Sunday, February 17, 2013

Adiós Peru, hola Bolivia

Crossing the border into Bolivia was simple. We boarded an international bus in Puno and a couple of hours later we were in the border town of Yunguyo. Our bus attendant explained very clearly, in Spanish and English, what the procedure was. Get off the bus, have the police review the exit paperwork to leave Peru, then have border personnel stamp your passport. Next step, walk across the border and have the Bolivian border control stamp your passport. He told us the bus would meet us on the other side. And miraculously, it happened exactly as described. Marc and I were the first to cross and the first to step on Bolivian soil. No one asked for our yellow fever inoculations (as per web published visit requirements) or for anything else for that matter. The only request when we arrived in Copacabana was a tax of 1 Boliviano each (that equaled about 15 cents for each of us!).

Twenty minutes later we were in the enchanting town of Copacabana. Copacabana is situated on the southern shores of the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. We were here to experience another excursion to an island on the lake, this time, Isla del Sol. But first we would view the beautiful lake from our very quirky accommodation, Hostal Las Olas. We read about this place in our guidebook, and had to try to get a reservation for at least one night. It is so special that booking months in advance is not unusual. I sent an email two days before our arrival and was very lucky to get unit #2 for one night.

The Hostal owner must have been inspired by Friedensreich Hundertwasser or Antoni Gaudí. Each apartment is a different shape and theme. All of the structures are very organic and very unique. Each boasts views of Lake Titicaca from every window. Quite a treat in an otherwise ordinary town from a hotel perspective. Our apartment was two stories, with a sitting room on the main floor with leaded glass windows floor to ceiling with a large boulder situated in the middle – half inside and half out. The bathroom was so organic, there were plants growing out of nooks in the shower and the floor. There was a full kitchen with a stove, pots and pans and a wonderful wooden sink. We had a fireplace and wood for our one night stay. Our bedroom was up a wooden staircase which complemented our view of the lake. But the apartments are just part of the complex. There are gardens throughout with hammocks to relax on while viewing the lake and the natural environment as well as a hot tub.

The only difficulty is walking up the hill to find the Hostal! But it is worth the climb.

Since Bolivia is considered an inexpensive travel destination, we found Copacabana full of young backpackers drinking cervesas in cafes on the main drag leading to the beach. The scene was pretty chill and it was easy to spend a couple of days here. There is a beautiful Moorish style Cathedral in the main square which is a beautiful centre piece to the town. There are many souvenir shops and endless restaurants serving fried or grilled freshwater fish from the lake.

Copacabana is very hilly and at a very high altitude (1380 meters), but that didn’t stop us from climbing two mountains while we were there! One climb, which was a bit tricky, was to view an Incan observatory. I let Marc climb the last bit on his own. The second hike, Cerro Calvario, north of town climbs past the 14 stations of the cross. Once at the top, we witnessed families making offerings to Pachamama.

Unlike our excursion to the islands on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca, the trip to Isla del Sol was a self-directed journey. Boats leave the dock in Copacabana early in the morning and drop people off at the North end of the Island. From there, you have the chance to view some very nice Pre-Incan ruins as you climb to the top of the ridge of the Island. It is about a four hour walk across the island, which we did, once again huffing and puffing. It is possible to do it all in one day, taking the last boat back to Copacabana, but part of the experience is to stay overnight in one of the villages on the south side of the Island. We saw many backpackers equipped for camping, but we chose instead to stay at a lovely spot called Palla Khasa Ecological Hotel. We were pooped by that time we got there and were ready for a hot meal, a hot shower and a cold beer. All were awaiting us at this picturesque hotel.

The next morning we walked the last 30 minutes through the village, which was full of restaurants and hostels and shops, down to the dock and our boat ride back to Copacabana.

We picked up our luggage, which we stored at our hostal, bought our bus tickets to La Paz and prepared for the next leg of the trip. That bus ride proved to be an adventure in itself! I will tell you all about it in the next post.

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