MATT:We decided to leave La Paz in style, organising a tour to Cuzco, Peru at much more expense than normal. But it would turn out to be worth the extra money, both for the added activities that we probably wouldn't have been able to organise on our own and for the added ease of getting from a to b.
We were collected early in the morning by our guide, Mariella, who would transport us as far as the Peruvian border and look after us on the way.
We were collected in a bus big enough for about 18 people, but found out quickly that we are going to be the only passengers to Lake Titicaca. Soon we were on our way through and up out of the city with Mariella giving us a pretty good lecture of the social, political, racial and religious history of Bolivia. She pretty quickly reveals herself as a smart cookie.
We make a quick stop at as we are leaving La Paz at the highest point above the city so we can take in the view back down the valley, across all the districts of La Paz and to the snow capped Andes beyond. Just as we are taking a few photos the snow starts to fall. Mariella says she has never see snow fall over the city.
Before long we are driving through the countryside of the high plateau in the snow and sleet heading for the southern part of Lake Titicaca. Although we are still high, at about 3400m above sea level, as we get closer to the lake, the air is getting more moist and the vegetation is getting thicker, which makes it more comfortable to breath.
We arrive at the hotel on the shore of the lake and are welcomed with a cup of real coca leaf tea and are told that we basically have the hotel to ourselves… it is beginning to feel like the extra money we spent on this trip was worth it. We are shown to our room that has views from two sides over the lake.
After we have settled in a little, we head back down and meet Mariella for our afternoon entertainment. We are to visit the four museums which are adjacent to the hotel.
The first has a bit of a homemade sort of feel, but is quite entertaining and pretty informative about the geography of Bolivia and the history of the Inca and of the main Inca site in Bolivia - Tiajuanaco. It also covered the post Spanish colonial period and the impact had on the indigenous Aymara and Ketchuan people and how their beliefs live on in the modern population.
It was a pretty quick trip around the first museum, despite all the stuff it covered, and we left feeling pretty cheery as we moved onto the second of the four museums.
The second museum was all about the tradition of reed boat building on Lake Titicaca - a type of boat that goes back thousands of years. We met a father and son who were from a long line of boat builders and still construct the boats today.They were even the men who built (and sailed) Thor Heyerdahl's boats that were used to cross the pacific (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kon_Tiki if you don't already know) so deserve celebrity status in their own right. They continue o build these boats for voyages that go round the world today. Safe to say I was very impressed and pretty excited to have met these two quiet men and jumped at the chance to climb aboard one of the boats for a couple of photos.
We moved onto the third museum to learn about the agriculture and traditional crafts of the Aymaran people. We were introduced to a couple of ladies weaving the bright cloths of Bolivia, a couple of friendly Alpacas and Llamas and a rather grumpy Vicuña. We also saw how they make the traditional bowler hat of Aymaran ladies and the wide variety of potatoes that are produced in Bolivia.
The final museum was all about the role of the traditional Aymaran medicine man or Kallawaya. The position of Kallawaya is handed down from father to son and is a vital part of the traditional way of life. The Kallawaya is responsible for diagnosing and treating illness using plants, animals and minerals as well as ritual ceremonies where they contact the spirits.
The museum mostly covered the different plants and animals and how they are used - including how guinea pigs are used to x-ray the sick. The Kallawaya takes the poor wee squeaking guinea pig and rolls across the body of his patient. He then cuts the guinea pig open and whatever was wrong with the person will now be wrong with the guinea pig… who needs radiation.
The last room of the museum we entered was a low, dark, rectangular room with a low platform and a fire burning at one end of the room. The platform was seated by (what at first I thought was a waxwork of) a Kallawaya. Mariella introduced us and he welcomed us, in Aymaran and gave us a blessing that should give us good health and good luck forever (nice). The blessing included him taking a small glass of clear liquid, which he flicked a few drops of at us and then, while chanting to the Patcha Mama (mother earth) threw the remainder into the fire behind hom which sent a huge fireball up to the ceiling. I am sill glad he didn't ask me to drink any of it.
We were then offered the chance of a reading of the coca leaves. We were asked if we would like to ask a question and Kel went straight for the big question… will we be able to have kids one day? Start with the easy ones Kel.
The Kallawaya then lays out a few leaves on the colourful blanket in front of him and explains that one represents Kel, one represents me and one represents Scotland. He then begins to chant various questions in Aymaran and with each one flicks a small coca leaf onto the mat. After a few minutes he is done and explains that a leaf that has landed dark, glossy side up is a positive response and a leaf that lands pale, matte side up is negative. There are lots of dark greens around Kel and Scotland and one pale leaf on me… oh dear. Thankfully he explains that my pale leaf just means that I have to be patient as we are destined for a happy and productive life in Scotland with a girl first followed by a boy… so watch this space and we will see if he is right.
