Titicaca Express

‘Where do you want to go? Over there or over there?’ He asked us while trying not to fall over the side of the boat and most likely drown in Lake Titicaca. He happened to be pointing to two very non-descript places and left us with a rather difficult decision to make. Two and half hours after leaving Isla del Sol to head back to Copacabana on Bolivia’s mainland, we had long passed the estimated time of arrival and were still far from reaching our destination. Far from sober and far from understanding the hurry we were in, our captain repeatedly asked us where we’d prefer to ‘land’ since we no longer wanted to go the rest of the way with him and his equally liquored up co-pilot.

Lets make it clear that I was personally not in a hurry, I didn’t have a bus to catch at 6:30. In which case the entire situation was humorous from the start for me. For the German couple trying to make their pre-paid bus to Peru it would take a couple days and a bit of hindsight before they could laugh about it. It was that very 6:30 bus that persuaded us to not wait for the charted tourist boat that left for the mainland at 3:30 but to instead pay some locals to take us with them. Their boat wasn’t exactly small and had the same look, more or less, as the charted boats and it left a couple hours earlier…..also they were’nt drunk to begin with. We liked the odds.

The day before, in the pouring rain, I made my way to what translates directly as ‘the Island of the Sun’, Isla del Sol. Boats leave twice daily either taking you on a full day of Island hopping and ‘sight seeing’ or leave you to your own devices at your chosen destination. The plan was to disembark on the north side of the island, hike three hours to the south side, find a hostel, stay the night and return the next day. Its rainy season and while technically it may be summer, the almost 4000 meters above sea level and the loyal daily rain call for some pretty nippy weather. I mumbled at some point during the rainy, leaky, slow boat ride that should the downpour continue there was no way I was hiking in it. As if the universe wanted me to walk, the day 180’d and became insanely beautiful, perhaps something to do with the Inca’s sun god being born there.

“The Inca Empire, was one of the greatest states to develop in the Americas. Last in a series of indigenous complex Andean societies, it emerged from the Cuzco region, expanded across the western highlands and coast of South America, and ultimately encompassed a territory that stretched from modern day Colombia to Chile. By the time of European contact in 1532, the Inca state controlled a population of at least six million.”

There are 80 ruins on the island dating back to the Incan period in the 15th century AD, but it is believed that it was inhabited as far back as the third millennium BC. During the Incan occupation of the area, Isla del Sol (and Isla de la Luna) were a final destination of ritual pilgrimages from all around the empire. Modern day pilgrimages continue to take place but are oriented towards tourists or travellers looking for a spiritual experience. A 21 day pilgrimage was happening in amongst the ruins during our visit. A lot of walking, quietness and general rock touching- not for the easily bored.

The Incas worshiped many religious shrines throughout the empire but their cosmology placed paramount importance on the Sun. Since this island is believed to be the Sun God’s birth place, it’s no doubt it was a location of huge importance, and still is. I happened to be on the island a couple days before the world was supposedly ending and our hike took us past a bay that was preparing to host the end of the world party in Bolivia- the president and 5000 others were forecast to arrive. While the rest of the world geared up to celebrate the end of the world, the clever people here organised a party that would instead celebrate the beginning of a new one. I was sad (in hindsight) to miss this cultural experience since my end of the world party in Cusco (still Inca territory) was just another drunk night out.

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The hostel wanted 40 Bolivianos per person per night. They got 25 due to lack of hot water. Every ‘restaurant’ on the island claimed to be a pizzeria and need I even tell you that that certainly was not the case. Order three things on the menu and maybe one might be in stock. You want black tea? Well I’ll just give you cinnamon and see if you notice. I wonder if they ever get annoyed with tourists getting annoyed with their lack of restaurant worthiness since they do live with almost nothing surrounded by nothing. It’s just that when you’re paying hiked prices you’d like a little less stale bread and a luke warm shower.

‘I’ve got a riddle for you’ Yanes the German said as he peered down at me from his position on the roof of the boat, ‘What costs 20 Bolivianos and we’re not paying it?’ Surrounded by deep blue water and no land the Germans became increasingly annoyed with the fact that we had been taken for a ride, in more ways than we expected. The boat was incredibly slow and it literally zig zigged through the water as if someone drunk was doing the steering. It was fast approaching 5pm and the road-less, car-less one horse town we elected to be left at was still in the distance. I quietly thought to myself that no amount of ambition and will to catch their bus was going to get them there in time.

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Disembarking was a whole other drama as there, surprise surprise, was nowhere to dock the boat. Just water then land. The strong willed and lipped German girl, Lynn, threatened to pay not one cent if we were expected to, after all that, now have to manoeuvre ourselves off the boat and try avoid wetting our cameras and passports. When I say these men were drunk I mean the kind of drunk that you have to pee off the side of the boat every ten minutes and you pee all over yourself, especially when you fall over in a crumpled heap with all your bits still hanging out. You can imagine I was having a good laugh. So when one of them began to disrobe to show us the water was shallow enough to walk ashore we quickly encouraged him to not do so otherwise he very well might drown. After rolling up our pants stowing away non-water resistant and important things we waded our way to shore, closely followed by him anyway because we, not accidently, hadn’t paid. Lynn put 20 percent of what we owed him in his hand. In his undies he proceeded to follow us until the boys gave in on account of his pleading poverty and just looking a desperately sorry sight in general.

5:30. T-minus one hour until bus to Peru leaves without them. Or so I thought. Somehow, after climbing a mountain to get to a tarred road, hitching a lift (and leaving me and the Irishman behind due to lack of space), they eventually made it to Copacabana where they actually had missed their bus, but the bus company (with which I also had a great experience and if I could remember the name I would most definitely recommend them) gave them a lift to the border where they met the bus and went on their not so merry way.

If you walk the Inca trail or any former Inca inhabited region you’ll notice the rather annoying way they built their roads and walk-ways. Part of their beliefs was to walk up and then down. Instead of going around any rise they would purposefully go up it and come back down it. While I didn’t do the Inca trail I hear it’s a boat load of steps going up and steps coming down…. for four days. In the not so literal sense, and in more, if not every part of the world, there’s a hell of a lot of up and down too. Although, despite the wild goose chase, this part of the trip was all up for me.

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