It was a tough decision whether or not to go to Isla del Sol, on Lake Titicaca. The weather seemed to be mostly bad. We watched some rain storms from our luxurious accommodation in Copacabana, and then heard them continue on the windows for most of the night. Would we really decide to get on a boat in the morning and head for the north end of the island? Where we would then risk hiking 4 hours back to the south end to stay the night – in questionable rain gear (one year of travel has really put a dent in the waterproof-ness of our jackets)? Well, the answer had to be yes.
After leaving the south port of the island, the captain asked everyone riding on top of the boat to get down below, as he was pretty sure it would start raining. Sure enough, less than 5 minutes after restarting our journey it started to come down hard. We disembarked in Challapampa, and ran for cover in a crowded restaurant. The general chatter was concerning the weather, and when the next boat left to return to the south port… Luckily, after about 30 minutes, the skies started to clear. Another 30 minutes of hiking and we were stunned at our change in fortune – blue skies and beautiful clouds.
We stayed in this incredible place in Copacabana, Bolivia, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. I’m not sure I’ve ever stayed somewhere more interesting – it was too bad we only got one night.
Things haven’t improved a lot since we arrived in La Paz. For one, the weather has been horrible – raining and cold. And the altitude has just been kicking ass against Sheena and I – sigh, what’s new? But during those rare times when we felt healthy enough to go for a walk, and it wasn’t coming down in buckets, La Paz has impressed me (can’t say if Sheena feels the same). The way the city has been constructed, cascading down canyon walls, is hard to comprehend. The very new, and very popular cable car system has been a nice way to get above the rooftops and see the cityscape. It’s a place I imagine that I would enjoy quite a bit, if it was slightly lower in elevation and a little bit warmer.
People from Cochabamba are called cochabambinos, which I find hilarious as it reminds me of The Sand Lot. They’re lucky enough to live in a great city – one of those medium sized South American cities that not too many backpackers visit. It reminds me of Manizales, Colombia, or maybe Salta, Argentina. Perhaps that’s just the cable car talking though… I still can’t believe how popular these things are down here.
We’re back up at elevation, having climbed about 2,000 meters in one of the shortest flights imaginable. I mean, I guess all they really had to do was reach cruising altitude and then land the thing – which they did pretty haphazardly. We had enough time to chug our drink and eat our cookies before returning everything to their upright position.
This stop is really just to gather our high altitude legs, before heading further north to La Paz. With 11 months under our belts, it’s hard to believe everything is ending (relatively) soon – my Calendar’s four week look-ahead shows California, USA. But it’s not done yet and we’re feeling very happy that we’re within sight of familiar territory (Arequipa, Peru is only 20 hours by bus; Arica, Chile only 10 hours). Here’s looking forward to the fresh juices and papa rellenas in Arequipa’s central market!
Here are a few more photos for your viewing pleasure. Scenery on Day 1 seemed to be mostly high plateau rolling hills. It was pastoral with beautiful clouds.
Day 2 and 3 were almost exclusively about lagoons, and strange looking ones at that. Islands of salt and borax dotted multi-colored bodies of water on the high plateau. Mountains with melting color completed the surreal landscapes.
And the last day was focused on the huge expanse of the Uyuni Salt Flat. As the sun rose, the flat seemed more like a desert, or a giant frozen lake, than anything else.
Craig did the tour from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile seven years ago, so we were looking to do it a little differently this time around. We decided to go from Tupiza (just a couple of hours across the border from Argentina), which would take 4 days/3 nights instead of the 3 days/2 nights that most other tours consisted of. It cost a bit more (1,300 Bs, about $185 USD, plus 211 Bs, or $30 USD, in added fees), but we’re nearing the end of our trip here and the rest of Bolivia should be relatively cheap, so… why not?! Everybody else was doing it.
Day 1 – Getting to know you
We shared our jeep with the driver, Jhon (not a misspelling), the cook, Hilda, and a couple from Munich, Maria and Felix. We’d heard of some horror stories of terrible camaraderie on tours, which we were hoping to avoid. Being stuck in a small, confined space for hours at a time with people you don’t like hardly sounds fun, right? Luckily, Maria and Felix, as well as Jhon and Hilda, turned out to be great people, which was a huge blessing later on in the trip, as you will see.
Throughout the day, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the tour (booked through La Torre in Tupiza). Jhon spoke only Spanish (English-speaking guides cost extra, so we translated for the Germans), but was very informative and helpful. Hilda gave us delicious food, which we’ve heard is not always the case on these tours. Accommodation was basic (no showers, shared dorm rooms), but clean and comfortable.
The only downside to that first day was going from 2,975 m (9,760 ft) to 4,855 m (15,928 ft), our highest point of the day. Craig became decommissioned for a few hours as he struggled to regain his equanimity, despite chewing industriously on the local remedy around here, coca leaves. In fact, everybody was feeling a little out-of-sorts that night, since we were sleeping at 4,150 m (13,615 ft), and I liberally dispersed my supply of acetazolamide around to good effect. In case you’re not aware, the safe thing to do is to ascend at less than 400 m per day–we were doing more than triple that. Altitude sickness is like being really drunk (dizzy, not in control of your body, stupid) and hungover (nauseous, fatigued, headache-y) at the same time. It’s no fun and is surprising how deeply it can affect you. I’m constantly taken aback by how awful you can feel just from being a few thousand more feet in the air.