Sunday, November 14, 2010

Copacabana - Lake Titicaca Bolivia

At the Copa, copacabana, the hottest spot north of........ That song got stuck in my head for most of my stay here..  All yours now.. I am way behind on updating the blog, I was in Copacabana in May

Currency: Boliviano $1.00 US = $6.97000 Bolivianas
Bus Cusco Peru to Copacabana Bolivia $75.00 Soles ($27.00 US) - 12 hours - includes 2 mini van rides
Hotel Copacabana $84 Bolivianas ($12.00 US) per night
Boat To Isle De Sol $20 Bolivianas (included there and back)
Tourist Fees on Isle De Sol $20 Bolivianas
Warning: There is no ATM in Copacabana, make sure you have US $'s on you. You can change them at the bank or a money changer. Otherwise you will need to get a cash advance on your credit card.

So surprise the bus to Copacabana was not exactly as advertised, it left Cusco at 8pm and was suppose to be direct to Copacabana Bolivia. The picture in the tourist office in town had a shiny double decker. We got a not so shiny old bus with no bathroom, okay it had a bathroom but it didn't work and remained locked for the trip. I am used to the bait and switch but for some of my fellow passengers this was the first time and they were pretty angry. They soon discovered that no amount of yelling will change their situation, especially yelling in English. The folks that run the bus are not the ones that sold us the tickets so it really isn't their fault that the booking companies lie to people. On the plus side it had big seats that went all the way back and heavy blankets so comfy, oh how my standards have dropped. Got in a pretty good sleep after the movie.
I'm snoozing away when I am woken up by the sound of squealing brakes, breaking glass and a thunk noise as the back tires run over something. The sun was rising over Lake Titicaca and all should have been right with the world at 5am. Good thing I liked the view as we ended up sitting there for over an hour. No one working on the bus came back to tell us anything but we could hear hammer on metal clanging so we all assumed a tire blew. Turns out not so, we hit a donkey and poor Eeyore did not fair so well. The direct bus dropped those of us going to Copacabana off on the side of the highway a few hours later where we took a mini bus (along with locals with livestock) to the Peru/Bolivian boarder. That is when we saw the damage the donkey did, most of the front of the bus was a crumpled mess, the windshield was shattered and the side door to exit the bus was splattered in donkey bits. We must have been doing a pretty good speed when we hit it, or it was some kind of huge monster donkey.
The mini van took us to the boarder where we checked out of Peru then walked across the street to check in to Bolivia. There is no cost to enter Bolivia unless you are from the US. 1 of the guys with us was, he had to pay $130.00 US and supply a photocopy of his passport. The charge allows US citizens to come an go from Bolivia for 5 years. It is in retaliation for a fee the US government imposes on Bolivians entering the US.  Thank god there are bathrooms at the border, pay ones but at this point I would pay just about anything. Border bathrooms like bus depot bathrooms are places of last resort, this one came with a bucket that you had to fill with water from a hose and dump in the bowl to flush. At least it was sort of clean. Customs on both sides was pretty easy, no line ups but we were there pretty early. There are money changers at the border, the rates are okay, I only changed $5.00 US over. Once in Bolivia we are met by another mini van that takes us to Copacabana about an hour away.
I had tried to reserve a room at a place that had been recommended to me by someone at the hostel in Cusco as a place to stay if you wanted to spoil yourself a little.  Alas I could not get a reservation but they told me to just drop by when I got into town as they sometimes had last minute cancellations and something becomes available. Turns out they had a room available, lucky lucky me, went to the restaurant and had some coffee and pancakes while the room was getting made up, then off for a nap. La Cupula is said to be the best Boutique hotel in Bolivia. It is beautiful and has a 1st class restaurant. It is run by some German folks, I highly recommend the Goulash and the breakfasts for under $3.00 US are awesome. I got my own room for $12.00 US a night (you can pay in US at this hotel) it came with a comfy bed, lots of blankets and a heater. I had a shared bathroom with hot water, tons of it and I never ran into anyone else using it. I highly recommend breaking the bank and spending the big bucks,  after the Machu Picchu hike a reward of a little luxury was great. They also have a community kitchen so if you really want to you can make your own meals.
