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Lago Titicaca

PERU | Saturday, 25 February 2006 | Views [1090]

isla del sol

isla del sol


This was a schizo travel day. We sucked up the money, best spent $125 and took a flight from Lima to Juliaca (near lake titicaca), via Arequita. 2 hours versus 24 on bus. It was worth it. So we leave the coast at 6am and arrive in Juliaca, greeted by  traditional flute playing musicians at the baggage claim.  We decide to spend a night at this friendly farming village, as the book tells us, called llachon. We take a taxi from the airport to the central market where the minibuses leave from. We enjoy a papaya and milkshake, before cramming 20 people into this minibus for what turns out to be a beautifully bumpy ride into the countryside.

We are told to take the first bus about 2 hours to Capacita, and then we transfer to another bus. The landscape is very idyllic, green, kids and women herding sheep through the roads and through the fields. Groups of women lounging in the fields, full attire, fancy hats, full skirts, as their animals graze nearby. We ride along the lake, it´s a deep blue, accentuated by the vibrant green fields, and the strong sun above. We transfer buses and ride into the town of Llachon, where we inquire about finding Valentin Quispe, the organizer of tourism in the village... mainly he started the arrangement of placing visitors in the houses of locals. So, we get dropped off at his house... and poke around until his wife comes out to greet us.  She is full of smiles, very warm, and shows around the house, and to our room. The kitchen area has big windows overlooking the lake. The roofs are all constructed of totora reeds from the lake. We wander around while she prepares us a wonderful lunch... which includes sheep, very fresh I´m sure. Interestingly we noticed there arent any chickens around the lake area, since we got off the plane, sheep, donkeys, llamas and cows seem to be it...

We spent the afternoon lounging around, enjoying the tranquilly of the lake and the peaceful emptiness of the town. There is one tienda in the central square. An old woman sits on the steps spinning wool by hand. All the houses are made of natural clay-mud bricks with reed roofs.. it´s very storybook like, everything  in harmony with the natural surroundings. The stars that night are amazing... no electricity (well there is, but it goes out at 7:30 on this particular night). Next day we wait on the road for a combi (minibus) and start our trek to Puno almost 3 hours... and from Puno we hop another combi to Copacabana.

We arrive in Copacabana later afternoon, crusing through the border, at no fee... It´s a cute small town spreading up from the water, 2 main roads, a nice plaza, large white moorish inspierd chuch, houes built around the hills, nice clay tile roofs. All the beautifully woven sweaters, hats, glooves, blankets you could dream of.

We have a nice meal, which takes about 2 hours, we are the only people in the restaurant, and I think there was one woman doing everything, and she probably ran out the back alley 4 times to collect various ingredients necessary for our meals. Nonetheless my Andian salad, chock full of corm, quinoa, potatoes, olives, greens and other hearty items hit the stop.

Next day we eagerly prepare to go to Isla del Sol on the 8:30 boat. 8:15 we are ready to buy the tickets and leave our hotel, after we{ve eaten breakfast and the woman informs us that the boat left.. it´s actually 9:30. Apparently over the border, Bolivia is one hour ahead, no one informed us, and the fact that we both commented on how bright it was at 6:30 in the morning didnt cause us to think twice.

So, we kill a few hours walking around the markets in town, eating fresh trout, and reading the paper until the 1:30 boat. It´s a slow, slow 2 hour ride to the island, collectively we could have all swum faster than this boat was moving...and it was hot. But we arrive, file off like good backpacking ants and start up the steep inca steps where we are dropped off at the south end of the island. We start walking up up up, as it says all the hostals are at the top of the ridge, with great views.. but it´s a long, huffy walk. At the fist offer by a woman to stay in a room, built abover her house, we take it. Almost everyone living in this town has started to built rooms off their houses to accomodate travelers... Sonia, and her little daughter Leis showed us around, which included the bathroom, with water, which was partially running, and her store downstairs where we could pick up all the rock carved llamas and sweets we needed. After refueling with water, peanuts and figs I bought in Copa, I set out to explore the island. There are basically 2 ends, north and south, with a single 4 hour trail connecting them. Ruins exist on both ends, but the north is known for more dramatic remains. It´s about 4pm, so I calulate how far I can walk, before having to turn back before it gets dark. I start out, continuing up the hill unti l reach teh ridge where most of the hostals are located, a truely spectacular 360degree view. Although there are 5000 inhabitants on the island, in my 2 hour work, I see only about 20 of them. Even my breathing and footsteps seemed disruptive on this other wise serene and tranquil hillside. The trail flattened out and contined along the side of the mountain, passing a few kids and women along the way... but I think the burros and sheep I saw outnumbered the ´people. After about an hour I pass through the village of Challa, having to negotiate out of the 1 sole entry fee, because I didnt have a cent on me.  Only steps through the welcoming archway, a group of kids approach me asking them to  take their photo. No thinking, I say sure and they gather into a group, immediately after the click, I say thanks, and they say tiene que pagar, tiene que pagar, you must pay.. of course... I didn´t even think. The kids here are very well trained at finding sneaky ways to get paid. YOu cant blame them, they are poor, and just trying to help their families out. Needless to say, I had to again, explain that I had not a cent on me, and sadly couldnt give them anything. I said I would try to return tomorrow,we go back and forth for a few minutes and eventually I pass through.. knowing I would have to encounter them again on my way back.

