Again I found myself awake before 6am – but this morning I was on time. Guided by the light of the Inca Gods and the services of Vicuña Travel and Tours (‘Follow me in the social network’), we were soon bumping up and down the roads of La Paz.
Three bus changes and a certain amount of motion sickness later, we reached our first river crossing. From a little wooden boat we watched our bus float across with greater dignity than its rather epileptic road mode. From here, it was a bumpy one-hour journey to the town of Copacabana (no, not the one in the song.) Copacabana seems to have been designed entirely by a meeting of South American tourist companies (‘how many gringo restaurants can we fit onto one short coastline? Do you think 150 + tour buses might be too many buses for one historic plaza?’). Still, we didn’t complain about the ‘lack of authenticity’ as we chowed down on fresh trucha y papas in a lakeside café.
The boat from Copacabana to the Isla del Sol was longer, at around 90 minutes; it further lifted spirits, even from within the bowels of its underbelly. Beyond us lay mile upon mile of perfect azure water, our journey but an infinitesimally minute speck in its mindbogglingly ancient three-million year lifespan. It is one of only twenty ancient lakes on the planet, and has been held as sacred at the centre of Inca and Quechua culture for thousands of years. Little islands break the horizon, and snow-capped mountains peak beyond.
The Isla del Sol is considered to the be birthplace of the sun in Inca belief, as the sun sets over the island. It rises steeply from the shore of the lake, its earth corrugated by the ancient grooves of pre-colombian agricultural techniques. Again, there does exist a thriving tourist industry here somewhat at odds with the isolation of the place; but for all the disruption of tranquility, the sight of sweating tourists walking up hills with 50litre backpacks never fails to entertain. Especially pleasing when your elegant and sweat-free writer was one of those backpackers sudorosos but a fortnight ago…(n.b to MML faculty: a month ago. I have, definitely, been working for a whole month and not just two weeks. I promise).
As well as backpackers and paceños on guided tours, any short walk around the (practically vertical) paths brings you into contact with a) haughty llamas, b) actual people trying to go about their day without contact with said backpackers / tourists, and c) criminally cute small children holding bored baby llamas (daintily dubbed llamitos), asking for a few bolivianos in exchange for a photo. Capitalism thrives – my favourite was one girl who offered ‘un fotito para tres bolivianos‘, then whispered with menace, ‘es cinco bolivianos por acá‘, gesturing at her five-year old financial rival a little way down.
We continued on clambering through rock and dust; each turn offered spectacular vistas of that vast blue scene, which seemed to stretch on all the way to the Andes. You can pick out the faint outline of Peru to the east, and further islands scattered around. Our exploration of the island finished in the Inca temple ‘Piko Kaina’. It is constructed with mechanical precision, with neatly carved windows creating exquisite pictures of the landscape outside; and slits in the stone through which rays of light shine and intersect.
On the journey back to Copacabana we were able to sit on the helm of the boat, which was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in South America so far: the wind gently brushing, the half-imagined islands rising, the sea the sea the sea beyond and around and lapping into eternity.
Then a long bus journey back, during which I wrote my last will and testament in my head (given that it would have been illegible if i’d tried to write on paper), considered song choices for my funeral, and apologised for all the white lies I’ve told (see: MML faculty, above) in preparation for what felt like my imminent arrival at the pearly gates.
Back in La Paz, not with St. Peter, I fell asleep in my clothes.