Day 10: On the shores of Lake Titicaca

After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and met our latest new guide for the day. Her name was Tula, and she took us out to the tour company mini-van where the driver was waiting. I don't remember how long this drive was supposed to be, but I think it was several hours. We were to drive from Puno (Peru) along the shores of Lake Titicaca, and enter into Bolivia. There were several scenic views along the way, but only a few events stand out in my mind. The first was a pair of very large stone head sculptures along the road, one on each side. They were constructed by local students, with each head depicting a famous Inca leader.

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The carved head of an Inca king juts out over the road to Bolivia. This head is about 8-10 feet high.

One place we actually stopped at was a little town that had a small Inca ruin in a fenced off area in the middle of town. This set of ruins was mainly comprised of a rectangular stone wall, whose interior was sprinkled with rows of stone mushroom-like objects. Our guide explained that these were phallic statues, and that this had been a temple of fertility rites. This was not surprising, as such things used to be common in the ancient world. What was surprising, though, was that this temple and its sculptures was relatively intact. Most all of the phallic statues that we had seen in the Mayan world had been destroyed by the Spanish, who found them to be offensive. Even more surprising was the fact that this temple was located literally in the shadow of the town's colonial Spanish church.

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The fertility temple and phallic statue "garden".

Another stop was at a town that was known for its old church. We were taken inside for a tour, and found it to be empty of people. It was very similar to the other churches that we had seen on the trip, and we pretended to be interested (and I pretended to film things) so that the guide wouldn't be offended by our lack of interest. The best thing about the stop in this town, though, was the chance to use a restroom.

We continued on until we reached the border of Peru and Bolivia. Since our tour company's van could not cross the border, we had to get out and cross the border on foot, and go through each country's immigration and customs procedures. A porter followed along with our five bags on a cart. We went through the immigration offices on both the Peru and Bolivian sides, getting our passports stamped and turning in our little tourist papers that we had received when we first entered Peru. We also met with one of the local moneychangers (who operated on street corners) and exchanged what little Peruvian soles (money) we had left into Bolivian bolivianos. After a short hike through town we reached an open area where our next mini-van awaited. This one looked a little the worse for wear, but we didn't care what it looked like, as long as it got us to the next destination.

Off we went on a very bumpy unpaved road along the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. I started wishing that we had a four wheel drive SUV or something, but eventually we reached a paved section of road, which lead us to the famous Bolivian town of Copacabana. The shrine/church of Copacabana is one of the most visited places in this region of Lake Titicaca. It is an important religious center for the local people, and a good place for tourists to catch a boat out to the islands of the lake. We were taken into town, and exited our mini-van. Our luggage was left at a nearby hotel while we said goodbye to Tula (our guide), and were introduced to our new guide for the next couple of days. She took us on foot up a hill on a narrow street clogged with tourists and vendors, which was slightly taxing due to the 11,000+ altitude. At the top of the street we came to a central plaza that was dominated on one side by the large white church of Copacabana.

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In front of the church of Copacabana a double line of cars wait to be blessed.

Out in front of the church was a line of vehicles surrounded by throngs of local people. Our guide explained that people brought their newly purchased (new or used) vehicles here to be blessed. All of the waiting vehicles were decorated for the occasion, and we could see someone sprinkling holy water and flower petals on one of the cars in line. Nearby curbside vendors were selling small toy cars, miniature packs of toy money, miniature houses, and other small representative items. Evidently it is customary to buy a representation of that which you desire (for example, a miniature pack of money means you wish to get more money this year). If you believe in it hard enough, your wish will be granted. (I guess if you don't get your wish, you just didn't believe enough. Oh, well, maybe next year....)

After a tour of the interior of the church our guide left us for awhile. We checked out some of the souvenir vendors on the plaza, where Sue bought a hand-carved flute. Our short break was soon over, and we went back down the hill to rejoin our guide at a large bus that was filling up with tourists. With our luggage now onboard, the bus took us down to a harbor on the lake, where the different tourist groups got onto the different boats that were available. Our boat was a sleek hydrofoil (a specialized speedboat that rides up onto a pair of skis built onto the front hull), and with about a dozen passengers on board we left the dock and headed out into the lake. Our destination was the Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun), the large island in Lake Titicaca that is the most visited island of the lake, due to its Inca ruins and its nice scenery.

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This is a view of the lake looking back from the Isla Del Sol towards the Isla Del Luna (Island of the Moon).

We sped across the waters of the lake, making the crossing to Sun Island in a short time. We pulled up to a small dock on one side of the island, and Sue, myself, our guide, and two other travelers got off. We were told that we were going to hike from here up the island to some ruins, and then across the island to our hotel. The rest of the tourists on the boat were going to be taken to another dock on the island where they would just go directly to their hotel. I heard someone on the boat say something like "I'm glad that's not me doing that hike....", and I began to wonder if our group's itinerary was going to be a blessing or a curse.

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The hydrofoil boat prepares to depart from the rickety wooden dock.

At the base of the trail we were met by a local Indian woman who had a child and a llama in tow. There was also an older local man who carried a white suitcase with a red cross on it. We were told that it contained oxygen in case one of us was overly affected by the altitude. (I wasn't sure whether that concept was comforting or unsettling.) Our carry-on bags were loaded into a large saddlebag-type carrier on the llama's back, while the boat departed with our luggage (which would eventually show up at our hotel on the island). We all began the trek up the cliffside dirt trail. It didn't take long for the high altitude (4820 meters high at lake level) to start making itself known, and we had to stop occasionally to catch our breath and drink some water. Every time we stopped the llama would make use of the time to eat the sparse grass that grew along the way. I filmed the ascent (and the llama) as we went, but as the trek continued up the side of the island, comments began to enter my brain, like "Isla Del Sol death march".  Soon, however, we arrived at a set of Inca ruins on the island, and we caught our breath while our guide told us about the ruins and then led us through the small rooms of the main structure.

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This is a postcard of Inca ruins on the Island of the Sun.

It didn't take long to finish exploring the ruins, and we continued on our way, eventually reaching the top of the hill, so at least we could walk on level ground and not have to go uphill anymore. Some distance farther on we came to an area thick with trees, which hid the gate to our hotel, which was comprised of a series of guesthouses. We went into the courtyard of the hotel, where our bags were retrieved from the llama, and I tipped the woman, and gave a colored pen to her little boy. We got our room and our luggage, and soon met with the other couple and our guide for lunch. We were the only ones in the dining room, and as far as we could tell, the only guests in the hotel period.

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A postcard shot of our accomodations on the Island of the Sun.
Note the snow-covered mountains on the other side of the lake.

After lunch I was feeling kinda wiped out from the altitude, and decided to take a nap. There was no electricity in the room, though there were lights and electric blankets on the beds. It seemed pretty cold both inside and outside the room, and I thought I was catching a chill, so I put on a pair of thermals under my clothes, then dressed warmly and went to bed. Sue did some unpacking and then went off to explore around for awhile.

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The small courtyard outside of our room. The bench is made from lake reeds, woven to resemble the canoe-like boats
used in the region. The chairs, like all other furniture at the hotel, was made of rough wood warped into fancy shapes.

Before I knew it, it was time for dinner. We rejoined the other couple and the guide in the dining room, and had another good meal. As before, there was no menu, and everyone received the same courses. It was more like home cooking than a restaurant, and while I personally wouldn't have chosen some of the items, it was all good food. After regaling each other with stories of our travelling experiences, we finished desert and went back to our room. The electricity was on now, which made things a lot more comfortable. The electric blankets now came in handy, as the room itself was unheated. Aside from a brief trip outside to view the nighttime stars, this day had come to an end.