Copacabana & La Isla del Sol

Posted by on Sep 15, 2013

Copacabana & La Isla del Sol

In this order Bolivia revealed its natural wonders to the world: Lago Colorado, Salar de Uyuni, Lago Titicaca y La Isla del Sol. And in that order I visited them!

In a natural progression I wound my way north through Bolivia, beginning in the south with the Salt Flats tour, bending east and north to Potosí and Sucre before the jump north to La Paz. On route from La Paz to the north and the border with Peru lies Lago Titicaca, the highest lake in the world and at its centre the Island of the Sun or La Isla del Sol.

Three thousand years before the Romans were nailing Christianity’s messiah to the cross, the indigenous Tihuanaca of the Isla del Sol were slicing the hearts out of women from the neighbouring island of Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) in a sacrificial offering to Gods of the Sun, Moon, and Pachamama, the Earth Goddess. Aside from this human butchery, the Tihuanaca of the Isla del Sol were adept at cultivating the dry slopes of the island, producing barley, corn, wheat, legumes and potatoes on elaborately terraced hillsides that remain to this day, transforming the bare slopes of the island into a myriad of curving stone swails. The micro-climate and water catchment qualities of the swails were well understood by the Tihuanaca and its modern equivalent is undoubtedly Permaculture.

 

 On the bay, the light changed from the rich hues of pink, red and orange, to the deeper shades of crimson, indigo and Prussian blue. Soon the land was nothing but a black silhouette while above the cloud-streaked sky still burned with the last fiery rays of the setting sun. Another glorious sunset, this time behind the Island of the Sun.

 

A guided tour of the north of the Island explained the significant sites of the Island with the legacy of imperial Inca and Tihuanaca cultures present in the stonework and cultural imagery embedded into the rock. Befitting to its name, the island was bathed sun and graced with a chilling breeze to keep you alert. Walking from bay to bay, I saw small villages and stone houses, small copses of trees in the sheltered coves and along the paths, donkey trains navigated the slopes with cargos of cut grass stalks, driven on slowly by small children with round rosy faces or women in brightly coloured traditional dress.

 

After the guided tour, we were free to walk the length of the island and meet the boat at 3:30pm for the return trip to Copacabana. The trail climbed the hills in the centre of the island and continued along the ridge often crossing the summit of the hills or winding around the sides of their upper slopes. This provided 360 degree views of the island and lake, each valley and bay slightly different from the last. Walking along the well paved path, we passed through clusters of small buildings, many touristically orientated accommodation or eateries, past small outcrops of trees with sheep grazing on the slopes above or people working the fields below. On all sides the lake and the light of the sun dancing on the water. As in Casa Pueblo in Uruguay, the same open expanse of sun and water worked its magic creating a peaceful tranquillity that left me feeling quietly happy. Looking back, I would spend a night or two on the island, in the north where there are less people and explore more of the bays but what I did see I liked and can recommend to the fellow traveller.

 

Copacabana is a tourist town, fortunately situated on the major tourist route between Cuzcu in Peru and La Paz in Bolivia. It’s a thriving lakeside hamlet with perpetual street markets, a bustling restaurant strip and many many hostels but most importantly, it is the gateway to the Isla del Sol. With white skin and a backpack it is impossible to walk the streets and not be offered accommodation, artisan products, bus fares in both directions and, as a young unattached male, weed and coke.

24 hours almost doesn’t count as a visit in my eyes, and I spent most of my time sleeping or absent from Copacabana but I did climb the hill that overlooks the town and the harbour. I watched the sun set over the lake to the west, and the near full moon rise above the mountains to the east, partially shrouded behind wisps of cloud. On the bay, the light changed from the rich hues of pink, red and orange, to the deeper shades of crimson, indigo and Prussian blue. Soon the land was nothing but a black silhouette while above the cloud-streaked sky still burned with the last fiery rays of the setting sun. Another glorious sunset, this time behind the Island of the Sun. Then night had enveloped the summit and the stones in the hill-top graveyard changed to reflect the moonlight, resembling islands of cool white light against the inky blackness of the cracks and crevasses. Time to descend with care the many stone stairs to the base of the hill. From below the faint glow of small controlled fires could be seen flickering in the mountainside scrub, filling the air with the smell of burning grass and eucalypt.

 

I pooled my beanie down over my ears and wrapped my thick (real) alpaca wool scarf around my neck. Time to find some food…

 

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