Copacobana (on Lake Titicaca, not in Rio de Janiero)
I left La Paz on a jam-packed colectivo (minivan) for the town of Copacobana on the shore of Lake Titicaca. It was an interesting mix of people, with a combination of backpackers (four lads from Argentina) and locals heading home from the city. It quickly turned from a basic three hour trip into a bit more of an adventure as the local indigenous (Indian) population had blocked off roads in and out of the city for 24 hours in protest of something the mayor was up to. All the bridges and roads were closed off and we spent a lot of time sitting in the car waiting to see what would happen and whether we would be allowed to pass. At one point I started to walk towards one of the protest marches to see what it was all about but was advised not to by the locals on the van – apparently the protesters wouldn’t take kindly to my interest in their cause!
It turned into a cat-and-mouse game as we paralleled the main road out of the city along dusty tracks waaaaay out of the city (with impressive views of the 6,000+ metre high snow-capped mountains of the Cordillera Real) in an attempt to get around each of the roadblocks. As the bridges were no-go we had to find a place to cross and forded a few of the rivers and streams. At one we were forced to pay a “toll” to pass and it amounted to a quite ridiculous one Boliviano ($0.12!) each.
It turned out to be one of those memorable “aaaaaah just sit back, relax and enjoy it” travel moments – sometimes the old adage that it’s about the journey and not the destination really does ring true (although a kick-arse destination doesn’t hurt!!). It might sounds like a nighmare ride, bumping around in the back of the minivan as we lurched through the outskirts of the city, but I loved it. We all knew we were in it for the long haul and settled in for the duration. I had a great chat to the Argentine lads and the locals (my Spanish lessons are really paying off and I’m pretty chuffed at how much I can get by these days), and one of the guys pulled out a guitar (I was also tickled pink to actually know and follow a few of the songs sung).
It was a good three hours later that we got around the last block and finally got back onto the asphalt. An hour later we arrived at the lake, and crossed a narrow stretch of the lake by ferry before continuing on another hour or so to Copacobana.
Copacobana turned out to be a delightful little town with cobbled streets and some old colonial buildings, set back around a cove on the shore of Lake Titicaca. While I was already acclimatised to the altitude from my time in La Paz (my altimeter was nudging 3,900m on the lake!), it was still quite disconcerting to be walking around in a t-shirt as I’m used to snow and ice and typically freezing and miserable conditions when I climb in the mountains at those altitudes. Crazy…
I explored the town this afternoon and really loved the architecture of the whitewashed cathedral that forms the centrepiece of the town. Interestingly, there’s a black “Virgin of Copacobana” statue above the altar inside the church that was carved by the grandson of Tupac, the last Inca ruler.
At sunset I climbed a small hill above the town (and “bagged” another 4,000m peak while I was at it – ha ha…) with a series of small chapels scattered across its summit. The view from the top was wonderful: down to the town below, across a wide expanse of the enormous lake to the north, Peru visible across the other side, and Isla del Sol (the Island of the Sun) not far away.