Although it took me a while to get to it (April was a crazy month for me) this will be my final blog post covering the last leg of my trip to South America back in February. To read the story from start to finish, start here.
The morning after our visit to Guadaloupe we got up at the crack of dawn and boarded a bus that would take us to Lake Titicaca. The drive was several hours to San Pedro de Tiquina, where we had to cross the Tequina Strait to continue our journey to Copacabana. Upon arriving I could see why Lake Titicaca was considered to be so sacred to the Incas. It's enormous (8,300 square kilometers) and absolutely breathtaking, and sits at over 3,800 meters (about 12,500 feet) above sea level. For my friends in Alberta, that's more than two and a half times higher than the town of Banff in the Rocky Mountains!
Our crew boarded a small boat while the bus was loaded onto a scary looking barge. Interesting fact: the Bolivian government has wanted to build a bridge over the strait for many years, but the people of San Pedro de Tiquina rely on the income generated from ferrying tourists back and forth and subsequently there has been lots of resistance to the bridge construction.
We spent about half an hour in the village on the other side of the strait waiting for our bus to be brought over on the barge, so we got some refreshments and wandered around in the little marketplace. My favourite part about traveling is seeing how we're all the same the world over, we just do things a little differently; there's always a certain element of familiarity, but with a twist. One member of our group asked for a coffee to go, and this is what she got!
When the bus was unloaded we all piled on to make our way to Copacabana, the most important sanctuary of Bolivia and once the location of an ancient Incan city. We arrived in the middle of Carnivale, so it seemed a little more like the most important party in Bolivia! Copacabana is a neat little backpacker destination, and also the location of the Franciscan Cathedral built during Spanish colonial times. It hosts the "Dark Virgin," patron saint of Bolivia. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the Cathedral, which I was a little dissappointed about because it was magnificent. After touring the Cathedral we made our way into the streets of Copacabana to witness the parades and general debauchery that is Carnivale. I was dodging jets of foam and buckets of water, terrified for my camera's sake but loving every minute of it!
We left Copacabana that afternoon via boat to head to Isla del Sol (Sun Island) the largest and most revered of Lake Titicaca's 72 islands. Our guide informed us we had about a 45 minute hike to get to the small eco-resort in Yumani we were to stay at that evening, but in reality it took us almost 2 hours! I think it had something to do with the elevation... Not to mention the beautiful sights we paused to look at on the way.
The next day we had the opportunity to explore Isla del Sol. In the morning we walked the picturesque ancient Incan Trail and visited the Inti Wata Cultural Complex, featuring a small museum, botanical garden, an interpretive centre and a llama and alpaca farm. After that we boarded a catamaran for lunch and a short sail to the other side of the island, the catamaran that we'd be spending the night on that evening! (I was pretty excited.)
When we made it to Challapampa on the north side of the island, we were greeted by a small band of pipers. We wandered into the little village and had the opportunity to witness an ancient mystic ceremony performed by a Kallawaya, a healer/naturopath whose traditions can be traced to pre-Incan times in the Bolivian Andes. It was very interesting to watch, and at the end we received a blessing from the Kallawaya.
I decided that I wanted to explore the area for the rest of the afternoon, while others went back to the catamaran to rest or went for a hike with the guide. Jerry and I found a waterfall, met some backpackers from Chile & Argentina on the beach, and hiked up to the top of one of the hills for a better view. Challapampa is a really cool place - it made me want to return to South America one day to find more places like it!
We spent the night on the catamaran in our tiny little cabins, and the next day sailed around Sun Island, stopping to take a ride on a traditional totora boat. The people of Lake Titicaca use the torota reeds for all kinds of purposes (but the boats were probably the most impressive use of the reed). Later we headed back to Copacabana and roamed the streets, this time sans Carnivale craziness. Soon it was time to take the long bus ride back to La Paz/El Alto. I said goodbye to Lake Titicaca, vowing to return some day.
We returned to La Paz that evening to spend one more night at Casa Betania before flying out to Lima, Peru the following morning. I was excited to see Lima again; although it had only been 2 weeks since we were there visiting Chalice's PINIFE site, it felt like much longer. It's amazing how much work, visiting, travel and cultural exploration we packed into 2 weeks!
We spent the day in Lima with our fantastic guide and translator Martin. We visited Plaza Mayor, Lima's central square and location of the national and municipal government buildings, as well as the Palace of Justice, Peru's Supreme Court. We got to witness the changing of the guards outside of Government Palace with a marching band in full regalia, a spectacle that lasted almost an hour. The band was behind the large iron gates the whole time and guarded by police officers so I wasn't able to get very many photos...
The rest of the day was spent ogling the Spanish colonial buildings in Lima, a Peruvian ceviche lunch (which was SOOOOO delicious!) and then a visit to San Cristobal hill, a giant Catholic pilgrimmage with the Stations of the Cross along the way up. You can see the entire city of 9 million people from the top of the hill! It was incredible. (The last photo below is me with my mom on top of San Cristobal.)
Before heading to the Lima airport to begin our long journey back to Toronto, we stopped at the Magical Water Circuit, a large park full of fountains both decorative and interactive. It was a hot evening so the park was really crowded and it took us a while to get through the whole thing. By the time we made it to the other side the sun was setting while I snapped photos of people both young & old thoroughly enjoying themselves in the cool water.
Thus ends my chronicle of the Bolivian Solidarity Tour 2012. It was truly a life-changing experience for me, and I'd like to thank Chalice for making it all possible. I'd like to return to South America on my own and visit more of the continent as soon as possible!
Thanks for reading. If you have the means, I urge you to consider making a small donation to Chalice so they can continue their community projects in Lima, Yapacaní, Guadaloupe and beyond. The emphasis on education, nutrition and empowerment makes it such a worthy cause. Donate here!