Monday, 3 May 2010

Copacabana - Bolivia

There is no question about it. Lake Titicaca is much more good-looking on the Bolivian side. We took the three-hour bus ride around the west side of the lake to Copacabana, a town very close to the Peru-Bolivia border. It's a good ride, there are plenty of splendid views, a short stop to get your passports stamped, and you're there. It was such an easy border crossing that for the first time I was tempted to get the camera out and start taking a few snaps. But I thought better of it. It's just not worth drawing attention to yourself. Stay focused on the main goal - get across the line with minimal fuss and without having to part with cash.
In the usual fashion, the bus dropped us off on a main road not far away from Copacabana centre but still far enough out to get you out of breath, what with the heavy backpacks. Its a bit like landing at an airport but the plane won't quite take you to the terminal. I often wonder why they can't drop you off in the centre. Still, Copacabana is pretty small so it's not too much bother.

We walked into the centre and started the search for a place to stay. We took a lead out of the book and went for a place called Hostal Sonia. It was a little bit of a walk from the main street but seemed comfortable enough and when we said we'd have a look at some others first, Sonia lowered her price to seal the deal. You end up doing the best haggling when you're not trying to! The price she lowered to was 40Bs, which is roughly £4, between two. Hello Bolivia! It actually took us a while to realise just how cheap that is, and stop thinking in Peruvian Soles.
No matter how cheap the hostel was, we still needed some money. Copacabana has all the hallmarks of a backpacker town, and yet we learned that there is no cash point. Well, there is a cash point but it is for national transactions only. Luckily, notices were plastered all over it warning against trying to get money out, if you're not a local. So, picture a bustling street lined with touristy bars and restaurants with a few souvenir stalls squeezed in between, and yet no way to access cash for it.

When the bank opened - bizarrely at 2.30 pm - we found that we were not the only ones in this predicament. Here were other tourists who had cancelled day trips or left valuables in hotels and restaurants as a guarantee, all because of a lack of cash. Luckily, it was possible to get cash advances from inside the bank, all being well with your credit card of course, but for a 5% commission. Nice.

Drama over, we booked ourselves on a tour for Isla del Sol for the next day and went and got something to eat.

The trip to Isla del So was an interesting one. All round a very enjoyable experience but at times had me puzzled. Boats take you to the island from the port at Copacabana. These are the slowest boats in the world. Sure, it's nice to take a boat ride and enjoy the sights of the lake, but at 8.30am in the morning when the sun hasn't got high enough to thaw the effects of the cold wind, you just want to get there. It takes about two hours to reach the north side of the island- where you start if you're doing a day tour - when it would take about 30 minutes on something that shifted a little. The boats must hold around fifty people and yet they use one 50hp engine.
On board the boat I struck up a conversation with a Brit, originally from Liverpool. He told me he has been living in India for fifteen years and would not be returning to the UK until "the revolution, brother". What revolution is he hoping for, I wondered. David Cameron's 'Big Society' or Nick Clegg's immigration amnesty, perhaps? Perhaps not. It didn't seem appropriate to ask. Then he muttered something about how terrible Maggie Thatcher is. I felt I should let him know she's no longer running things, but again, it didn't seem appropriate. Instead, I told him we can't afford to wait for the 'revolution' and would be returning in June. He added that he intended to perform ceremonies on Isla del Sol. It seemed a good time to end the conversation. It seems the price of being a "Shaman" means you live in a time warp.
Due to the slowness of the boats, you really don't have that much time on Isla del Sol if on a day trip. We followed the path, took in the nice scenery and got charged every so often by a local sitting on the track. There are three main communities on the island and it seems they each want their share when it comes to backpackers walking from one end of the island to another, through their villages. Fair enough. It's not a lot of money, but perhaps better if you paid just once at the beginning. There are some Inca ruins to see, but how to compare after Machu Picchu? Its like playing with stickle bricks after you've been let loose on Technic Lego. For me, it was more about the walk, the views and good honest exercise at 12,000 ft!


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