Thursday, March 04, 2010

In Copacabana

... the one in Bolivia, not the one in Brazil.

Yesterday, Rafys and I took a trip out onto Lake Titicaca to el Isla del Sol. It started off as rather windy and cold, but once we reached the north end of the island (after about 2.5 hours of slowly freezing on the boat) the sun actually did come out and we all started to warm up quite nicely. Once we disembarked, we walked up to some old ruins that constituted a temple and altar at the top of one of the hills. Huffing and puffing at heights approaching 4000m, we slowly approached the summit, taking many photos on the way (these will come later). It was a wonderful opportunity to witness so many different microclimates all based on slope, aspect, underlying geology, and availability of water. We saw lushious islands of grass and some type of agave right next to barren rock and cactus -- the wonders of some water and not too much sunlight.

After climbing up to the top of the one slope, we all had the option of trekking across the island and meeting the boat (hopefully) at the south side of the island -- a distance of roughly 9km, but requiring a climb up past 4000m. We decided to descend back to the boat launch, and the boat slowly puttered down to the south part of the island. When Rafys, I and the rest of the passangers tried to disembark, we were told that there was an "immigration fee" of 5 Bs. (Bolivianos). While this was about 80 cents, it was the fact that we weren't expecting it that made us balk at paying. While the "immigration officials" were hassling passengers, Rafys and I slipped past and sat down for a picnic (we decided that climbing around 300 steps to see some more ruins wasn't really worth it). Eventually, we re-embarked (with most - if not all - of the people who wanted to treck across the island) and slowly puttered back across the lake, the sun beating down on the boat and reflecting off the Titicaca waters.

However, there was one more stop before we reached Copacabana: some "floating islands". While there were floating islands on Lake Titicaca, what we pulled up to was a large diving dock with reeds covering the floor, a few make-shift thatch huts and plastic tables and chairs for eating and drinking. Oh, and a 2 Bs. "disembarkation fee". Most of the people on the boat were ready to just push on, but a couple of passengers paid their fee and started taking photos and chatting with the people on the "island". After about five minutes of this, a German woman who was assured that she would be taken from the southern port of the Isla del Sol (and not to some rink-a-dink tourist trap) got up and yelled at the three people on the island to get back on the boat and on to Copacabana. (While not happy at being corralled back onto the boat by a German woman acting like a classical school-marm, they did get back on the boat, and we managed to make it back to the city before 6pm.)

Once back on shore, Rafys made a call back to her aunt in La Paz, and was told that there was a general transport strike in Bolivia, amongst both local and intercity drivers. We would be stuck in Copacabana, and we didn't have a lot of cash to start with (nor are there any ATMs, and few places accept credit cards). Luckily, right ourside our hotel (the Hostal Paris), there was the Copacabana Restaurant, which (with an 18% surcharge) will accept credit cards. No choice but to pay it. Luckily, the food was really tasty -- a lot more so than what we had on our first night.

Today, we looked at the cathedral in town, ate some local food for breakfast, purchased some snacks at the open air market, and found this Internet store, with very slow connections and four functioning computers (out of nine). We've scoped out a place for lunch, and after that, we might try the long trek up the "Calvary hill" just north of town. There is a good chance that the strike will be over by tonight, since it has already been lifted in Bolivia's second city, Santa Cruz. If so, we can leave the city tonight at 6:30pm. Fingers crossed!

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