Shortly after takeoff I changed into my PJ's and joined Amy for dinner.
Shortly after takeoff I changed into my PJ's and joined Amy for dinner.
Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)
Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)

Isla del Sol was undeniably beautiful and it is no wonder why it is one of the biggest attractions in all of Bolivia.  After our stay in Copa we made the two-hour boat journey out to the island.  Legend has it that the island was the birthplace of the Incan sun and it is riddled with all sorts of archaelogical wonders.

The docks at Copacabana
The docks at Copacabana

The boat ride was simple enough to arrange.  We rolled down to the docks around 8AM and purchased tickets from one of the many marineros who were walking about.  We ended up on a small (maybe 25ft) boat with about 20 other people, a mix of tourists and locals.  Most of the tourists opted to sit on the roof but Amy, myself and the locals sat below.  The crystal clear skies and the 14,000ft of altitude make for some pretty harsh UV rays and neither of us were too keen on getting burnt.  Our capitán, a wrinkled old man with a Dick Tracy hat manned the boat’s two outboard motors the whole two hours to keep us on course.  It looked pretty uncomfortable to me but he looked as if he had been doing it most of his life.

Happy that I get to go down the Escalera del Inca (Incan Stairway) this time around!
Happy that I get to go down the Escalera del Inca (Incan Stairway) this time around!

The boat dropped us off at the south end of the island near the village of Yumani which perched on the ridge of the island, a good 400ft elevation change above the dock.  Amy stayed with our bags while I dashed up the hill to remind myself of how thin the air is at 14,000ft.  Thanks to the Peruvian border issues it was easy to find a room from one of the many guesthouses in Yumani.  It even came with a nice view!

At the top, we rewarded ourselves with some fresh OJ with a view.
At the top, we rewarded ourselves with some fresh OJ with a view.

There are no cars on the island and all of the “streets” are narrow cobblestone affairs which act as superhighways for the island’s hard-working donkeys and the occasional flock of sheep.  Most of the supplies that arrive from the mainland, everything from fruits to concrete, are hauled from the docks into town either on the backs of people or donkeys.  In fact, when we were huffing and puffing our way to the guesthouse with our backpacks a group of sprightly old men (in their 60′s?) passed us with 40 kg bags of concrete on their backs!  I am sure they had a good laugh at us flatlanders.

What the island lacks in cars it makes up for with donkeys
What the island lacks in cars it makes up for with donkeys

Since most places on the island don’t have running water, the donkey’s have the added chore of hauling water from the island’s springs to the water tanks at each house.  Each morning just after sunrise we could see from our room the trains of donkeys with blue water canisters on their backs.  We made it a point to take short showers after seeing this!

Our big day out on the island consisted of walking the length of it from north to south.  We charted a boat to take us from Yumani to Challapampa in the north.  Initially we thought that we could just hop on one of the ferries from Copa that docks at both villages but not-so.  I am not sure if it was because of the less-than-normal crowds due to the border closing or if it was because of the mariners union but we were told that the only way was to charter.  We ended up paying about $20 which is a small fortune in Bolivian terms for the ride but we had the boat to ourselves and the views were spectacular.

At the north end of the island we visited Chincana, a large complex of Incan ruins and had a small lunch (trout, yet again for me!) in Challapampa.  One thing that seemed unusual about Challapampa was the fact that there were pigs roaming around on the beach.  We found out later that was because the village was have a bit celebration the next day – RIP, piggies.

The steep hike out of Challapampa was brutal, especially right after lunch, but once we got up on the island’s ridge trail the walk was much easier.  The trail itself was about the width of a one-lane road and it had been meticulously paved with cobblestones long long ago.  The views in all directions were amazing and we passed a few locals along the way.

The hills were brutal with the thin air!
The hills were brutal with the thin air!

I woke up at about 6AM on our last morning on the island to a nice orange glow coming through the windows.  I jumped out of bed and fumbled around to get my camera just in time to capture an amazing sunrise.

