Isla del Sol

From La Paz we traveled to Copacabana, a small Bolivian town on the shores of Lake Titikaka. This lake is the largest in South America and one of the highest in the world. Ancient Incans and other indigenous groups believed it was the birthplace of the sun god. Copacabana is a popular place for tourists and backpackers because it is a great leaping point to reach Isla del Sold and Isla de la Luna.

We rode on Trans Titicaca, a bus company, to Copacabana, which we do not recommend. The trip is around four hours in total, but we had a bus driver that did not know the route. Everything was fine until after the ferry ride across part of the lake. After that, the driver got lost. I really don’t know how he did it. There is a paved road from La Paz to Copacabana, only broken by the short ferry ride. But get lost he did, much to the consternation of the whole backpacking group. It took us about an hour longer to get to Copacabana than it should have, and it was a nerve-wracking trip!

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The driver took an overly-large bus on dirt paths high up in the hills. Normally I don’t get too concerned when we drive on the edge of cliffs. I always tell myself, “It’s safer than it looks. The driver knows what he’s doing.” Well, the driver obviously didn’t know what he was doing because he would stop, get out and call someone on the cell phone for directions, then jump back in the bus and drive at 45 or 50 miles an hour along a rocky path hardly wide enough for a pickup truck. I thought we might pop a tire or break an axle or something. Especially on those tight curves. All the passengers looked as nervous as I felt. Usually I try not to worry. If we die, we die. If we don’t, we don’t. Worrying won’t change the outcome. But this time I did think through my family and relationships, deciding whether I would be at peace dying right then. I think Jordan did the same thing.

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We finally made it down the cliffside and somehow ended up in a rural village. The people put a blockade across the path. When the bus driver got out of the bus to talk to them, they told him there was a tax to drive through their pueblo. So the driver got back on the bus and spoke to us in rapid Spanish, explaining the situation. We all had to come up with five or ten bolivianos apiece to get through the blockade.

“If we don’t pay, they will throw rocks at the bus,” he told us. I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

So we forked over some cash, unhappily, and the blockade was removed. It was part trash, part herd of llamas. And we finally found the paved road again. Because the driver was late, he drove at a breakneck speed that no one liked. And he didn’t know where the bus terminal was in Copacabana, so he dropped us off near the port at a cheap hotel. Not a good experience.

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The cheap hotel was cheap (40 bolivianos per person) and included breakfast, so we took the deal. After unloading our luggage, we went in search of a tour of Isla del Sol. We booked the cheaper boat trip out to the island (roundtrip) for 30 bolivianos per person. I had wondered how getting around would work, but it really was easy and best to just meander down to the port and buy tickets at a random booth the night before. There are other tickets to buy, like a full-day trip to Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna (which I hear is just as lovely and less touristy). The trip out to Isla del Sol took about an hour to an hour and a half, I think.

IMG_4875Many people spend a day or two on the island, which is what we wished we had time to do. But we needed to leave the country because of our visas’ expiration dates. I doubt many Isla del Sol hostels are listed online, but don’t worry about making a reservation. There are around three hostels right at the landing of the southern end of the island, and for about two hours’ climb up the hill inland are hostel after hostel after restaurant after restaurant. If we had time, we would have stayed probably two days on the island.

Although the southern end is lovely, the northern end is where most of the ruins are. Wikipedia tells me there are over 80 ruins on the island, most dating back to Incan times around 15th century AD. The island was a very sacred place to the Incans, so it was dotted with temples and holy sites. We really wanted to see the ruins, but never found any. Hiking steep terrain in high altitude (around 12,000 feet) was hard enough.

IMG_4902So we paid the 5 boliviano entrance fee to to the island and climbed for an hour. It was rough and the sun was strong, but the views were worth it. Even though we never found any ruins. We did cross a few hikers that came from the north end of the island. Apparently that’s popular. If you really like hiking. Getting from one side to the other (with your backpacks!) takes about six hours, and there’s a port and village on either side of the island, so it is very easy to land on one side and leave on the other a few days later. I don’t like hiking enough to do that in high altitude with everything on my back.

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We felt a little misled by the boat people–the southern tip is easier to get to, so it makes sense that it was cheaper, but they told us we would easily find ruins. And we did not. But we did see mountains on the other side of the lake.

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At 3 pm the boat left the island and returned to Copacabana by about 4:30. It was a challenge narrowing down the time of departure. The people here do not live by a clock. I bet if you asked what time it was, they would have no idea. So I had to ask several people what time to be at the boat, what time the boat left, what time it arrived back in Copacabana, and got varying answers. So, for anyone else: The afternoon boat left at 3 pm and got back an hour and a half later.

We decided to leave Bolivia that day to keep inl

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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