Day 11: more Isla Del Sol, then on to La Paz

I had wanted to explore the other Inca ruins on the island, but judging from the amount of time that we had (before departing the island) and our ability to hike at this altitude, we decided to only explore the section of the island within an hour or so from the hotel. After breakfast we started out on the path to the small town that was near the hotel. We wandered around here and there in the town, not really getting lost, but not really getting anywhere either. We were trying to find a place that sold postcards of the island, but we never did.

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This is a shot from the panoramic camera looking down on the lake from the town. Our hotel is in the group of trees in the bottom right corner.

We did find a way up through the town, and arrived at higher ground on the other side. We paused long enough to take some photos of Lake Titicaca (the side opposite of where we had been seeing so far).

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This panoramic shows the view from the top of the island's town out across the other side of the lake. The sign reads "Restaurant Titicaca".

We continued our hike up the nearby hill, figuring that we could get to the top of the island in a half hour or so if we took it easy. On the way we passed a few local farm animals such as pigs and alpacas that were tied to stakes in the ground, and watched them as they tried to find something to eat on the rocky ground.

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This alpaca was a dark chocolate brown overall. His head is on the left, and he is looking directly at the camera. The light spot on the left center of his head is the side of his snout. You can clearly see the snow-capped mountains in the background.

Once we arrived at the top of the hill we had a good look down and around to the rest of the island. We took a number of scenic photos, and collected some small interesting rock pieces. About that time another pair of hikers arrived on the hilltop with us, and with the peace and quiet broken, we headed back down the hill and back towards the hotel.

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This panoramic shot was taken from the top of the hill that we hiked to. You can see terraced farming areas in the distance.

It was about midday at this point, and I went to the dining room to leave a tip for the owner/chef. He asked if we were ready to go down to the boat, and I said we were. We left our room key with him, made sure we hadn't left anything behind in the room, and met him in the nearby courtyard. A porter began to take our suitcases down the hill to the harbor. He took two suitcases at a time, wrapped in a large cloth, which he slung onto his back. We marveled at his pack-mule strength, since we knew the suitcases were very heavy (loaded down with rocks and other souvenirs). The man from the hotel took us down the winding stone stairs to a restaurant that was located on a scenic cliff over the nearby harbor. Here we were served another homestyle lunch, and later met our Eric, our next guide for the trip across Lake Titicaca.

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As we were leaving we saw this is a twin-hulled boat that has been covered with reeds to look like an ancient Inca sailing vessel. Its twin bows were decorated with dragon-like heads with gaping mouths, all made of reeds. I think it was designed strictly for the tourists, but it did seem like a peaceful and interesting way to navigate the lake.

We boarded another hydrofoil boat at the harbor, and began the trip to the side of the lake where we would take the road to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. Before we travelled very far we stopped at the Isla Del Luna (the Island of the Moon). We got off the boat and hiked up to see a small wall, which was all that was left of an Inca settlement there. We continued up the hill to see a leveled off area with a square courtyard, with ruins built into the walls on the two far sides. These ruins were pre-Incan, with one side being fully restored (so that you could get an idea what it used to look like), and the other side mostly unrestored. The name of this site escapes me, but it might be known as the Acllahuasi ‘nunnery’ ruins.

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The restored section of pre-Incan ruins on the Isla Del Luna.

We returned to the boat and continued our trip across the lake. Our guide kept us entertained by teaching us an old Inca blessing, and by serving us the traditional (alcoholic) drink of Bolivia. He also gave us certificates for the hydrofoil ride, and little reed boat models made from small lake reeds. We eventually arrived at Huatajata, a Bolivian town and harbor used as a jumping off point for many lake expeditions.

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Just before we arrived at the Huatajata dock, our guide called our attention to this local man wearing traditional clothes and paddling the ancient style reed canoe. He hung around long enough for us to take pictures of him, then paddled back to shore. I think he was on the payroll of the tour company to provide some local "color" (since very few locals still use the old style boats), but it was still nice to see a living representation of the old ways.

After getting off the boat we went directly to the nearby Altiplano museum, which was a small one room building. We were each given a set of headphones and a cassette player (with narration in English), and went through the museum viewing the various displays of ancient weaving, sculpture, ceramics, and other items from the local area. Of special interest to me were the reproductions of the colossi (statues) of Tiwanaku, and the molded relief map of that site.

After visiting the restroom of a nearby restaurant we were handed over to yet another guide, who would be taking care of us for the remaining portion of our Bolivian trip. We made sure all of our luggage had been transferred to the waiting van, then set out on the road to La Paz (at two miles above sea level, it is the highest capital city in the world). We didn't make any stops along the way, and aside from the snowy mountains off to one side, the scenery became fairly routine with the miles just rolling by. I was happy to see that the road was well paved and the drive was very smooth.

We came to the outskirts of La Paz, and drove through the city streets, which looked like many other such streets that we had seen in the larger Peruvian towns. One thing that caught my eye was a World War II-vintage aircraft that was mounted up on a pedestal at the entrance to the Bolivian air force base.

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A T-6 Texan trainer from WWII sits on a pylon outside the Bolivian air force base.

A short time later we came to the rim of what seemed to be a giant crater. The main part of the city lies down in this "crater", which is in fact a canyon floor between the the nearby mountains. It was spectacular to look down into the city from above, and to see the city buildings claw their way up the edges of the surrounding bowl of rock.

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The city of La Paz, Bolivia, as seen from the canyon rim.

As we spiraled down the winding road along the edge of the crater towards the center of town I had a brief thought that this sort of drive could lead to motion sickness (which would be a bad thing if you already had altitude sickness), however we were soon on the bottom, and passing the major buildings of the town center. We arrived at our hotel (the five-star Hotel Plaza), and after arranging for the time to be picked up in the morning, we checked in to the hotel.

The room was stuffy, and we tried to use the ventilation system to bring in some air, but all it could seem to do was pump out hot air. We called the front desk, but the promised technician never arrived. We eventually gave up and opened up the windows (we were on the eighth floor), and went to dinner. The hotel restaurant seemed to be very high class, but the service was poor. Still feeling the effects of the altitude, I had lost most of my appetite, but I forced myself to eat anyway. That night I had a brief bout with traveller's sickness, but thanks to the medicines that we had brought along, I was ready to go the next morning.