Lake Titicaca

15 07 2009
 

 

 

Before

 

 

 

 

I´m headed by myself to Lake Titicaca tomorrow by plane. I´m flying to the town of Juliaca, Peru, where I´ll take a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia and renew my visa. I´m spending some time on the Bolivian side of the lake. Then, I´ll head over to the Peruvian side too. It´s supposed to be very cold and very beautiful. I rented a sleeping bag in case I go camping.

It amazes me how some volunteers don´t even know about Lake Titicaca. Some people came here with so much naiveté that it sometimes frustrates me.

More to come after I get back on Tuesday!

After

Wow. So much has happened within the past five days that it´s hard to even know where to start. I´ll describe my adventure chronologically.

Day 1 – Bad Luck Transportation Fairy

I woke up bright and early with tons of excitement to go to the Cusco airport. When I got there, I waited a bit and then was told that my plane was circling in the air waiting for the clouds to clear. Turns out, the plane could not land because of the cloud cover. Instead, it headed to Lima, which was its final destination. Long story short, my flight was cancelled and I had to come back several hours later to take another flight.

Thinking that the bad luck transportation fairy had finished its visit, I was wrong. My flight went smoothly, and I took a bus to Puno, Peru (The city on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca). I thought I would just be able to catch another bus to Copacabana, but as I am learning, nothing is ever as easy as it seems down here. The bus driver told me I couldn´t take a bus to Copacabana because the immigration office would have been closed by the time I arrived. Before I had time to even think about what to do next, he and his assistant were already unloading my backpack into a nearby hostel.

Frustrated, I called the hotel in Copacabana to cancel my reservation for the night. I didn´t want to be in Puno for the night; it wasn´t part of my plan. Clearly, plans can change very quickly here.

To clear my head and cheer myself up, I decided to go eat at a restaurant recommended by my Lonely Planet guidebook. I had the most delicious meal in all of my trip here. If this meal was a person, I´d be in love. First, I ordered hot chocolate. Then came the main dish: Alpaca steak with vegetables in a cream sauce and warm apple sauce on the side. It was so good, and I felt much better after eating such a satisfying meal.

What I realized this first day was that things happen for a reason and not to get so upset if something doesn´t go as planned. I´m here to learn and to experience new cultures and ways of life. With more patience and flexibility, I´ll be happier.

Day 2 – Arriving in Copacabana

The next morning, I took a bus headed to Copacabana. For the most part, there were few complications. Of course being American, I had to pay a large fee to enter Bolivia. And since I didn´t have a copy of my immunization records, I had to pay an extra ten dollars. Keep in mind, people who are not American did not have to pay a large fee or show any type of health records.

The hotel I stayed at was nice compared to the first night. They offered free tea and fruit at any time of the day. The room was comfy and most importantly had a warm shower. There, I booked a ticket to go to Isla del Sol (the main island on the Bolivian side of the lake) for the morning after.

Once I got settled, I went out to explore Copacabana. Of all the cities and towns I´ve been to so far, Copacabana is my favorite. It´s a relaxing, tranquil, lakefront town with beautiful views. When I visited the church (also very beautiful), there were a bunch of poor people sitting in front begging for whatever people would give them. Feeling sorry for them, I gave away all my snack food.  The look on these kids´faces when I gave them a half-filled bag of peanuts was priceless.

Church in Copacabana

Church in Copacabana

Copacabana

Copacabana

Street Vendor in Copacabana

Street Vendor in Copacabana

Later on, I climbed a nearby mountain to watch the sunset. Let me tell you, when I´m in a city that has an elevation of over 12,000 feet, and I have asthma, trekking up a mountain is very difficult. Winded and exhausted, I finally made it. The extraordinary sunset was worth every breathe I took to get up there.

The Mountain I Climbed

The Mountain I Climbed

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

Then, I had a relaxing dinner at a coffee shop where I was serenaded by a wonderful live band with two guitar players, a flute player and a drummer.

