Thursday, September 20, 2012

bolivia day three

this morning we gathered overnight luggage only and left the heavy duty stuff behind- we are off on an adventure to Lake Titicaca... I may have not yet mentioned it but Bolivia has been on my list for quite some time.  When I was in sixth grade in our geography book there was a photo of a local from Lake Titicaca with his reed boat and since then I have always had it in the back of my mind that someday I would go to Bolivia.

Several years back I almost took the OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) Amazon cruise trip JUST so I could do the Bolivia extension... but I waited too long and it disappeared... It turns out that the reason it disappeared was because OAT felt there were some anti-American sentiments that were driving new Bolivia Visa ($135 each on arrival or $135 plus process fee - hefty processing fee for getting it through a service before hand) requirement.  In reality (according to Pedro) it was Evo Morales hot headed reaction to the US instituting a similar Visa requirement for Bolivians.  Foreign ministers from Bolivia begged him not to take such action due to the impact on tourism but he was adamant.  Hence the two year hiatus for OAT trips to Bolivia.

So when I saw the extension was back in conjunction with a new trip to Colombia I was on it immediately.  For those of you who may not know this is my go to land travel company when Phil isn't interested in going to...LOL  They are great for singles and limit the group size to maximum 16.  They always have lots of local color and flavors included in the activities and so back to Bolivia- it was back on- I booked right away and waited a year for the trip to come around...LOL

so here we are day three and headed for the famous lake and the guy in the photo from sixth grade (I was eleven)

this is the published itinerary for the day:

After breakfast this morning, we depart La Paz for the village of Copacabana, set on the broad, blue banks of Lake Titicaca. During our ride, we’ll have another chance to view the Andean landscapes, as we cross through the mountains on our way to the lakeshore.  We’ll stop en route to meet some of the Uros Indians, whose ancestors have dwelled around Lake Titicaca for millennia. They’re well known for their use of balsas, traditional boats handcrafted from totora, the marsh reeds that grow in the shallow water by the shore. The vessels are primarily used for fishing and are sometimes affixed with sails, also made from reeds. We’ll witness the construction of these traditional boats during our travels today, and we’ll also get a chance to board a more modern boat ourselves, as we cross the Tiquina Strait to reach Copacabana.

The name Copacabana is thought to derive from the Aymara word for “view of the lake,” and it’s a fitting name—the views across the lake to the snow-draped peaks of the Andean range are magical, and its easy to see why this site has been considered a sacred place for centuries. We’ll learn more about Copacabana’s spiritual heritage—and get a good look at Lake Titicaca—after we check into our hotel, when we set out on a walking tour of the village. In addition to the striking scenery, our tour includes the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana, the religious heart of this centuries-old community, and an important pilgrimage site for Bolivians throughout the country. Following our tour, we’ll return to our hotel for an included dinner.

and here is how our day went:

we drove out of town and up up up to the altiplano- to find a huge traffic jam due to Flag Day! Pedro claimed this was not a real holiday but they definitely were celebrating- parades, costumes, bands, people in their "Sunday" best even though it was a weekday... at a couple of points along the way the bus had to get off the paved road and use unpaved side roads.  This made for some really exciting driving as the bus lurched into and out of ditches and around corners not meant at all for big vehicles... but as we went along my fellow travelers and I got to see the back streets in villages that we would have just zoomed through on the way to "the guy's house".... and that was where we were headed- to meet "the guy" who made the Kon Tiki - the world's most famous reed boat.

At our stop we see the demo of how the reed boats are made and find out that it is (no big surprise) a dying art- the locals have gone to wooden boats and now the reed boats are sold to rich city dwellers as furniture (WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO???) and to tourists as tiny boat souvenirs (or llama reed souvenirs)

sadly, and it was truly sad, this man with centuries old skills is now reduced to making and selling souvenirs for passing tourists - his father worked to build Thor Heyerdahl's reed boat and traveled the world demonstrating the skills he had... some call it progress. I thanked spirit for getting me here in time to actually see a few reed boats on the Lake I had held in my mind's eye for so long.  I don't know how many times I have said it in this blog and in direct conversation- GO NOW... the world we know is disappearing before us (it happens) so see it while it is still here... and then see it again when it has moved on -

recently I read an article on Christopher Hitchens and there was quote about him that I think is relevant here-

In Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer explains how to use your memory to extend your life. Routine days and nights leave no lasting impression—they pass, and it's as though they never happened. Unusual events—exotic travel, strange encounters, new experiences—plant durable memories and make life actually seem longer. Essentially, the more you remember, the more you feel you have lived, and thus, the more you actually have lived. Hitchens was the embodiment of this idea. He constantly sought sensation—traveled everywhere, drank everything, met everyone, got waterboarded—and he remembered it all, as well as everything he read.

GO NOW....

So we met the sad little man who now shows tourists how reed boats were woven for centuries on Lake Titicaca and many bought little reed souvenir boats to take home. Then we continued on to the point where we traversed the water on a dilapidated wooden boat that had all the windows held in place with duct tape and no floor boards while our bus took a flat boat across the strait to the island where the village of Copacabana is located. 

after we made it (phew!) and the bus made it (double phew!) across the strait we got back on the bus and headed into the hills.  roughly forty five minutes later we were in town.  the hotel (Rosario) was lovely and the rooms charming.  the lunch on our own was mostly in the hotel restaurant where I had a superb cream soup (pumpkin- it is winter here) and an excellent chicken Caesar salad.  we all gathered for a walk into town - all up hill of course - LOL and did I mention we had gone up in altitude as well?  My lovely room was on the third floor (no elevator) and I huffed and puffed there with my small overnight bag and vowed to limit my number of trips LOL.

The town was fabulous! If the witches market had been interesting this place was fascinating. The local culture is an incredible mix of Catholic/Christian and pagan/shamanistic.  People bring their cars and trucks to be "blessed" and even Jacques Cousteau (when exploring Lake Titicaca) had to have his mini subs go through the ritual celebration and blessing. 

In the market you can buy "charms" to help you bring into your life the things you want - want to travel a suitcase full of money and credit cards and passports should take care of that... want to have your own small grocery? they have a charm for that.  A new car or truck? - a charm for that. etc etc... the market also sells garlands for decorating the car you brought to the island to be blessed...

after spending time in the market outside, we went into the basilica there.  we were unable to see the special Madonna there but the church itself was lovely  with beautiful wood carved doors.  Upon leaving we headed through the local market and then back to the hotel (slowly slowly- even down hill is work) Later we met for a special dinner of salmon trout and rice with a choice of desserts that included fancy tiramisu and something local that I no longer recall (this is why some people keep notes! LOL) and just before dinner I was able to catch the sunset on Lake Titicaca as I was leaving my room. 

And now for some photos of the trip to Lake Titicaca:

a sight as we used the off-road roads to get around the festivities-

ladies waiting for the parade to begin-

the boat maker demos the way the reeds are woven-

a wooden boat docked at the wharf of the boat guy....

I think they leave this one there on the lake so tourists can take a photo of it- although we did see one other on the Lake in Copacabana....

one of the family members does the laundry in the communal yard-

at the straits to cross to Copacabana Island

tickets for the boat crossing

the flat boat ferries like the one that brought our bus to the other side...

yes, landlocked Bolivia has a navy (Pedro was in it!) they share the Lake with Peru and this water border necessitates the naval presence- and given their history I think it is a good idea...

now on to Copacabana Village-

one of the waaay cute local art works that decorated our charming rooms:

an eventful day- tomorrow we will be off to the Island of the Sun!

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