Into Bolivia: Copacabana, Isla del Sol and Sorata
|Written by Jared on October 24, 2012|
Start: October 6, Copacabana, Bolivia
Into Bolivia, another country we know little about, but have gained high expectations of in the past few months. Bolivia is our 13th country so far, and we paid more to cross a border than any other country. Then promptly spent several days doing next-to-nothing on the shores of the world's highest "navigable" lake.
Bolivia is likely the cheapest country we've been to on this trip, with Nicaragua coming in a close second. Gas hassles and visa costs aside, it may prove to be the best country for overlanding in the Americas.
We crossed the border from Peru near Lake Titicaca, heading towards the town of Copacabana, which bears no relation to Bari Manilow's song about the New York night club. The crossing was uneventful, as we've come to expect from South American crossings, aside from the $300+ in visa fees we had to pay.
For an American to cross into Bolivia it costs $135, which is the same as it costs a Bolivian citizen to apply for a US visa. Chances of us getting a Bolivian visa: 100%, chances of a Bolivian getting a US visa: substantially less. We saw it coming. And while it may have hurt our wallet a bit, it seems like a fair practice, especially considering that $135 is more than the average Bolivian makes in a month.
Our first stop in Bolivia was Copacabana, a city built along the shores of Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America. It feels like a bit of a tourist holiday retreat, except at at 12,500 feet elevation. We found the town to be a decent mix of tourist-friendly restaurants and cafes, with plenty of local flavor so as to not completely spoil to atmosphere.
As has become a tradition for Team Life Remotely, one of the first things we do after entering a new city after a day of driving is to scout out local cafes and coffee shops. In Copacabana it didn't take long before we settled on a small shop on the main tourist drag that emphatically offered espressos, capuchinos and other delectable bits.
As you can see from the picture above, I made the mistake of ordering a rather ecentric drink from our choice of coffee house. Brought to the table with much aplomb, minus the sparkler, it definitely had the locals seated at the table next to us pointing and laughing. All I wanted was an iced coffee. Emasculating? Yes. Delicious? Certainly. Regrets? None.
The main attraction near Copacabana is Lake Titicaca and its many islands. On our second day in Copacabana we decide to take a boat trip out to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). According to Incan mythology, Isla del Sol is the birthplace of the Inti, the sun god and patron deity of the Incan empire.
Kobus shows as much enthusiasm as he can muster as we pile into the boat and find ourselves seated in chairs that could be originals from our kindergarden classroom.
After a two-hour no-wake trip in a boat with two 250hp outboard motors operating at 0.5% power, we arrive at Isla del Sol and are told we had 45 minutes to climb up the staircase and snap a few photos of the terraced island and the lake. It was an amazing, albeit breathless view.
Back in the boat we head to the Temple of the Sun for a brief trek around the ruins. Due to the lack of speed on our incoming journey, and a holdup at the dock, our time in the area was cut very short. We had just 15 minutes to check out the ruins.
The ruins are a bit meh, but the scenery, pictured above and at the top of this article, is spectacular. We got our first glimpse of the Bolivian Andes that surround the capital city of La Paz.
Our two-hour return trip to Copacabana gets us back just before sunset. There were some concerns as the captain checked the gas tanks about a half hour from the dock and began laughing. We definitely learned a lesson on this trip - never book a half-day tour on Lake Titicaca unless you enjoy spending four hours in a boat and one hour seeing the sights.
Back in town we hit up a restaurant that we were eyeballing the day before: Thai Palace. Offering a gigantic menu of Japanese, Thai and Indian food, none of which we've had in quite some time. Considering we lived a stone's throw from Chinatown in Seattle, to say we've been missing Asian cuisine is a bit of an understatement.
For dinner I had a delicious meal of llama masala. How's that for Asian fusion?
After a couple nights in Copacabana we head across Lake Titicaca on a barge on our way to Sorata. It's a short stretch across the lake, but the general shoddiness of the barge, and the amount of water under the wooden planks was a tad disturbing.
In Sorata we stayed at a place called Altai Oasis for six nights. They had a couple of pet macaws, and there were hundreds of noisy wild parrots that would make daily visits to feed on the flowers in the trees overhead. One thing is certain, a couple dozen parrots flying around your tent make for an excellent alarm clock.
