Voyage to the Island of the Sun

This morning we rose to catch the sunrise on Lake Titicaca, only to find that because it was rising behind us, it wasn’t really lighting us the snow-capped Andes. Oh, well, the day still got off to a great start as we boarded a small boat to go out to the Island of the Sun, about an hour’s drive from Copacabana. Not too surprisingly, the town of Copacabana was completely quiet after the festivities of the day before. However, it was also very clean, even down by the lake where the revelers were still going strong last night even as we went to sleep. The day was bright and clear and while crisp, not bone-numbingly cold as we had expected for a fall day at 12,800 feet. This makes Lake Titicaca the highest navigable lake in the world. According to both Incan and Aymara legend, the main gods in their religions, the Sun God (representing men) and the Moon Goddess (representing women), were born in and arose from Lake Titicaca to rule the heavens and the people on Earth.

Copacabana shoreline
Copacabana shoreline

The Island of the Sun is the largest island in Lake Titcaca, and there is a fairly large population of indigenous people living on the island (about 4,000), where they have lived for centuries farming the island using the ancient terraced slopes dating back to pre-Incan times. There are no cars on the island, and the farming is still done using mostly burros. There are hiking trails all over the island, and it seems to be a favorite spot for young backpackers from all over the world. However, it is not really touristic, as so few people visit each year.

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Stairway to H___________?
Stairway to H___________?

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When we landed, we started hiking up the slope using the stone stairs first built in pre-Columbian times. What is it with the people and their stone stairways to the sky?!!!!! However, with the lure of a killer view over the lake and to the Andes beyond, we started huffing our way up the stairs. Suffice it to say that at this altitude (particularly lugging my camera gear) and using my tripod as a walking stick, we were winded after about 25 steps. There were only about 500 left to go.

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In the end, as I’m sure you will agree, it was worth it! We gazed out over the lake and caught our breath while we watched women in traditional attire harvest their skinny plots of land.

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After we climbed back down the hill, we boarded the boat again, which took us to another spot on the Sun Island, where we briefly explored the ruins of an Incan palace on the shore of the island called Pilko Kaina (which means where hummingbirds rest). Like most Incan sites, the Spaniards completely pillaged the palace, but the people managed to save some pieces by taking them out on the lake and throwing them overboard. Some of the pieces still remain there, and the Bolivian government monitors all diving and dredging operations in the lake very closely to make sure no further pilferage takes place.

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The ruins of Pilko Kaina
The ruins of Pilko Kaina

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We finished our visit to the Island of the Sun by having a traditional Bolivian lunch hosted by a local family, which consisted mainly of boiled corn, potatoes, and fava beans, with some fried chicken and fish and some local cheese. It was probably the best meal we had in Bolivia!

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Then we returned to Copacabana, and began the long drive back to La Paz. We arrived just in time to see the moon rising over the rim of the mountains surrounding the city. After an early dinner, we turned in quickly, because there is more to explore tomorrow.

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