Day 3 – Sick and Trekking Isla Del Sol

There is nothing worse than pain. Whether it be physical, emotional, psychological or in some other form, pain is one of the hardest things to endure.

I had been experiencing minor abdominal pain on Day 2, but I didn´t think much about it and tried to ignore it. Well, around 3:30 in the morning on Day 3, this pain was there to stay. The ¨parasitic¨pain that I had endured several weeks ago had come back. Once again, waves of abdomincal pain struck– it felt like someone was squeezing my intestines. Pepto didn´t help either.

The pain continued well into the morning. Then the mental debate started. Should I go to Isla del Sol, or not? What if the pain gets worse and I´m stuck on this island? Suck it up and go, Alexa. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fatigued, exhausted and still experiencing terrible cramping, I ended the battle of thoughts when I decided I would go. I wasn´t sure if I´d ever see this part of the world again.

The boat ride to the island lasted over an hour and a half. I appropriately and undeliberately sat next to the neon green life jackets in the back. At least I knew I´d be safe if the boat started sinking. Of the 80+ people on the boat, I might have been the only one alone. I looked around and saw all these affectionate young couples and talkative friends. And here I was. Sick, by myself, no one to comfort me.

The boat dropped us off at one end of the island and left. We were supposed to walk to the other end of the island, which takes three to five hours depending on how fast you go. While some people took a tour, I ventured off to walk as quickly as I could to finish. Surrounded by ruins, rocky terrain and breathtaking views, all I could think about was lying down on a bed with a soft pillow.

While taking a break at one point during the beginning, a woman asked me if I was okay. I must have looked pretty bad. I told her I was having stomach problems, and she insisted that it was altitude related because she, too, was having problems. I found it a bit absurd that she thought she could diagnose my problem without even knowing what I was going through.

Lonely Planet describes the hike as ¨moderately strenuous.¨However, when in pain and feeling the effects of asthma and altitude, it´s much harder than that.

The hike had several checkpoints, where we had to pay small fees to keep going. At one particular checkpoint, the money collector said to me, ¨Hola Señor.¨Wait a second. Señor? Really? Do I really look that bad? I guess my hat, lack of makeup and hiking clothes made me look manly. And my flat chest didn´t help. Ouch. Way to add insult to injury.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Finally, I finished after almost four hours. I checked myself into a hotel with electricity and a nice view of the lake. Before I could fully relax, they had to clean the bathroom and mop the floors. I waited on the bed while the very friendly cleaning lady cleaned. Her name was Primativa. She was a 20 year-old native who spoke the indigenous dialect, and she wanted to talk. The last thing I wanted to do was carry on a conversation. If I had been feeling well, I would have welcomed the opportunity to practice Spanish, but all I wanted to do was rest. She was so interested in me that when she was done cleaning, she sat down on the bed next to me and just looked at me for a couple minutes. Then, she said goodbye and left after an awkward silence.
I rested all afternoon and evening, not even getting up to eat dinner. I then fell asleep and woke the next morning to no pain. Yay!
Day 4 – Shopping, Relaxing, La Cúpula
 
After a night on the island, I took a boat back to Copacabana. I got a room at the place I had originally booked, La Cúpula. It´s wonderful. It runs on solar power, which means I had my best shower so far in South America. The bed was also very comfy, and there were lots of hammocks outside. They even had a hot tub.
Following my hot shower, I went to get some pizza and coffee. The pizza was so big that I gave my un-eaten slices to the sorriest-looking people I could find. One of them had very few teeth.  
Restaurant in Copacabana

Restaurant in Copacabana

Full and content, I went shopping for jewelry and Bolivian music. I bought four pairs of cheap, hand-made earrings and a traditional music CD. I have yet to hear the entire CD, but I´m hoping it has flutes and guitars like the music I heard in the coffee shop.

As I was strolling on the lakefront, I passed by about 20 stalls all selling cooked trout. They looked delicious. I also watched a group of native kids and adults playing soccer on the pavement. They looked so happy, and I was smiling as I was watching them. When the ball came towards me, I kicked it back. Then, one of the women asked if I wanted to play with them. It made my day.

