A weekend excursion to Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca (okay—go ahead, revert to your middle school self and laugh—it is a funny name!) on the border between Peru and Bolivia began with a stop in the city of Copacabana. Copacabana, Bolivia—not to be confused with Brazil—is famous in its own right. Every day, the town is flooded with proud car owners hoping to have their car blessed by the Virgin of Copacabana. We strolled though jammed streets of vehicles decorated to the hilt and watched a priest do rounds sprinkling the holy water, followed by the owners pouring alcohol over the car, lighting incense around it, and even lighting off fireworks underneath it. Safety first!
After taking in this spectacle and the rest of this touristy town on the shore of Lake Titicaca, our group of Spanish teachers got back on our motor coach and headed out of town toward where we would depart for Isla del Sol. On the way to the pier, we had to have our bus ferried across part of the lake to connect with a short cut. We all had to leave the bus while it ferried, while we were transported on a small passenger boat. Thankfully bus and passengers made it across the water safely and after reboarding and traveling another hour or so, we arrived at the pier to load yet another passenger boat that would bring us to a small dock on Isla del Sol.
Upon arrival to the island, all we could do was look up, because the island is like one big hill. We were then informed that a pack of donkeys would be delivering our backpacks to our lodging for the night: Ecolodge—La Estancia www.ecolodge-laketiticaca.com. After saying goodbye to our belongings, we learned that we would be hiking to the lodge. Uphill. For around two hours. At over 13,000 feet above sea level. Awesome! I was really glad I had taken the baggie of coca leaves from our guide because the leaves are the ultimate remedy for altitude sickness and like so many t-shirts in Bolivia say “Hoja de coca no es una droga” (coca leaves are not a drug). And so with that in mind and coca leaves in my cheek I began trekking up the hillside paths toward the ecolodge. The views on the hike made the whole thing worthwhile and the bottle of Malbec waiting for us at the lodge was an excellent reward as well. Some of those who did not have coca leaves and were not quite in shape had a much more difficult time arriving to the lodge and they promptly crashed for the night upon arrival. The rest of us enjoyed our wine, some coca tea, a delicious meal of traditional Andean cuisine, and the beautiful views of the lake and the Andes.
The small cabanas of the ecolodge scattered about the hillside made for the perfect accommodation and the complete silence overnight after the big hike made for a great night. I did, however, set my alarm clock early to get up and capture some photos of the most beautiful sunrise of my life. After going back to bed for a few hours, we started our day with breakfast at the lodge dining room and set off for a morning hike to the official peak of the island—another hour above the ecolodge. More beautiful views welcomed us along with a feeling of…accomplishment? We felt like explorers. After the standard photo ops at the peak, we descended to the lodge and then continued on down the hill (much easier downhill!) to the dock to board the small boat and head back to the motor coach on shore.
The trip to Isla del Sol had been perfection, with views of a lifetime, and I was all smiles as we neared the dock. Just before the steps down to the pier, I was approached by the cutest little girl with a small alpaca. What a beautiful parting memory of my time on the island! I greeted her and she asked me to take her picture. Adorable, I thought to myself. Perhaps she has never seen a photo of herself on a digital camera like the school children I had encountered in Guatemala. So sweet! And so I took the photo and as I showed her the screen, she demanded money! What??!! I’d been had by this little scammer disguised as a precious Andean child. Grrrr… I handed over the only coins I had and walked down to the pier.
She may have ruined the moment, but let’s face it, she needed the coins more than I did. And I’m not holding a grudge, because who knows–the next time I visit, my backpack might be on the back of that alpaca.