The Hassan's

Send Lawyers, Guns, and $$$ Tour

(Read Other First Person Travel Stories)


Rolled out of La Paz early Wednesday morning and onto Lake Titicaca. The highest large navigable lake in the World. Sitting at 12,500 feet it indeed looks like an ocean in many places where the far shore is not visible. Sapphire blue set against what seems to be a constant blue sky, it is unlike any other lake we've ever seen. Here Bolivia houses its six boat Navy. Having lost its seacoast in the 1870's in a war with Chile it decided that it still must have a Navy no matter how foolish it might seem. Generally the military doesn't worry about looking foolish and in South America that is definitely the case.

Our base for exploring the Bolivian side of the lake was Copacabana and yes it does have a nice beach but with the water of the lake a constant 47 degrees not too many tourist go swimming. You can however get a nasty sunburn in no time at all - need you ask how we came by this information?   It doesn't take hours here, only a few too many minutes to get fried. Fortunately no one played Barry Manilow while we were there.

The first day we wandered the small town that houses a tremendous Cathedral. In 1587 an Indian woodcarver created a statue of the Virgin. Soon it was credited with numerous miracles, including the granting of wishes. To house this Virgin a great Cathedral was begun in 1610 and remains remarkably undamaged by the nearly four centuries of pilgrims. Today they come each day from all over Bolivia and Peru to seek their dreams. Outside you may buy model cars, trucks, houses etc. which you take into the church to have blessed in hope that these items will come to you. Others bring their cars and trucks to be blessed outside in what seems to be a "celestial" insurance policy.

While wandering the small town we also were able to witness part of a wedding reception. This was located as we followed the sounds of a large brass band until we found the outdoor reception area. For those attending the reception without gifts the local merchants set up a stall with dishware and other household items for the last minute shopper. Next we stopped at a school where the children were putting on a pageant in homemade costumes. It was very funny to see them all running around in what appeared to be total disorganization while the mothers and ourselves just watched in amazement. What was further amazing about both of these events was that we were there but no one appeared to recognize the fact. We didn't enter the reception itself but watched from the street as did many of the neighborhood children. Throughout both events everyone just moved around us without any alteration in their routine. Throughout our short stay in Bolivia that had been the case, unfortunately it is not something that can be expected to last much longer. It is definitely different here in Peru.

The next day we had an experience we shalln't forget for several reasons. We rode in a van over one of the worse road we've ever encountered to the northernmost point on the peninsula we were on. Along the way we viewed the building of the traditional reed boats the Indians used on the lake and took a short ride on one. Lois got to kiss an Alpaca named Salvatore and we got on a small motor boat to go the Isle del Sol, which the Inca believe was the birthplace of their civilization. The island is ten miles long and several miles wide and rises to 14,000 feet. We knew we were to visit the island BUT did not realize that we were going to walk the length of the island during our five hours there.

Hopefully the pictures from this excursion will do it justice but there is no way to adequately describe the beauty of the stark rock of the island, the sapphire lake, the blue sky and the snow covered peaks of the Andes that run the east side of the lake. There is also nothing at top the island to distract from the serenity of it all, save the few other tourists and llamas you find there. Indians inhabit the narrow band of some of the coastline. There are several pre-Incan and Incan temples on the island that contribute to the mystical nature of the place for the Indians and many visitors. It is a tremendous place to visit.

However, we found ourselves barely acclimated to climbing several flights of stairs by the time we reached the island and even that was done at the 12,500 foot level. Climbing up the ridges to 14,000 and then down and back up for five hours was a "mystical" experience in itself. Run real hard for 100 yards stop for ten seconds and run another hard 100 and keep that up for five hours and you get some idea of the experience. We had brought Renan, the guide we had in La Paz, with us to the lake and he did everything he could to keep us from becoming offerings to the lake. Lois doesn't want to have that experience again - there goes the climb up Everest. Now the experience can be fully savored but believe us it was very painful at the time.

We have moved on the Peru. Fortunately our luggage made it with us. Our hotel in Copacabana had done us the favor to send it down to the bus area and it was indeed loaded onto a bus, but one that was headed back to La Paz, quite fortunately we got there before it left and were able to retrieve it. Sometimes too much help can be a problem.

One of the easiest border crossings we've ever encountered. About ten miles down the road the Peruvian customs boarded the bus to insure that none of the happy travelers were bringing any happy weed with them - guess they don't want to undermine the local market. Miraculously the bus dropped us right in front of the tourist agency we needed to find and our hotel was only two blocks away. The bad news is they gave us a penthouse room on the fourth floor - no elevators in Puno, Peru. Just about acclimated to the altitude now but still four flights of stairs is not a lot of fun.

We were really lucky to find the town in the middle of a great celebration where all the schools march through the town in different costumes accompanied by brass bands. Got to see more colorful costumes in one afternoon than you might get in a months worth of tourist shows. The groups are aged from about 15 to 21 and they really get into the music and the dancing - everybody including us had an great time.

Tomorrow morning we get the train out of here and head for Cuzco. Everyone tells us how wonderful it is there, just hope that all the tourists aren't too much. We also have to realize that the general approach to tourists is very different from Bolivia. Here there are people everywhere who want to "help" you. Best defense we found it to have a handful of vouchers for your travel arrangements in hand, that is the silver crucifix that protects the traveler. Should have no problem with internet in Cuzco - in Copacabana they had one computer that theoretically was wired but no one ever knew of it to actually work. Those who have sent messages may or may not get reply as the computer connections here are VERY slow and every download is an ordeal, some of you early net users know what that means.



Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan

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