Existing Member?

zest&bare Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Isla del Sol... a slice of paradise

BOLIVIA | Wednesday, 11 November 2009 | Views [673] | Comments [1]

On the walk from the south to the north end of Isla del Sol

On the walk from the south to the north end of Isla del Sol

Happy Birthday to me! Okay, so it was last week but in my family these things often last more than a week anyway. It was Todos los Santos (All Saints and All Souls Day) so a long weekend and of course Halloween on the Saturday. I joined the fervour of the Bolivians and happily went costume hunting on Calle Linares, where the streets are literally lined with street vendors and costume stores. I found a perfectly sized hanging ghost decoration and after a few holes cut out, two pairs of white stockings (one for my legs, one for my arms), and some white face-paint, I was ready to go.

The party at Blue Note was full of dressed-up tourists and locals, and was made even better with another guy celebrating his birthday too. A few hours into my birthday morning, when absolutely everyone had left and I was still dancing away (alone), the staff asked me to please leave so they could go home too! I clearly didn’t want the night to end. But it did…. and then came the morning. Ouch! Possibly the worst birthday I have ever experienced. Not only because I was so ill (I am way too old for these shenanigans) but also I was missing David, my family and friends terribly. Special occasions really put into perspective what and who is important in my life. It didn’t help that the friend staying with me didn’t think my birthday was as important as I thought it was, which made me feel even sorrier for myself!

That particular friend, Yiftah, was one of the few people staying with me over the past few weeks. Also strewn over the couch, on a mattress in the hallway, or bunking with me at various times in my big-enough apartment were Chloe, Bridget, Ben and Benita.  I had met all of these people in Cusco so it was like an awesome mini-reunion.  Sadly, most of them have now gone either north or south on the Gringo trail, but it’s highly possible we’ll cross paths again.  So bitter sweetly, I am home alone again. It was great having great people around but it meant I didn’t get too much done either. We spent most of the time eating sushi and steak, drinking wine, and even went to a couple of movies (where am I again?!). We spent one memorable afternoon watching the ‘Cholitas Wrestling’. Based on WWF with women dressed in traditional clothing as the main event (a ‘Cholita’ is a female who acts badly in public), the whole thing was a farce. It went for two or more painful hours and only involved two women (who didn’t even wrestle each other) and old men with not much skill whatsoever. The only saving grace was the beautiful sunset I saw when I escaped outside to the bathroom for twenty minutes. I’ll chalk that one up to a crappy tourist experience!

But, I did finish the pain-in-my-ass program I was writing as part of my volunteer project.  The forty page document for Bolivian adolescent deaf kids to learn oral communication is currently half translated into Spanish and once that is done, I will hand it over and be done with it. For my frustrations regarding this whole saga and the volunteer coordinator (the hippie who really enjoyed the 60s), refer to my last entry...

As a reward for finishing my work, I took myself to Lake Titicaca. And wow!

I bought my ticket for an 8am Friday bus. At 8.05 the bus was delayed to 8.30 and then at 8.40, cancelled. They put me in a tiny mini-van and dumped me in El Alto. This is the ass-end of the world that is also, apparently, ‘Bolivia’s Economic Capital’. Almost all of the people are traditionally dressed (made stranger as it is so, so cold up there) and are poor. It smells like sausages and sewerage. This smell however was more pleasant than the guy next to me on the bus, who was cultivating the sour-milk, coca leaf combo that is becoming normal for me to encounter on buses. Unfortunately, the blob of Lucas’ papaw ointment smeared under my nose did nothing to repel the smell. After El Alto we drove through literal wasteland, totally barren, dotted with half-built (or half-fallen down?) houses. Then all of a sudden trees start popping out of the ground and I got a glimpse of Lake Titicaca to the left. It’s like driving into a completely different area on earth.  We made it to the tiny, nothing-town of Taquina where the bus goes across the lake on a wooden barge (people go across on a little boat), with the whole thing taking about 45 minutes. But there were hundreds of people milling around and loads of army guys with machine guns. Not to mention the twenty or so SUVs with Brazilian stickers and police lights. Eventually a random lady told me the Brazilian president was visiting the other side of the river in his massive cruise ship and therefore no one could go anywhere. We were there for three hours.

Finally on the other side, we were back on the bus and headed up the hill to Copacabana. This is where I got my first proper view of the Lake and oh my god, it was breathtaking.  We made it to Copa around 4pm and my planned itinerary was well out the window. I found a hostel after the first few I tried didn’t have vacancy. It was such a shithole that I hallucinated I was being eaten by bed bugs when I tried to sleep. And the pillow was possibly modelled from cement. Anyway after I checked in, I climbed Cerro Calvario. Loads of locals were climbing it too to make offerings at the 12 Stations of the Cross along the way. It was incredible up there and the sunset was amazing. I took about a thousand photos.  I suffered vertigo a few times so instead of throwing myself over the edge (which is the sensation I get) I had to keep going back down a few meters and back up. I must have looked a little nutty.

