Today (May 3rd), we departed early for our drive to the town of Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Although it’s only about 100 miles from La Paz to Copacabana, it takes about four hours to get there, including a short ferry crossing.
But first, we had to navigate through the the rapidly expanding twin city to La Paz, Los Altos. Sitting atop the flatlands (altiplano) above La Paz, Los Altos was recently recognized as the most rapidly expanding city in the world. It certainly seems to be true, as everywhere you look, building is going on. Unfortunately, the traffic problems have been commensurate with the building boom, and we had to inch along through Los Altos even at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning of a holiday weekend.
Once out of Los Altos, we drove through the very high plains watching the local farmers harvesting their crops (mostly quinoa, fava beans, oats and potatoes), while others herded their sheep, cows and the occasional llama.
About two hours out of town, we drove through a local community holding a parade to celebrate the religious holiday. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, and dancing /marching as they progressed to the community church. It was quite the sight!
Our next stop was on the shores of Lake Titicaca for us to meet the master reed boat maker, who became Thor Heyerdahl ‘s friend, and oversaw the building of several of his expeditionary reed boats. He and his daughters showed us how the boats are made, and shared amazing photographs from all the expeditions he has been part of, and the honors bestowed on him by his own and other governments.
As we drove onward towards the ferry, we crossed over a pass at 14,100 feet, and we about 5 miles from the Peruvian border. Perú also shares the shore of Lake Titicaca, which, at over 3800 square miles, is easy to understand. We boarded a tiny ferry in the little town of Taquina, while our bus went by separate ferry. Thankfully, we weren’t headed in the opposite direction, because the line of holiday traffic heading back to La Paz stretched nearly a mile!
Shortly thereafter, we arrived in the town of Copacabana. This was apparently the first town in Latin America to bear this name, with even the iconic beach in Rio having copied the name. Our hotel, the Rosario del Lago is absolutely charming, and all the rooms look out on the bay on the lake. This holiday weekend, the shoreline is packed with holiday revelers, with many of them doing various sports out on the lake, despite the fact that it is a glacial lake at about 13,500 feet elevation!
After lunch, we walked into town. Everywhere we went, we could hear the sounds of various bands, many aided by copious amounts of cerveza. Our destination was the Basilica of Our Lady Copacabana. I have to confess, dear readers, that after four months in heavily Catholic countries, my capacity to fully appreciate another church was probably at an all-time low. Nonetheless, as we approached the Basilica, there was something new. Outside the church was a whole line of stands set up to bless cars. This consisted of decorating the vehicles with flowers and other decorations, and anointing the cars and trucks with beer and champagne while they were blessed by the resident priest. Even I had to admit it was pretty cool!
As we went Inside the church, though, I was pleased to see a somewhat austere sanctuary (relative to most of the other South American churches we have seen).
However, the coolest part of the Basilica was its separate chapel for the Madonna of Candelaria completely devoted to various famous Madonnas (patronas) and generally, to the power and importance of women. Churches from all over the world have sent representative replicas of their iconic Madonnas, and there is a general acceptance that the chapel honors not only the Catholic worship of the Madonna, but also the indigenous worship of the Earth Mother (Pachamama).
Because it was a saint’s day today, everyone in town was dressed in their Sunday best, and their were dancing bands all over town. We also saw the entrance to the 14 stages of the cross which go up the local hill behind town. Then we walked along the shore of the lake and enjoyed the setting sun.