The sun rising over Bolivia's Cordillera Real.
The sun rising over Bolivia’s Cordillera Real.
Lake Titicaca – Isla del Sol
The docks at Copacabana
The docks at Copacabana
Climbing an Incan staircase to find a place to stay.
Climbing an Incan staircase to find a place to stay.
At the top, we rewarded ourselves with some fresh OJ with a view.
At the top, we rewarded ourselves with some fresh OJ with a view.
Isla de la Luna
Isla de la Luna
What the island lacks in cars it makes up for with donkeys
What the island lacks in cars it makes up for with donkeys
Grains growing in the Incan terraces
Grains growing in the Incan terraces
The ruins of Pilko Kaina
The ruins of Pilko Kaina
Piedra Sagrada
Piedra Sagrada
The Chincana ruins
The Chincana ruins
Overlooking the village of Cha´llapampa at the north end of Isla del Sol
Overlooking the village of Cha´llapampa at the north end of Isla del Sol
The main “highway” on the island.
The main “highway” on the island.
The hills were brutal with the thin air!
The hills were brutal with the thin air!
Isla de la Luna and the peaks of Cordillera Real
Isla de la Luna and the peaks of Cordillera Real
The sun rising over Bolivia's Cordillera Real.
The sun rising over Bolivia’s Cordillera Real.
Happy that I get to go down the Escalera del Inca (Incan Stairway) this time around!
Happy that I get to go down the Escalera del Inca (Incan Stairway) this time around!

Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia

During our last week in Bolivia we made a trip out to Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake at 3800m.  The lake is shared between Peru and Bolivia but thanks to the ongoing border dispute we were only able to visit the Bolivian side.  The good news was that most of the tourist sites were mostly empty!

After returning from Rurrenabaque we overnighted in La Paz and then caught one of the tourist buses to Copacabana.  The tourist buses are slightly more expensive but you get to travel in a proper bus as opposed to a small van overloaded with about 20 people – a worthwhile investment for the three hour trip.  The only downside to the tourist bus is that it provides hotel pickup.  Sounds good, right?  The pickup is nice but sitting on the bus for an extra hour as it fights it way through the clogged streets of La Paz is not so nice.

Our bus making its way across the Strait of Tiquina
Our bus making its way across the Strait of Tiquina

The only notable item about the bus ride wa stopping at the Strait of Tiquina so that they could load our bus on a rickety barge powered by a 20hp outboard.  Us passengers were sent over to a small ticket desk to purchase our ~$0.50 tickets for the small passenger ferries.  It is probably less than a kilometer across the strait but the stop provided a nice break for stretching the legs.

Plenty of opportunities for renting a paddle boat in Copacabana.
Plenty of opportunities for renting a paddle boat in Copacabana.

We found Copacabana to be a pleasant little town.  It has a sweeping beach and waterfront park where hired paddle-boats and kayaks are a dime a dozen.  Above the town to one side is a hill with an ancient Incan observatory and on the other side is town with some crosses and a great overview of the lake.

The famous church in Copacabana where locals bring their cars to be blessed.
The famous church in Copacabana where locals bring their cars to be blessed.

Copacabana’s enormous Moorish-style cathredral is another fun attraction.  The cathedral is famous for its Benediciones de Movilidades (blessing of the automobiles) where people come from all over to dress up their cars and pour beer on the tires.  Given the state of many of Bolivia’s roads I suppose this practice can’t hurt!

Trout: a local favorite
Trout: a local favorite

The food in the lake region, in particular the trout, made for some excellent and cheap meals while we were there.  Where else are you going to snag soup, salad, fresh grilled trout, a side and dessert for under $4?

All in all, Copa made for a nice two-day stop and we found that to be enough to wander the city and nearby sights.

Lake Titicaca – Copacabana
Our bus making its way across the Strait of Tiquina
Our bus making its way across the Strait of Tiquina
Like an ocean at 13,000ft!
Like an ocean at 13,000ft!
Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia
The famous church in Copacabana where locals bring their cars to be blessed.
The famous church in Copacabana where locals bring their cars to be blessed.
Automobiles being blessed.
Automobiles being blessed.
An older lady pours beer on each tire of this bus.
An older lady pours beer on each tire of this bus.
Trout: a local favorite
Trout: a local favorite
Complete and undivided attention.
Complete and undivided attention.
Sunset over Titicaca
Sunset over Titicaca
Apparently this is some sort of Incan astronomical instrument.
Apparently this is some sort of Incan astronomical instrument.
Puffed corn products are big in Bolivia, as are bowler hats!
Puffed corn products are big in Bolivia, as are bowler hats!
Plenty of opportunities for renting a paddle boat in Copacabana.
Plenty of opportunities for renting a paddle boat in Copacabana.

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