routine of working in the fields and taking their donkeys out to pasture. Isla del Sol must have the largest amount of donkeys I have ever seen! That same day we walked to the northern tip to the Inca ruins of Chincana and climbed the nearby Cerro Tikani from where we got a great view over the ruins and the lake that seems more like an inland ocean than a lake, as it just seems to go on and on forever. The lake that is shared between Bolivia and Peru (we will visit the Peru side later) is the world’s largest high-altitude lake at 8400 sq km and at 3800m above sea level. The backdrop to this vast expanse of water is the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Real.

We spent the first night in Challapampa which was a lovely, quiet night, The following morning we started walking south; a dog joined us and stuck with us for the whole day. We don’t do many hikes, mainly because our hiking boots are Converse shoes so not really built for hiking. Neither do we have the right luggage for hiking so we carried our stuff in an old rucksack and a cloth shopping bag! But we managed. It was only about a 5 or 6 km walk but the trail was up and down mountains all day and the high altitude and the harsh sun made it quite exhausting. We made it to Yumani in the afternoon and settled into a guesthouse that the dog chose for us and the next day we took a boat back to Copacabana. Here I was hoping that there would be an email waiting for me saying that my new passport had arrived in La Paz, but nothing. That was a little frustrating as we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves until my passport would arrive. We had kind of seen everything there was to see around the area so we had to find a cheap place to hang around until then. We didn’t want to go back to La Paz as the accommodation there is more expensive and we could risk having to be there for a whole more week. We studied our map and found that the semi-tropical town of Sorata was just a short ride north of Copacabana so we headed there. Sorata is a picturesque colonial town, perched on a hillside beneath the towering snow-capped peaks of Illampu and Ancohuma, which are part of the Cordillera Real. Apparently this small town used to compete with Coroico for weekend visitors but that’s not the case anymore and the only visitors now tend to be hikers.

We found a nice, cheap hostel where we met fellow Aussie Tim who is one of those few people who really ‘rough’ it! He had just come back from 5 days in the mountains with only basic provisions and a donkey, and the donkey ran away from him after 2 days! He does not have a tent but simply camps under a tarp! I was very impressed as I doubt I could do something like that, I would be way too cold! We also met ‘illegal’ couple Christophe and Michal, illegal because when they crossed into Bolivia from Brazil in the middle of the jungle, they never got stamped out of Brazil and into Bolivia. We strongly advised them to get this sorted at the immigration office in La Paz before leaving the country as it could possibly land them into big trouble. I hope they have worked it out! There’s not a whole lot to do in Sorata but thanks to these guys we spent a good couple of nights there cooking dinner for each other both nights. On the Saturday, I checked my emails and was over the moon to see an email from the Danish Embassy in La Paz, saying that my passport had finally arrived after three weeks! So on the Sunday we rode to La Paz, checked into the same hotel as last time, Residencial Sucre, and I picked up my new passport on Monday morning.

Wednesday we were off and rode to the border with Peru at the town of Desaguadero. It was with sadness that we said goodbye to Bolivia. It has been one of our favourite countries so far on the entire trip, which was a bit of a surprise as we didn't expect much from Bolivia. That is probably due to the fact that it gets quite a bad rep from a lot of travellers. We were told to expect shitty food, unfriendly people, roadblocks and no fuel. Well, I don't know if we have just been insanely lucky or what, but we have experienced none of that. The food has been great (and we're vegetarian), the people super friendly and helpful, we have not encountered a single roadblock and we have not been denied fuel even once. The fuel situation seems to worry many motorbike travellers as supposedly some petrol stations refuse to sell fuel to foreigners. There is also a higher price of fuel for foreigners, which is approximately 2.5 times higher than what the locals pay, but again we paid the local price 50% of the time. We found it helpful that in the case we were asked to pay the foreigner price, to say: "sin factura" which means without receipt. When you say this, they are usually willing to sell the fuel to you at a price in between the local and foreigner price, and they then pocket the difference themselves. Hey, whatever works!
In short, Bolivia is an amazing country which I genuinely hope to re-visit in the future.

On the barge over to Copacabana

Lake Titicaca with the Cordillera Real in the background


The cathedral

Vehicles get blessed outside the church on the weekends

An old LP cover we spotted in a local cafe...HOT!

On Isla del Sol, connecting with the locals

Walking the stony trails along the deep-blue water was very peaceful

Next to an old sacrificial table

The labyrinth-like ruins of Chinkana

A moment of reflection, sitting on a hill-top, overlooking Titicaca

Looking back over the village of Challapampa

Woman on her way home from the fields with her donkeys and llama

View from our room

Another woman with her animals

Our walking companion

There is a huge presence of donkeys on the island

Not a bad lunch spot

The Inca Stairs

The sun sets over Isla del Sol

 The mountains around Sorata

The whole valley was covered in a cloud blanket - it was like a Bonnie Tyler music video

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