This was quite possibly the most tent-camper-friendly place we've stayed on this trip. Lots of grassy areas, a fire ring and a kitchen area. We rarely have the ability to bake in an oven, let alone a wood-fire oven, so some big meals are planned for the coming days.
At Altai Oasis the owner's son Simon (who is super friendly, helpful and speaks excellent English) recommended a mechanic in case we needed to have work done on our car. Angel's his name, and he's been working on Altai Oasis' cars for twelve years. It's hard to find good mechanics that you can trust, especially in third-world countries where any guy with a wrench and a hammer will put up a sign saying he works on cars.
It turns out we did need some work done. We've been shopping around for a replacement set of rear coil springs; Blue's ass has been hanging a bit low since we started this trip. In Panama and Colombia we got three or four quotes in the area of $600. Not willing to part with that much cash for an upgrade (as opposed to a repair) we continued to ignore the issue.
Luckily Bolivia is full of Toyotas, and Angel was already on his way to La Paz to get parts, so when we got his quoted price of around $200 for parts and labor, we decided to go for it. It meant spending another couple days at Altai Oasis, but we were more than OK with that.
One of our first nights in Sorata we ran into a friendly Dutch guy named Rob. We fed him dinner and few pisco sours and sat around the campfire talking about food. Somehow the topic of Dutch food was brought up, a subject I know a bit about having lived there for a year and a half, and naturally the discussion lead us to Dutch apple pie and promises of desert tomorrow.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, and wood-fire ovens, we have apple pie! Just like that. A little charred around the edges, but perfectly cooked where it counts the most. Criminally delicious
Kobus made delicious roast chicken in the Dutch oven for dinner, and we shared the leftovers with a few starving French folk who showed up that day with little more than a bag of pasta and pot to cook it in. Since we don't speak French and they spoke less English, we conversed in Spanish. As we sat down to eat, they asked us: "¿Como se dice "buen provecho" en igles? 'How do you say "bon appetit" in English'. We replied to the French, "bon appetit". I don't think they believed us at first, but we all shared a good laugh once our language spaghetti untangled itself.
Every morning the workers at Altai Oasis would let out the critters. A couple goats, a cow (the lawn mowing crew) and several dozen geese, ducks and chickens, plus one turkey. It was a daily struggle to keep them out of the kitchen, but given that's the toughest thing we had to deal with during our stay in Sorata, it's hard to complain.
Along with the ducks, geese, chickens, turkey, parrots and macaws, we also had a few visits from a mentally handicapped falcon. It would jump onto the windowsill of one of the nearby rooms and proceed to pound its face against the glass until a rooster chased it off. What can I say, after four or five days of camping in the same place we become easily amused.
Back to the wood-fire oven, we threw together a few pizzas that turned out extraordinarily well. Having warm weather so the dough actually rises helps a lot, as does having market-fresh mozzarella cheese. Aside from the salami, this meal was completely organic. I know this because I took a dead fly out of the mozzarella and sifted mouse poop out of the flour. When it comes to making delicious and non-poisonous pizza, you do what you gotta do.
After chowing down on some leftover poop-and-insect-free pizza we got an update from our mechanic. He had a bit of trouble finding the springs in La Paz, and had to send for them from a city even farther south. A good sign that he's doing his due diligence and not just trying to slap together whatever he can find.
Kobus met up with him at the shop in the afternoon to give him a hand and make sure the parts are top notch. In the picture above the old coils are on the right, the shiny new 2mm-thicker springs are on the left. A bit of a difference, I would say.
For our piece de resistance a la wood-fire oven we baked up a little slice of home - chicken pot pie. Having a few day of practice working the oven and sifting mouse crap out of flour, this turned out to be one of the best meals we've made on this trip.
Earlier that day Kobus triumphantly returned with Blue and I immediately noticed the difference! The shot on the left was taken one week into our trip, fully loaded on more-or-less level ground. The shot on the right is with the new springs and half loaded. Fully-loaded Blue now sits level, maybe even a bit higher in the back.
Kobus remarked that we should get better gas mileage now that we're constantly driving downhill. I facepalmed and Jessica could only shake her head in disgust. She married him, afterall.
Up next: We drive the world's most dangerous road and visit the Bolivian cities of La Paz, Potosi and Sucre.