 Every turn of the travel reveals spectualar scenery, different aspects of the island. Farming happening on every ridge, few houses are visible... wind through a eucylptus grove, up, down, and at about 5:30 I vear off the trail, to sit down and enjoy the calm for a few minutes. It seems the terrrain changed to almost a volcanic crumbly rock consistency at the top... so quiet, so beautiful. I headed back, having another longer conversation with the gatekeeper to Challa, a kind older man, spinning wool, full top row of gold encrusted teeth. As we talk he asks where I am from, the usual, am I from La Paz? Argentina? It occurs to me how isolated people are here... too poor to probably travel beyond the reaches of copacabana or puno to even know how people are in la paz? It´s a blessing to live amongst such natural beauty, but of course it has it´s limitations of work, and opportunity, like most rural areas.  Most people on the island now have to find ways to supplement their income with tourist money, in addition to the exchanges, farming, fishing that existed before the influx of visitors.. and now perhaps is less reliable.  Tourism is always complicated. The people on the island though seemed genuinely very friendly and welcoming. But at the end of the day, we get back on the boat and go on our way, and they remain, selling what they can to get by.... the mobility that exists for travelers,  is beyond the comprehension of so many people. Constantly we are meeting people, eager to tell us to stay (wherever we are), confounded by the idea of just passing through, and moving on... its hard to explain...

So, after this nice conversation, I have to say, I hoped to see him tomorrow, but it never happened, sadly. I encountered the kids again,  they let me off the hook, we joke around, and I continue back... and enjoy my first bolivian beer, sitting in a totora reed bench-boat, overlooking the lake. The sun didnt set until close to 7:30, but it was out of control. Living up to its name, from behind the clouds, firey oranges, pinks and reds illuminated the sky.. if only for about 15 minutes, wow. Shira and I stopped in our tracks to just savor it....   we enjoyed a romantic dinner by candlelight (sin electricity), chicken (where it came from, we dont know) but it was }salty and good.

Next day we woke up early and walked to the south tip to get a good luck at the temple of the sun, before having to head back down to the 10:30 boat.  HOw sad to only spend one night on the island. its defineately somewhere I´d like to return to and explore more.

Our boat ride back was very fun. We sat on the top of the boat (where we discover the real party is happening). We are surrounded by a group of guys, together representing almost all of south america; 2 film students from chile, 1 colombian, a photographer from brazil, young curcly haired guy from argentina, 1 israeli hippie, the 2 of us, and 3 Bolivians going into town for the day.  the Colombian guy wore an iron maiden t-shirt, listening to hard rock on his ipod, while one of the Bolivians clutched his transitor radio. We all convered about our travels, and it was the first time we really met such a concentration of  south american travellers, it was interesting to listen, as undoubtably perceptions of neighboring countries and regional politics get played out. The Brazilian guy had his camera equip with him, and started talking to one of the Bolivian men, who was wearing a really sharp deep blue shirt under his jacket and typical black medium rimmed hat. He asked with curiously how much his camera cost, and the photographer (forgetting names) responded in thousands of bolivianos... trying to rationalize that for him, it is like his house, his car, his life... but still all of these things to the Bolivian are a mere fraction in comparison to the humble life he leads on the island. His mouth dropped open, and his expression was priceless. He held the camera, with it{s big wide angle lens and took a picture.. he loved it. It was a classic moment of clashing lives, experiences. 

We all disembarked in Copa and went our sep ways. We ended up having lunch with the chileños, and riding the bus together to la paz, where we parted.


Tags: Beaches & sunshine

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