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Bolivia - I

Approaching the Isla del Sol  

 Bolivia is another of those places that stirs the imagination. I suppose I have wanted to go there ever since I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Being apparently a place of rebels, outlaws and misfits, I thought I would fit right in. Certainly at this stage I was so close to the border, less than three hours away, that it would have been a crime not to have taken a peek. After all, what were  the chances that I would ever be this close again?
By the way, does anyone else think it's amazing - it happens to me in Europe too, that you can practically walk from one country to another, without having to pay the enormous price we do to get off this gigantic island  stuck way down there in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific?

There is however, much more cultural homogeneity here than in Europe. This is most likely because the Incas ruled from Quito in Ecuador through to Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile and they were followed by the Spaniards who ruled for the best part of five centuries, whereas Europeans were able to maintain their separate cultures for much longer. There is a sameness to the cities too -big churches, lots of Plazas called Plaza de Armas more often than not, big sprawling markets, no front gardens, no trees. If there are gardens, they are carefully contained within courtyards or squares and are not visible to casual passersby. Boxed in by the Andes and with very little arable land, I expect that there was not much room for landscaping.
I had to look twice that I hadn't mixed up the pictures of Puno with Copacabana which is also on Lake Titicaca and also had island tours. 
The Isla del Sol was not a reed island but a solid one and was considered the birthplace of both the sun and the Incas. For this reason I was expecting something quite monumental of the Templo del Sol.

An Inca guards the start of the Inca steps

His consort stands opposite

There were lovely views of the lake and of snow capped peaks in the distance upon climbing the Inca Stairs. I said I was just admiring the view whenever I stopped to rest and only managed to labour about three quarters of the way up before the tour operators called us back. I was expecting a bit more of the Templo del Sol, (below) though.

The Templo del Sol

My visit to Copacabana didn't start too well either. Just before we entered the town, we were all ordered off the bus. Several other tour buses stood nearby doing the same, along with a large number of people who didn't look all that friendly. They may have been carrying picks and shovels. A big mound of dirt blocked the road and we had to gather our belongings and walk about 15 minutes to meet up with mini buses which then took us into town - for extra payment of course. I wasn't sure if it was a strike or a demonstration of some kind and just stumbled along with eveyone else. I found out later that this was because the town was getting a gas main - good on the Bolivians - more about that later, but it was unnerving at the time.

When I arrived in town and started looking for the place I had booked, I discovered that my glasses were missing. It was dark now, but  after asking at the bus station first to see if anyone had found them, I took a mini cab back where we had left the bus to see if I had lost them there. No sign of them of course. At the police station where I also asked, the officer just laughed. Someone who translated for me said that he said that if anyone found them, they would never hand them in even if the prescription didn't suit them.

Then the cab driver drove me round and round the town taking me to many different hotels because he couldn't read my writing in my little book either. I also persuaded a couple of concierges to ring around, but no -one admitted to having my booking. If you book and don't turn up, they bill you anyway, but eventually I was so tired and frustrated that I just stayed at one of the places where he pulled up just to get some sleep.

My first mission in the morning since I couldn't even see enough to use a computer was to find an optometrist, but there was none. The nearest optometrist was in La Paz they said and when I looked in the little shops and chemists I couldn't even find a pair of magnifying glasses. At last I found an expensive magnifying glass used to check if notes were forged, and now being able to read the address and the phone number, I finally found my hotel. They forgave me for the missed night provided I stayed another couple of days, so I said yes, especially as I was starting to feel a bit poorly and appreciated  having a room to myself for once. It also cost less than the hostels I had been staying in in Peru. 

When I could appreciate it, Copacabana was in fact a nice little town, friendlier than Puno and a bit more tourist -oriented. One street leading down to the water was all coffee shops, little grocers, handcraft stalls and gringo restaurants and the food was nicely presented, although the World Cup was ever present.

Little restaurant where I had breakfast. It also served vegetarian food

 The wood carvings in the picture above were unusual. I didn't see this use of wood anywhere else in Bolivia. There was an unusual custom too. It was the blessing of cars and trucks at the cathedral below (miniatures of objects wished for also, although that happens in January). As I was walking around town, I saw many cars sporting gladoli or other flowers, having just come from from such a ceremony.

The Moorish influenced cathedral dates from 1605
Caution!  bus crossing

 On the last day in Copacabana I found a street stall selling those magnifying reading glasses and was able to sell my magnifying glass for half the purchase price. There must be a big problem with forged bank notes in Bolivia. When you handed someone paper money, they eye you up and down, hold it up to the light and give it a tug or two, so it wasn't all that hard to sell the magnifying glass. As I still couldn't see very much even with the reading glasses, I still had to go to La Paz. which was only about three hours away. It also necessitated crossing part of the Lake, but instead of staying on the bus  passengers had to disembark and go by motor boat and wait on the other side until the bus finally made it. It did look touch and go there for a while and was the most exciting part of the trip. I wonder how many buses they've lost over the years. 

What the barges looked like -glad we weren't on them