So as I was getting ready to go to bed at the ripe old hour of 8:30 (hey I had to be up at 5:00 a.m.), a parade broke out in the square outside my hotel. There was music, dancing and lots of singing. No idea what was going on except it was August 1 and Peruvians celebrate “Mother Earth” on August 1. That was all I could come up with. I stood on my balcony and watched for a bit, got a couple waves and then they disappeared from site.
The next morning I was packed and ready to go when the folks from Transturin arrived to pick me up in a mini-bus to take me to the Peru-Bolivia border. From there I would check out of Peru, walk to the Bolivian border, have my passport stamped and meet a new driver to take me (and as it turned out 4 others) to Copacabana where we would have a half day tour of Copa and Sun Island before continuing on to La Paz.
The trip to the border was completely uneventful and by 8:30 (9:30 Bolivian time) we were stopping to change money and check out of Peru. The border between Peru and Bolivia was complete pandemonium with massive lines of new Peruvian cars trying to cross the border into Bolivia. Apparently, in the month of August Peruvians decorate their cars and take them to Copacabana and the Cathedral to have the vehicles blessed. (I later found out that the reason they go in August is because Peruvians once tried to steal the sacred statue of the 16th century Virgin de Candelieria in the church and as they were leaving, a terrible storm came up causing massive waves on Lake Titicaca and snowfall in the town. The Peruvians realized the Virgin de Candeleria did not want to leave so rather than take her, they come to visit in August and have their new cars blessed.)
In addition, to the massive lines, the scene was absolute chaos with vendors shouting, taxi drivers trying to find takers and tourists looking completely bewildered. Fortunately, we did an end route around the car line, checked out of Peru and were escorted to the entrance of the Bolivian immigration. Five minutes later all five of us were through into Bolivia and our new driver was meeting us to take us the short 10 minutes to Copacabana.
Copa was constructed/modeled have the famous Copacabana Beach in Brazil. Whether they succeeded or not, I cannot tell you since I have not yet been there (check back with me in October when I will be staying right on the beach). Copa sits on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca and as mentioned before, is a religious destination for Peruvians and Bolivians alike.
We reached Copa in short order and met our guide Grace who had had family of four with her. Grace gave us a short tour of the Cathedral where we saw the Virgin de Candelieria and were given a brief history of the church. We were then given 15 minutes to wander around the square and take pictures.
As I wandered, I happened across a priest from the Cathedral blessing a long line of vehicles. I didn’t know whether to laugh or take pictures. I decided the lesser of two evils and took a couple pictures from a respectful distance. As I wandered, I came across a guitar player and three jugulars just trying to make a living. No one was paying any attention so I stood there for a bit and gave them a few Bolivianos for the effort.
Once I found our guide and little group, we moved on to the local market (YAY!). Most anyone who has read my blog knows about my love of local markets. And this was as local as it get and was incredibly awesome. Not a single gringo in sight. First up was the popcorn stands (seriously). Apparently Copa is famous for sweet popcorn and they sell it by the baskets. Then we moved inside to the lunch and dinner area where they were serving fish and chicken and on and on. The aroma was simply wonderful.
Next up we moved to the breakfast room where a señora showed us a typical breakfast drink that locals have with a bun. It was called api and was made with purple corn and cinnamon. It actually smelled wonderful. Finally, we walked through the produce and meat market. It was a small area, but the size of the papayas and pineapples was astounding. I bought a mandarin orange and it was incredibly sweet.
After the market tour, we boarded our catamaran for a trip to Isla del Sol (Sun Island). Local legend has it that the sun was created on this island and that it was the birthplace of the Incan civilization. We were going to visit the southern portion of the island, climb the Inca steps and visit and cultural center, including a small museum.
Once we docked, we took a reed boat from the little marina to the entrance to the steps. The road boat was powered by an engine, but our guide had a couple of the guys take the oars and try to row the boat. The boat weighs several tons so good luck with that.
Now about the climb. We were at over 12,000 feet and were going to climb 265 steps straight up. I was seriously afraid my lungs were going to explode, but once we docked, I started up the steps. And these steps were not for the faint of heart. They were made of stones and to say they were uneven was being kind. In some spots the stairs were spread out so you had a bit of a break, but then just as you thought you were catching your breath another series of lung busting rock stairs going straight up hit you.
Fortunately, Grace was kind and took it slowly. Nevertheless, we gained 200 meters as we climbed. While we passed beautiful terraced gardens, and the views to the harbour were awesome, I was seriously in need of oxygen. Just as I thought I could not go anymore, we reached our destination. THANK GOD (OR thank you SUN GOD!)
So once at the top, our first stop was a garden of completely indigenous plants that were used by the local Aymara people for everything from strokes to altitude sickness. We then stopped and were given the option of Coca tea or Muna tea (which is allegedly better for altitude sickness than Coca tea). I opted for the Muna tea, which I had been dinking with Coca tea for about a week now and it was proving to be my elixir to avoiding the effects of altitude sickness.
After the tea break, we went to watch a Shaman (healer) ceremony. The ceremony was an abbreviated ceremony, but was done to bless Mother Earth in her month of celebration. The ceremony began with the lighting of a fire and then a series of chants in the Aymara language followed by the lifting of offerings into the air and then ultimately the placing of the offerings not he fire. Finally, spiritual water was sprinkled on the ground. The ceremony ended with the Shaman blessing each of us. It was quite interesting.
Next up was a display of local produce (grains, potatoes and various types of quinoa). The variety of potatoes was astonishing. We also saw a sample of weaving techniques and a sample of reed boat making techniques.
However, the highlight had to be the little museum. There were a series of displays of Incan and Aymara artifacts that had been discovered on the island as well as during an expedition under Lake Titicaca conducted by the late Jacques Cousteau. There was also a costume room that featured a variety of dance outfits used by Bolivian men and women during Carnivale and a movie showing the dances. I absolutely loved the museum and the movie and could have easily spent more time there.
Once we left the museum it was time to hike back down to the catamaran and the 45 minute ride back to Copa where we would be dropping off the family of four and one couple who had accompanied me from Puno. We were then picking up another family of four so that would make 7 of us riding the catamaran across Lake Titicaca to the Bolivian shores where a bus would pick us up to take us the last two hours to La Paz.
On the ride back to Copa, we had a fantastic meal: quinoa soup (my favourite), trout (fantastic), chicken, two different salads, veggies, the every present rice and potatoes, and tomatoes. I had two helpings of the soup some lovely bread and spicy red sauce, some veggies and tomatoes. As much as I wanted a second helping of the trout, I was completely stuffed.
Once we docked and dropped off the family four and the couple and picked up the second family of four, we were off. The boat ride across Lake Titicaca was smooth and the gently rocking actually put me to sleep (it had been a long day). Once we docked, the trip in the mini-bus seemed endless. We finally reached La Paz after dark (around 8:00 p.m.). Traffic was horrible, but I was finally dropped off at my hotel at 8:30 and literally collapsed on my bed. It had been a fantastic, but terribly long day!