Eventually we left the Kallawaya (although I did see him later wearing overalls and a baseball cap doing the gardening) and walked out into the light feeling a bit spaced from the whole experience. But we have been told that as we have the hotel to ourselves, we also have the spa to ourselves - so naked Jacuzzi time here we come. Only after we are done with the spa do we find out that we do not, in fact, have the hotel to ourselves, but are sharing it with a conference of Germans… but I guess of any nationality, the Germans would find naked Jacuzzi time acceptable.
After spa - dinner and the in house pan pipe band for entertainment. They were actually very good and were only upstaged by the full moon rising above the lake behind us.
After dinner and our last entertainment for the day - the in house Astronomical Observatory. Again, we had the place to ourselves as they gave us the presentation about Inca astronomy before the ceiling retracted to expose the crystal clear Bolivian sky. We then got to look at the stars through a telescope given to the hotel by NASA… a pretty amazing end to a very full day. Tomorrow is going to bring even more.
We are up early the next day and after a tasty breakfast are on the dockside (with a couple of Alpacas) to get on the hydrofoil which is going to take us across the lake to Copacabana. Again we have it all to ourselves and we are soon making the most of it as we lord about the place, taking the choicest seats on the upper decks wrapped in blankets to keep out the cold. Before long we are whizzing across the water getting soaked by the spray - so we retire into the cabin for a wee nap.
We get to Copacabana (which the Brazilians named theirs after) and get on a big coach (again to ourselves) and get driven about two yards into the village square where the locals are gathered (ladies in bowler hats, pleated skirts and long pigtails) debating the business of the day in the sunshine. We walk up to the towns church the to visit the "Virgin Of Copacabana" the patron saint of Bolivia and the first catholic sculpture to be made by an indigenous person.
The church was pretty spectacular and the town is very pretty little place and a good place to buy the spectacularly oversized popcorn that they make in Bolivia. It was also our departure point for the two main islands on the lake - Moon island first and Sun island second.
This time we are sharing our boat with one other lady, but she is so badly affected by the altitude she doesn't actually ever get off the boat. The first stop for us is Moon island - which was long ago where the most beautiful and intelligent Inca virgin girls were sent to be educated and ultimately become wives or concubines to the Inca. The island, which is pretty small, still has a small village on it and the ruins of the Inca School for girls, although it is pretty broken up now.
Our second stop, after another boat ride was to Sun island - the island of the Inca gods. We start with a short trek, accompanied by the lama Martin, via a couple more sites of ruins, to our lodgings for the night. Tonight we stay in a really nice hostel perched on the hillside above the lake in a small, friendly village. Again we are welcomed with coca tea, which helps reverse the breathlessness we are feeling from the hike and then we get the opportunity to chill (it is pretty cold up here) for a few hours in our lovely room before we take a short hike to the highest point of the island to watch the sun set.
The walk up the hill is not far, but we continue to feel the lack of oxygen. Mariella has taught us the trick of picking a strong, menthol smelling herb which helps open our lungs so we can breath a bit easier.
Unfortunately the clouds are on the horizon where the sun is setting, but the walk up through the village was worth it in itself, and on the opposite horizon the view of the distant snow capped mountains across the lake is spectacular.
As it starts to get dark, we walk back down to the hotel and dinner and bed.
Day 3 and still plenty more planned. The morning finds us with a bit of free time to hit the local markets and Kel can get the table mats she wants (?).
We are soon getting ready to leave the beautiful Sun island, following an early lunch on a terrace over looking the lake. First, after walking down the steep path to the lake, we stop to drink from the Inca springs. Three springs to represent the three Inca commandments: Don't Steal, Don't Be Lazy and Don't Lie. These are reputed to give eternal youth… we will have to wait and see for that one.
Soon we are back on a boat to ourselves. A smaller boat this time which takes a lovely couple of hours in the sun to get back to Copacabana. This time it is flying visit - long enough to buy some coca tea and change our Bolivianos to Peruvian Sols, then Mariella is escorting us to the border and we are saying our goodbyes.
We cross the border and are collected by the Peruvian guides who are going to drive us (in style and via a couple of Churches) to Puno, where we will stay in an outrageously cold hotel, have some very nice pisco sours, some tasty pizza and an early start for our long bus journey to Cuzco - the centre of the Inca Empire.