The next day I hired a bike and rode 17kms from Copacabana to Yampupata. Admittedly about 15 minutes and my first mountain into it, I regretted the whole affair however I persevered (although walked the bike over the rest of the mountains, the highest being 4340mtrs. Copa is at 3810mtrs, where it can be tricky to breathe sitting still, let alone doing anything strenuous) and rode through tiny little villages, saw the floating reed village of Titicachi, and even chatted to some of the locals.  It was like I was catapulted back through time, with the locals using reed boats and donkeys and wearing raggy, traditional clothing – however always smiling toothless smiles and saying hello. Inland it felt and smelt like Victoria in the summer – hot, dry, and like eucalyptus. I was half expecting to look up and see a koala or two. I only encountered four tourists in the whole two and a half hours which was bliss and I only took one wrong turn. I was given a stick figure map and told “Always take the hard left”. Apparently if the hard left takes you down a ditch, this rule does not apply. Anyway, I made it to Yampupata, the end of the road, at 10.55am. I was meant to meet the bike guy (who was a bit of a dick) at 11am where he was to take the bike back to Copa. So I waited…and waited…and waited, until 12.15pm. I decided if he wanted his bike he should have been on time so I left the bike with some guy on the shore and off I went in my little boat.  I do wonder what happened to that bike.

Crossing the Lake was lovely, chatting with the local fisherman who I hired to be my ‘driver’, with him pointing out landmarks, showing me how clean and clear the fresh water is (it is). Once at the south end of the island, Yumani, you have no choice but to climb the Escalera del Inca – why is everything Inca-related so impossibly steep you almost die of exhaustion?  I found a hostel near the top of the stairs with the most amazing view, for $A3.20.  I had lunch on top of the ridge, overlooking the so-blue Lake, looking over to Peru. I could have sat there forever. I almost did, writing and just taking it in, wondering why this place isn’t more popular (there weren’t as many tourists around as I had imagined). Many of the hostels and restaurants were deserted, including most of the places listed in the Lonely Planet (yes, embarrassingly, I own one). 

In the afternoon I went in search of the Pilko Kaina ruins – not sure why as I am completely ruined-out, particularly of the Incan kind, after Peru. But off I went following the typically Bolivian lack of any signage whatsoever and found myself, sans ruins, at the tip of the south end of the island and then at some weird pagan cross. The views however were absolutely breathtaking. The water actually looks alive as it sparkles so amazingly. I found my way back along some other track and I think I found some ruins (read: non-descript rubble) but by then I was totally satisfied and in love with Isla Del Sol. The sunset that night cemented my affection.

On Saturday, after waking to donkeys and birds – a nice change from the car horns and chaos of La Paz - I walked from the south to the north end of the island, to the town of Cha’llapampa. The walk took about three hours along completely barren hilltops that I couldn’t believe were being farmed by the locals. And excuse the observation, but I also couldn’t believe how much their sheep shit, considering there is nothing for them to eat! Anyway, as a bad tourist, I bypassed the Chincana ruins, apparently where the first Incas began (recall my over-Incan-ruins attitude). I continued on to the village passing a beach which on closer inspection of the shoreline was thick with algae. It seemed popular with the donkeys and pigs. The town was eerily deserted except for some enterprising old man who came running (yes, he was running) up to me telling me his boat was the only one going back to Copa. I knew he was lying and there would be more but at this point I thought some catastrophe had wiped out the rest of the town’s population, so he was my best bet. All the boats (there were about six after all) were indirect and the likelihood of getting home sometime in the near future was getting slimmer.

Finally back at Copa there was a mad scramble for the last buses back to La Paz. Apparently a strike was due to start on Monday. I got the last seat on my bus. Back at Taquina (where I had spent three hours on Friday) we crossed the water and waited on the other side for the bus. Again there was a crowd of people. Apparently this time it was due to the strike, which was meant to start the next day. The locals weren’t letting our bus across, and were trying to push it back across the river. I stood there with my hot chips watching the action like a movie. We were eventually allowed to walk across some rotted planks, back onto the bus which was still sitting on the river on the very thin and rather frail wooden barge. Finally the bus backed through the crowd and started driving away. But the lady next to me, Nelly’s, son and nephew were missing from their seats. She was panicking when they emerged through the crowd. The whole crowd was running with them, hitting the bus and trying to push onto the bus with them. The two guys got on and the bus sped off so fast, we might have hit a few poor souls on the way.

I got chatting to Nelly on the bus – she was very patient with my crappy Spanish. We were talking about my sunburnt nose so she gave me some coca leaves to chew. My leg could have been hacked off and she probably still would have offered coca leaves. Apparently these leaves are miracle cures. But I have tried the tea and candies and already knew they make me feel nauseous, just like with all herbal teas. So there I was, politely stuffing leaves into each side of my mouth – and I chose leaves too big so they were poking into my cheeks and she’s chatting away completely oblivious, and I’m trying to answer her without gagging or vomiting. Thank god it was dark – if she saw my contorted face she would have offered more leaves to fix it.

I had such an incredible weekend, although it was nice to be ‘home’ when I finally got back to La Paz at 10.30pm Sunday.

I’m off to Coroico next weekend and I promise the next instalment won’t be so long! Thanks for reading.

Here’s to life!


PS Photos out and about in La Paz to come! 




You little traveller you ... off again now to Coroico! Have a great week-end without any dramas. Take care & stay safe. Love, hugs & kisses as always. Mum xxx

  Cheryl Ryan Nov 14, 2009 8:30 AM

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.



Travel Answers about Bolivia

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.