One of the main draws of Copacabana is that it is on the shores of Lake Titicaca and is the launching spot for tours to Isle De Sol (Island of the Sun) the birthplace of the world according to Inca legend. The trip can be done as a 1/2 day or a full day trip. If you want to hike the island from 1 end to the other you need to do the full day trip. The boat drops you off at the far end of the island and you have 4 hours to get to the other end to catch the boat back. There are accomodations on the island so you can choose to stay if you want. I wasn't willing to give up my luxury digs so I did the full day trip. The boats to the islands leave from the docks in Copacabana at 8am, no need to purchase a ticket in advance, just show up and pay. The trip to Isl De Sol takes a couple of hours, a beautiful trip. Lake Titicaca is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world at 3,811 meters above sea level. The air is so clear it gives everything a sureal look to it, the clouds are fluffier, the mountians are clear, the sky feels so close it felt like I could reach out and touch the sun. That being said, I cannot emphasis it enough, take sunscreen, lots of sunscreen, lots of water, some food and a hat. Being that high the burn rate is pretty fast and there is no shade on the island hike, it is all pretty much in direct sunlight. Other than at the dock when they drop you off there is nowhere to buy water or food on the route.
There is a $10 Boliviana fee to go on the island, this includes a trip through the museum if you wish to go, there are no roads on the island. I passed on the museum and myself and a couple of folks that were staying at the same hotel as me took off up the trail. I'm not sure if I was a little jaded after Machu Pichhu but I really didn't think the island was all that great. Like I said, no shade, only 1 good set of ruins, just a lot of walking.  The views from the top of the island across the lake are incredible. There were some surprise charges along the way, seems the locals think they should get a cut of the tourist $'s so twice they charges us $5 Bolivianas to continue on the trail. All very slimy, the last one was a couple of old ladies just outside of the town were we had to catch the boat back. Inca trail robbery, we argued with them for 15 minutes, they told us if we didn't like it we could turn around and go back. We ended up paying but it is the first time I have told an old lady I would have no problem tossing her ass off the trail and down the hill. They were really mean rude old ladies, much figure waving in your face. Not sure what would happen if you didn't have any money on you. If you are going to do this hike you do have to be in relatively good shape, it is hot and a lot of it is uphill, you also have the time limit before the boat leaves, if you miss it you are spending the night. I have a feeling that room rates on the island double once the last boat pulls out.  We made it back with 1/2 an hour to spare.
On the boat ride back we stopped at the floating islands, islands made out of straw. Not long ago people used to live on the lake on islands like these. Not many people live on them now but they have a couple they have built for the tourists so you can see what they were like. Pretty cool but a little on the hokey/touristy side, that people really used to live on something like them is amazing. On the way back I got to sit at the front of the boat (outside the rail) I would recommend going to the island just for the boat ride, it truly is a spectacular trip.
I spent 3 nights in Copacabana, it is a nice little town, it has great shopping and for way cheaper than Peru.  Hats, leggings and jewelry are all way cheaper than Cusco.  There are tons of backpackers and lots of hostels and restaurants in town, a good place to hang out for a few days and adjust. There are some great hikes that you can do around town and lots of boat trips, any of the hostels and hotels will have information on them. As I am starting to see the end of my trip coming up I am trying to get to as many places as I can before my flight home out of Lima Peru in less than 3 weeks. I would love to have spent another day here but La Paz calls, I have heard that it is an incredible place.

There are a ton of buses that go to La Paz, I got a ticket for the expensive one at a cost of $25 Bolivianos, the trip takes about 4 hours, I caught the 1pm bus out of town