Trout Stands

Trout Stands

Later, I ate dinner with a Swiss woman I met at the hotel. She was so interesting and so smart. All the Swiss people I meet are always so cultured and know so many different languages. She told me that she had lived in Panama for a year through the foreign exchange program AFS. Small world because that´s the organization my family is affiliated with.

Then, I retired to my room to read and translate a Cosmopolitan magazine article in Spanish. Oh, and of course I had diarrhea later on that night too. Lovely.

Day 5 – Back to Puno, and Juliaca too?

The next morning, I took a bus back to Puno. I had intended on staying in Puno and taking another bus to the airport the next morning. Once I got to Puno, I found a hostel and set out to sight see. First, I decided to go to this landmark about thirty minutes outside of the city. I hopped on a bus, and sitting next to me was a nice Peruvian English professor. She told me to definitely stay in the city of Juliaca that night (Juliaca is the city with the airport) because there was going to be a transportation strike the next day. She wrote down a couple of trustworthy hotels for me, and gave me some advice about the city of Juliaca.

Then, the weather got really bad, and I didn´t feel safe exploring the landmark alone in the middle of nowhere where it was cold, cloudy and windy. While taking the bus back to Puno, I saw lightning. Thus, I could no longer explore the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Long story short, I took a taxi to one of the hotels in Juliaca that the English professor had recommended.

The Ominous Clouds

The Ominous Clouds

The hotel was nice and a bit more than I would have wanted to pay, but it was safe, so that´s all that really matters. As dinner time approached, I looked out my window and saw tons of people in the Chinese restaurant across the street. So, I went over there and had a huge, delicious meal for less than two dollars. The place was run by Chinese people. No wonder it was so good. The last Chinese food I had in Peru was mediocre, but this was fantastic.

Day 6 – Transportation Strike and Back to Cusco

The bad luck transportation fairy decided to pay me another visit today on my last day of the trip. Indeed, it was a good idea to stay in Juliaca the night before my flight because there were very few vehicles in the street. To get to the airport, I had to take a motorized rickshaw. Since strikers had blocked the main road, the driver took an alternate, rocky, unpaved route. I thought we might topple over at any minute, but we made it safely.

Motorized Rickshaw

Motorized Rickshaw

To my surprise, the flight was not delayed or cancelled! The scenery from the plane was awesome, as we flew over a cascade of mountains.

View From the Plane

View From the Plane

Once we landed, I didn´t think I´d have any problems getting back home. Wrong! I got in a taxi, but we couldn´t go very far. The protestors from the strike had blocked all the routes coming from the airport. Lucky me! My only other option was to walk. I walked for quite some time with my luggage until I passed the road blocks. And finally, I got a taxi.

My New Room

When I got home, the friendly staff greeted me and took me to my new room. I had been stuck living in a triple again for several weeks and had been asking to switch rooms for a while. Now I have the best room in the house! It´s a single with a big bed and an attached private bathroom. The staff had moved and re-organized all my stuff in my new room. Not a bad welcome if you ask me!


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3 responses

19 07 2009
Karin

My Apple tutor saw your blog today titled “Lake Titicaca” and said “OH MY GOSH…LAKE TITICACA!!! I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO THERE…I’D SPEND AT LEAST 3 MONTHS THERE IF I COULD. Said he’d always read about it, how deep it is, how beautiful, and that going there is definitely on his “bucket list” – wants to spend time down there seeing alpacas, and just taking in all the local culture, history, and color. More later…

21 07 2009
Juliette

Hi Alexa! I haven’t spoken to you since DC, but I have been reading your blogs and I think its awesome you are traveling and living in Latin America. I have been in Colombia since April and plan to be here until September. Its great you have the courage to travel by yourself. I tell my family I want to travel on my own around Colombia and they call me crazy. … 😛
Take Care.

6 08 2014
taxi en peru

Hey there, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
When I look at your website in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it
has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
Other then that, amazing blog!

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