Bolivian Climber Day 3

Day three would see us leave the city of La Paz and head for two days at Lake Titicaca, slightly (but only slightly, at about 3,800m, or 12,500ft) higher than we were now by means of further acclimatisation.

We set out with just a rucksack of things that we would need for the two days, and all of our mountain equipment went off separately in our duffels which we would get at base camp at Condoriri on day five.

Our bus for Titicaca (and beyond, as they say) - a rickety old thing but it served us well.

Our bus for Titicaca (and beyond, as they say) – a rickety old thing but it served us well.

Leaving the city in a minibus which had certainly seen better days, we chugged our way up through the polluted north of the city and past El Alto, the new city by the airport. El Alto is certainly La Paz’s poorer relation. At a million people though, and still growing by 6% per year, it is the country’s second biggest city, and out of control in terms of waste, crime, infrastructure, and everything else. Pretty it most certainly is not.

A typical road/shop in El Alto

A typical road/shop in El Alto

And more El Alto scenes - this is the main street. The back streets which we would go through were much more barren and scarier, I didn't dare get my camera or phone out, even in the bus.

And more El Alto scenes – this is the main street. The back streets which we would go through were much more barren and scarier, I didn’t dare get my camera or phone out, even in the bus.

Travelling through the far side of El Alto it became clear that our bus was not going any further as there was a huge parade going down the centre of what appeared to be the only road through town. The parade was part of the Independence Day celebrations, which was in two days time.

The start of the Independence Day parade which halted our progress.

The start of the Independence Day parade which halted our progress.

It may not look that big from here, but this parade must have been at least two miles long!

It may not look that big from here, but this parade must have been at least two miles long!

The bus ended up following other traffic which was trying to do the same as us and circumnavigate the town. The only way to do so was through incredibly bumpy dirt tracks. This led to various dead ends, and also going through some very dodgy back streets where there were mannequins hung on the walls of houses with messages threatening death by burning and torture to those who contemplated burglary. I was glad the bus didn’t break down or get a puncture, as a bunch of tourists in mountain gear and glacier sunglasses would really have stuck out like a sore thumb.

Having eventually cleared El Alto (it must have taken an hour) we were now on miles and miles of very dry plains, the Altiplano. The Altiplano is an agricultural area growing principally potatoes and quinoa, although how anything grows in such a desolate area at 13,000 feet is beyond me.

A section of the Altiplano, a bland featureless high altitude desert/scrubland.

A section of the Altiplano, a bland featureless high altitude desert/scrubland.

Eventually we got our first site of Lake Titicaca, and it looked magnificent, even though we could only see a very small portion of it. Having said that, a small portion is all you will ever see of it, as at 5,500 square miles, the word colossal doesn’t even come close to describing it. It was a pleasure to see after the scary trip through El Alto.

First sighting of the quite magnificent Lake Titicaca.

First sighting of the quite magnificent Lake Titicaca.

The lake begins to open up in terms of scale.

The lake begins to open up in terms of scale.

We then after about another hour got down to the edge of the lake and to get to our destination we needed to cross part of it. To do so the bus had to go on a barge without us as passengers, and we had get get onto a mini covered speedboat, which was so low in the water that the lake was almost at eye level as you sat down. Thankfully the crossing was only 800m or so, and passed otherwise without incident, although it was certainly an exciting way to break up the journey.

Our method of transport across the lake......

Our method of transport across the lake……

And inside the boat......

And inside the boat……

Our bus followed in an only slightly larger barge.

Our bus followed in an only slightly larger barge.

Meanwhile the 6th of August (still two days away) celebrations continued on the shoreline.

Meanwhile the 6th of August (still two days away) celebrations continued on the shoreline.

Although some of the locals seems more enthusiastic than others

Although some of the locals seem more enthusiastic than others

The journey to Copacabana, our resort destination on the edge of the lake, took four and a half hours in total. Copacabana it seems was the ‘original’ one, and is steeped in history. It is also a place of pilgrimage for many thousands of Peruvians, all of whom were parked along the shore of the lake partying like it was the end of the world. And this was 3pm.

First view of the resort of Copacabana, our home for the next two days.

First view of the resort of Copacabana, our home for the next two days.

The Ecolodge, a bit of an oasis in the madness of Copacabana, thankfully it was right at the far end of the town itself.

The Ecolodge, a bit of an oasis in the madness of Copacabana, thankfully it was right at the far end of the town itself.

Having dropped our stuff off at the EcoLodge, our home for the next two nights, we went for a walk up to the top of the hill (Cerro Calvario) which overlooks the town. This proved fairly tricky for two reasons. Firstly it would be the first time we had walked up to 4,000m, and the thin air was hard work. Secondly we had to push our way though all manner of Peruvian stalls, hawkers, buskers, religious fanatics queuing to place candles, and just general drunken folk. It was madness. There were firecrackers going off everywhere, and the air was ripe with the smell of manner of substances, some of which might have got me up the hill quicker, but thankfully only the smell came close to me!

Walking back towards the hill in town.....

Walking back towards the hill in town…..

The Peruvians like to dress up their cars and vans for the part too!

The Peruvians like to dress up their cars and vans for the part too!

More llama foetuses and armadillos on display though I'm afraid.

More llama foetuses and armadillos on display though I’m afraid.

Eventually we would begin to wind our way up the hill, even though the people were everywhere.

Eventually we would begin to wind our way up the hill, even though the people were everywhere.

Reaching the top of the hill, which is basically a religious shrine, we admired the great view back down over Copacabana beach.

View back down from the top of Calvario Hill.

View back down from the top of Calvario Hill. As you may be able to see, there are probably 2,000 Peruvian cars and busses parked along the beach!

We also got to share the top with approximately 10,000 mainly drunken Peruvians, although many were also there (presumably slightly less inebriated) to just light candles and get their blessing. The blessing itself does however involve much beer throwing and drinking, one of the strangest rituals I have ever witnessed. They also douse their cars in confetti, party hats, garlands, and more beer. Quite a sight, is all I can say, but again it is amazing to see other people’s traditions and rituals, one of the wonders of travel that I am so grateful for.

And this is what they come for.....

And this is what they come for…..

...in their masses, to worship at the 13 crosses on the top of the hill.

…in their masses, to worship at the 13 crosses on the top of the hill.

Part of the view out over the lake as the sun starts to go down. It was transfixing, and intoxicating, and not just because of all the smells wafting around on the top of the hill!

Part of the view out over the lake as the sun starts to go down. It was transfixing, and intoxicating, and not just because of all the smells wafting around on the top of the hill!

We got down the hill just before sunset and ate dinner in a thankfully fairly quiet beachfront restaurant before heading back in total darkness to the EcoLodge, followed by a multitude of stray dogs, but thankfully by no Peruvians, who by now were just wandering around aimlessly or playing ridiculously loud pan pipe music and dancing like idiots. Good for them!

It had been a great day, as unexpected as it was interesting. Lake Titicaca herself, the reason we were here in the first place, would reveal herself in all her majestic glory in tomorrow’s boat trip to the largest island on the lake, Isla Del Sol, or The Island of The Sun. But I was loving it already. An early night beforehand however was as welcome as it was much needed.

One thought on “Bolivian Climber Day 3

  1. Hi Christopher,
    Just a note to say that I always enjoy receiving notice of your new posts. I found your blog with a lucky search while you were still prepping for Kilimanjaro. Please keep up with the posts–your experiencing many of the things I would like to try myself.

    John

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