The unexpected sun beating down on Lake Titicaca as it reflected the azure blanket of clear sky overhead was most definitely appreciated as we crossed the border at six in the morning, unaware of the in the morning hike ahead of us.
We stepped off the bus and passed through immigration, anticipating the arrival of the next bus to take us to the village of Copacabana which lies on the Bolivian edge of the lake. The first thing we noticed was a massive trough in the road which had been freshly dug up and then boulders along the road for as far as we could see. I then immediately noticed a row of Bolivians in traditional dress of top hats and huge velvet skirts and woolen jumpers sitting triumphantly upon a small mound of dirt, smirking at us.
It became apparent that there was a 'bloqueo' and the locals were letting no traffic cross the border. We picked up on the fact that the bus probably wasn't coming nor even waiting for us further along the track, as it had been a trend in Peru that the people didn't particularly exert themselves to accommodate tourists despite receiving payment for services and we had heard the same about here. So we started off walking after a pathetic few hours of repeatedly interrupted sleep on the bus from Cusco, without water, with the sun slowly turning our faces a painful shade of rouge.
The silver lining to this cloud was that we got to immediately take in the awe inspiring scenery surrounding us. It seemed absolutely inconceivable to me that I was not looking at a sea, as I couldn't begin to see the other side of the lake, and I was bowled over by how untouched and still the entire scene appeared.
After 3 kilometers or so of hiking in my havaianas, absolutely parched, with my ridiculously heavy backpack on, a minivan came into sight as we turned a corner. We started shouting it and I swear that we all produced tears as we saw it drive away. Fortunately, it had stopped behind some trees and as soon as we realized we ran towards it as the driver warned us to hurry before other locals saw and threw stones at the minivan as a punishment for helping tourists. Ten minutes later we arrived in Copacabana shattered but excited by our extraordinary entrance into this new country!
We headed to a hostel and slumped onto the beds to recover for a few hours and after some well deserved sleep we decided to get out and explore. The stark white church on the top of the hill was really striking, particularly set against the cloudless sky. The main street boasted a few souvenir shops and restaurants, but most locals were selling biscuits and snacks at kiosk type stalls. The village itself was nothing to shout about but the surroundings more than compensated, and I was glad to see that tourism hadn't transformed the place into a commercial resort.
We also discovered that there was only one bank, which had very limited opening hours and only accepted a particular type of card which only one of four of us had. This information would have been useful beforehand. Thankfully my friend took out enough money for all of us and we paid her back in La Paz.
We then went for lunch in an adorable little restaurant with about 4 tables in the overgrown garden, with the Copacabana specialty of trout dominating the menu. We opted for the trout and were not disappointed, however it was not as cheap as I had expected, but then the tourism-based town had clearly caught onto the benefits of this.
We then strolled down to the tiny harbor to gaze across the mysterious waters, beneath which it is rumored that the Incas hid their treasure, and purchased our tickets for the ferry the next day. In hindsight we should have bought a return as this would have worked out cheaper, but we were happy to know we were heading to the Isla del Sol.
Early the next morning, we made out way to the boat absolutely freezing with a thick layer of grey hanging overhead. Once on the boat we had to wait an hour or so for it to fill, as the owners didn't want to leave if they could get an extra few bolivianos for another person on the boat. Finally, we started chugging away at a pretty mind numbing rate, however this gave the clouds time to disperse and allowed the sun to emerge.
As we stepped off the boat onto the island I was charmed by the tiny dwellings, and the dominating craggy sandy rocks and shrubs that made the isla look so perfect it was like a film set. We set off walking along the trail and had to make sure we kept stopping to look back over the sandy bays of the lake lapping up the island's shore to appreciate every natural color possible in its abundance as we glanced down over the lush greens, sandy rocks and bright blue waters.
The walk didn't take long at all, and it was even easy enough to do in flip flops. About 100m from the end of the walk there was a checkpoint where we were asked to pay for a ticket which allows us to use the footpaths, we reluctantly paid as we had been told that this was a scam the locals try and pull but thought for the small price asked it wasn't an issue.
We then finished the walk and were asked to buy another ticket about 100m later! We kicked up a fuss and showed the ticket we had just bought but the two ladies were having none of it so eventually we gave in and paid again. We then searched for food before returning to Copacabana and stumbled across this tiny hut with a cardboard sign outside saying 'as recommended by tourist guides' and thought we might as well go for it. We couldn't believe that this old guy whipped up such a delicious feast for such an amazing price and with such limited appliances. We sat outside with an absolutely unbelievable view spanning out in front of us as we feasted on some more fresh trout.
After this we caught the boat back to Copacabana, and back at the hostel we asked if there was a communal TV room or a spare TV in an empty dorm we could watch as we chilled after a long day's walking. We were told that there were no TVs in the hostel, despite being able to see through the windows that there were TVs in every room apart from our own. So we went back to our room defeated but loving the anecdotes that we had already accumulated after 2 days in Bolivia!
The next morning we jumped onto the bus for La Paz, and couldn't help laughing when our bags were strapped to the top of the bus despite the pouring rain! Then imagine our shock when we had to get off the bus for it to be sailed over a part of the lake to the mainland on a tiny wooden raft as we were shuttled over by boat. As we held our breath whilst watching it sway from side to side we wondered how many buses don't make it to the other side.
My lasting memories of Copacabana are of quirky local shopkeepers and shady characters making our plans that bit more interesting and giving rise to many a giggle from us along the way, against a vast setting of sheer natural beauty that I would encourage absolutely everyone to discover.
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