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Lake Titicaca

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Another Bolivian Stout Adventure. . .

Saturday morning breaks early at 5 AM, as our bus is coming to pick us up at 5:45.  These weekends are going to kill us.  Those who know me can relate to how much I like to get up early in the morning.  Anyway, succeed without killing anyone, get on the bus and off we go to Chuya, the harbor on Lake Titicaca where we will catch the Catamaran to cruise to the Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol) or Sun Island. 
 
At 3100 square miles, Lake Titicaca is the 24th largest fresh water lake in the world, and the world's highest navigable lake at 12,500 feet.  It is bordered by Peru and Bolivia and some of the islands are Peruvian, some Bolivian. 
 
It's only a 90 minute ride to the harbor, but just 45 minutes outside La Paz we get our first glimpses of the lake and the civilizations that have grown up around it.

At Chuya, we board a large Catamaran for a three hour tour across Lake Titicaca to Sun Island.  It's early and it's chilly, and the sky starts to look formidable as we pass through the Straits of Tiquina, which separates the lake into two bodies of water.  Tomorrow when we return by bus, we will need to be ferried across this point.

But miracuously, and luckily, as we pass through the straits the skies clear and the sun shines down on us, making for spectacular views.  This area is known as the birth place of the Incan civilization, as can be realized by the 35 MILES of terraced mountains we sail by!

It's been a nice cruise, and we arrive at Sun Island, pulling in right under the "original Sun Palace" of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the Aymaran (and Incan) version of Adam and Eve.  This structure was built over pre-Incan ruins of another civilization, and is only a portion of the original building. 

After our brief but interesting tour of the Sun Palace, we go to an Aymaran house (the Indians who inhabit this island) for a traditional lunch.  Of course, I was too busy feeding my face to take any pictures of the food, but it was delicious.  Kingfish from the lake, tiny fried fish like smelt, chicken, corn, sweet potatoes called Oca, dehyrated potatoes that looked like llama scat (and kind of tasted like it, too), some large beans like lima beans, hardboiled eggs and cheese.  They gave us enough food to feed a dozen people.  All the vegetables are grown on the island and said to be extremely healthy.  Many people on the island of the sun live to be well into their 90's.  Over 1000 types of potatoes are grown in Bolivia, and 300 types of corn (I didn't even know there were 1300 types of these vegetables!). 

Now we must don our backpacks and walk uphill for 90 minutes (about five kilometers, I'm guessing) to La Estancia Eco Lodge.  This is the part we've been dreading, being that we are not much of hikers.  It goes alright, though, once we catch our breath.  Some beautiful views as we climb and lots of livestock to take pictures of.

Obviously, I'm not used to climbing with a backpack on, and am whipped, not to mention we probably just went up another 1500 feet!  Anyway, we do arrive at the Eco-lodge on time (around 3 PM), and have some refreshing beverages to revive us.  Unlike last week we have plenty of free time, as dinner isn't until 7:30.

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Ahhh, it's so nice to sit down and get the backpack off! God, we are wimps!

Despite some concerns, the lodge ends up being pretty nice.  Sun Island has only had electricity for 2 years, and the lodge uses solar energy to heat water and warm the lodges.  I have to say, it works better for hot water than heat in the rooms.  It was freezing in there at night.  However, we did have an endless supply of hot water.   After a robust dinner, we all sat around the fire and drank cerveza until we couldn't keep our eyes open (about 2 hours!). 
 
SIDENOTE:  The advent of electricity to the island has brought than inevitable evil of television.  Hence, many of the young folk (who never saw the "outside world") are now leaving this island haven for "bigger and better things", and the fear of the ancient ways and customs being lost looms large on this community.  Many of the kids who leave end up in El Alto, the La Paz immigrant suburb of lawlessness and poverty.

The sun comes up early here, or so it seems as our cabana faces dead East.  So, at 7 AM, unable to sleep anymore and welcoming the warmth, we crawl out from under our down comforter and face the day.  Breakfast is at 8:30 and we won't leave the lodge until around 10:30.

Mike and I go for a little trek around the corner of the island to see the view on the other side before leaving the lodge.  We heard there were some beaches and coves that you could see from the top of the island.  It was nice to walk without the backpacks, and we were rewarded by a tremendous view.  Until now, we didn't realize how big the island actually was (probably because we felt like we had hiked half of it!).

We leave the lodge enroute for the "Fountain of Youth" (yeah, right), where we will meet up with some other one-day tourists and visit the cultural center, go for a reed boat ride, and then grab the catamaran to Copacabana for our return bus ride to La Paz.  The tour group ends up consisting of Japanese from Tokyo, and one of the girls worked at the Starbucks next to our hotel in Akasaka, Tokyo.  Too funny. 

Made it to the fountin of youth, and we'd better drink from it, because we are going to climb down the stairs below, and then back up them with the new additions to our tour group.

At the cultural center they have terraces with plants growing on them, the remains of the old hanging gardens on the Incans, Llamas, Alpacas, a Vicuna and a baby, and a museum with artifacts from the ancient Incans.  Interesting, but the highlight was getting the baby vicuna to kiss me!  He wasn't very interested in anyone else, though!

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View from Cultural Center

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Lucky me, this baby vicuna liked what I had for breakfast!

After the Cultural Center visit, we climbed back down those stairs and got on a traditional Incan reed boat.  These boats are hand made, and one of this size takes about 3 months to build.  The average life expectancy on fresh water is about 14 months, and on sea water, about 9 months.  They claim that these boats were either brought over by the Egyptians, or the Incans brought the technology to Egypt.  They have a whole section in the cultural center based on the feasibility of high sea travel with such boats, including a National Geographic expedition where they built an exact replica and sailed it to Africa.  Interesting thoughts.  And, a fun sail for us, too!  Don't want to try it on big water, however.

After the big reed boat ride (about 20 minutes) we switched back to the catamaran of yesterday and had a nice buffett lunch and cruised to Copacabana.  There we had a five minute stop to take pictures of the church (about the only thing of interest there), then onto the bus for 3 1/2 hours to return to La Paz.  The first 90 minutes I hated, all twisting and turning road with no guardrail, but the views were fantastic (when I could get my eyes open).  I about broke Mike's hand, I think.  But, we did stop and take some pictures, and when we FINALLY got back to La Paz I was able to take a picture of Illimani at twilight that amazed even me.  This mountain "protects" La Paz from earthquakes, and can be seen in part from most parts of La Paz.

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Illimani at dusk, sheltering La Paz

So, that was our trip to Lake Titicaca and Sun Island.  We had beautiful weather the entire time, loads of fun, and lots of exercise.  Wish you all could have been there!