Off the Beaten Track

Copacabana, Bolivia

Until this trip I thought Copacabana was a mythical place in a Barry Manilow song. As in “at the Copa, Copacabana, the hottest spot north of Havana”. Turns out I was wrong! It is a hippie haven in northern Bolivia on the south shore of Lake Titicaca.

We take a bus, which is always an interesting way to cross a border. Paperwork x 100 people processed in a tiny run-down shack beside the road, a long line-up, finding the right bus after you’ve walked across the “frontera” and passed through immigration. A bit stressful! The stand selling snacks next to the immigration shack is selling Doritos. I deserve a treat!

We arrive in Copacabana at noon and are immediately transported back to the seventies. Tattooed hippie girls with gobs of silver and turquoise jewelry wearing baggy patterned cotton pants, smoking stinky Bolivian cigarettes. Boys with pony-tails and/or dreadlocks and beaded and/or rope bracelets wearing patterned cotton shorts. Mixed in are a few yoga chics in their lululemon clothes, hair in ponytails or tight chignons, Nike runners and expensive day packs. And, of course, the ubiquitous bowler-hatted local women in their flouncy skirts and knitted shawls. It all makes for an interesting cultural melange.

We feel young and old at the same time. Young because we are reminded of our own travels in our 20s, and hey, we are still doing it, but old because, let’s face it, we aren’t in our 20s anymore. Sigh!!

The town is like so many others scattered across the globe where travellers, not tourists, land for a few days rest. Some end up staying forever. Goa, India. Kathmandu, Nepal. Dahab, Egypt. Nungwi, Zanzibar. They create a very chill vibe and it is easy to sit on one of the many cafe terraces, overlooking the lake, with 70s music blasting, nursing a large bottle of the local brew.

In fact, we decide to forgo the 2 hour hydrofoil boat to Isla del Sol – the reason we came here in the first place – and just hang out in Copacabana for a day, which is all we have. I’m shocked, as Craig, who suffers from FOMO (fear of missing out), is the one to suggest the change of plan. Of course, hanging out with Craig usually means some form of physical exertion. We hike a hill that has 14 “stations of the cross” and are rewarded with panoramic views at the top.

The next morning we board a bus for La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, which has the distinction of being the world’s highest capital city.

As usual, the bus trip itself is an experience. Mostly locals and a few rough and tumble looking travellers. We are the odd balls. The locals get on and off the bus at strange places where the driver just stops for them. At one stop a very large woman and her little dog get on, creating a bit of a stir among the other passengers. She sits next to another local woman whose disdainful looks at the dog are hilarious!

In order to cross a portion of Lake Titicaca the bus empties and is transported on a very rickety looking barge/raft, while we passengers go across on a rather rickety motor boat.

Back on the bus, the views include the usual subsistence farms and dry, brown fields and a few dusty pueblos … until all of a sudden … we get our first sight of the Andes Mountains, towering high above us. We are already at 12,000 ft. They rise to 20,000 and are snow covered. No wonder the Incas revered them as gods!

As the bus gets nearer to La Paz the urban sprawl overtakes the countryside. It is a chaotic scene: people, trucks, buses, taxis, dogs. This goes on for miles and miles.

The city of La Paz itself sits in a bowl, quite literally, and we audibly gasp as the bus rounds a corner and the city comes into view.

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