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Latin America Monica Dispatch

She's at the CO-pa, CopacaBAAAANAAA!

Map of Bolivia.
Do you ever have the hyped-up feeling about going somewhere or doing something, and then you get there and you're completely bummed out because it's not what you expected? I wanted to get to Copacabana, because it sounded great. Located just across from Puno, past the Bolivian border, it's a sleepy town with a beautiful, Moorish-influenced church right on the lake near Isla del Sol, an Incan site where, according to myth, the first Incas, Manoc Capac and Mama Huaca, arrived onto dry land.

Do you think this bus-ferry can make it across Lake Titicaca?
Things were a bit off from the very beginning. Liz and I had to rush through breakfast because we were told that the bus would be at the hotel at 8:30am, and it didn't arrive until around 9am. Then, Liz overheard two fellow passengers saying they paid 10 sols for their bus tickets, while we had paid 15 sols each. Then, crossing the border, the border official asked me where I was from, and when I said, "Los Estados Unidos," he asked if I spoke Spanish. "Mas o menos," I answered, and he looked at me quizzically, then decided to whip out his fluorescent-light-passport-checker doodad. He squinted at the passport pages, looking for watermarks and any clues of falsification. Was I a smooth international trade smuggler masquerading as a tourist? Or just a World Trekker trying to get to Copacabana, where music and passion are always in fashion? He let me through, but that seemed a bit ridiculous, I thought. My passport's in order.

My friend, Liz, next to a market in La Paz.
When Liz and I finally arrived at Copa, we had to lug our packs all over town looking for a place to stay, until we realized that I could actually sit down somewhere and watch the packs while she went to look around. While waiting, I decided to try out a local delicacy of cinnamon-flavored icy milk, which would later cause some rumbling in my stomach. Great. Then, when we got to the hotel, there wasn't really running water as we know it, which didn't help with the stomach/bowel problem, if you know what I mean. My next thought was: Can I find some fruit? No. How about some Internet access? There isn't any. Hmmm. What now?

Click image for larger view
Residents of La Paz show their true colors!
I decided to visit the church, which was built from 1605 and 1820. This church at Copacabana houses the Virgin of Candelaria, which is Bolivia's patron saint and has been accredited with a few miracles since its carving out of wood by Francisco Tito Yupanqui. There is a definite African-inspired influence in the architecture of the church, and I appreciated this special fact, until a boy behind me in the pews started practicing percussion with his two pencils. Then it just became noisy to me.

The next morning we took the boat to Isla del Sol, and I was all set for the task of recording this site for all of you, until I realized halfway into the two-hour voyage that I didn't have a disk for the camera. Great. We wanted to visit the Isla del Sol museum, but didn't have the five bolivianos for the entrance fee. Then all the children wanted us to "regalame un caramelo" (give me a candy). Ugh.

My friend Liz, next to a market in La Paz.

Liz and I escaped to lie on the beach and try to relax, but then she discovered a baby sneaker, two used diapers, a six-case of broken wine bottles, and a whole stack of rotting banana peels behind the rocks. Yuck and double yuck. We finally took a hike outta there, and walked down the East Coast of the island for an hour to Ch'alla, where we were hoping our luck would change. Dogs chased us, and Liz had to throw rocks at them while I cowered. At the little hostel right on the beach, finally things started to work out in my favor, but Liz suddenly became terribly ill and had to stay in bed for the rest of the day and night. I, however, took a nap on the sand, then hung up my hammock and ate some sardine sandwiches with avocado. Yum and double yum! Three friends also showed up with cooking equipment, so they boiled up some nice coca-leaf tea and taught me card games.

By nightfall, the family living at the hostel was finished grinding maize for their humintas, which are similar to tamales but are sweet and are made with cheese. The mother offered to let us try some right off the heated rocks where they were steaming under a pile of fennel and straw -- they were fabulous. Under the Southern Cross and the Milky Way, with the lapping of the waves in my ears, I had the soundest sleep since our stay in Guatemala. By morning, I was in a jolly mood, so I didn't complain during the hour-and-a-half hike to the south dock of the island with my 15kg pack weighing me down. By the end of the ride back to Copacabana, I was humming that Barry Manilow song with more enthusiasm, "Copa! Copa-cabana!" and when we arrived on shore I definitely was back on track: rested, tanned, healthy, and happy.

Sometimes, when things don't work-- you just have to wait until they do.


Shawn - Home Is Where the Heart Is
Kavitha - A Clean Slate
Kevin - Working for a Living
Abeja - Guardian Angels
Making A Difference - Debt, Debt and More Debt!

Meet Monica | Monica's Archive


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