Lady Gaga or Lake Titicaca?
by Juliahoolia on January 5, 2011
If we live in a society that promotes materialism, admires celebrity excess and is complicated by pensions, taxes and mortgages, then what better way to escape the chaos than to visit a world that is the absolute polar opposite? Also known as the world's highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca lies across the borders of Peru and Bolivia and offers many different experiences for visiting travelers.
Due to a time crunch in our travel plans, and after listening to other travelers' recommendations, we decided to focus our visit to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side and do a two-night stay on Isla del Sol, an island easily accessible by boat from the little Bolivian town of Copacabana.
Unbeknownst to us until we arrived on Isla del Sol, visitors can stay on either end of the island. You can stay on the south side of the island, where the boat drops you off, or the north side, which you get to by taking a 45-minute boat from the drop-off point. I highly recommend going north as it is much less touristy. You are not harassed when you arrive, and you get to enjoy the island as the locals do (minus the having to catch and kill your own dinner, but more about that later)!
Upon arrival on the north side, we were told to walk 50 meters to the beach, where there would be "hostels" to stay at. I say "hostels" because, for a ridiculously cheap 15 Bolivianos a night, you can stay in a family's spare room. There is no Internet access anywhere in sight, and I very much doubt this "hostel" has a listing on www.hostelbookers.com!
As Lake Titicaca is nothing short of gigantic, it is very easy to forget that you are actually staying in the middle of a lake rather than on a beach on the Atlantic coastline! Unlike such beaches though, ours was deserted. With a private beach, we finally felt we had something in common with Sir Richard Branson himself except that our beach did not cost more than two hundred pounds a night!
After playing cards on our beach for a while--we may have been secluded from the modern world, but we were still travelers after all--we decided to walk up some of the hills nearby to get a glimpse of the sunset. It was definitely one of the most spectacular views I've seen on my travels. The sun sets over not only the lake but also the peaks of the Andes, another constant reminder that we were nowhere near the ocean but rather at a staggering, and perhaps sometimes altitude sickness inducing, 4,000 meters above sea level!
Despite experiencing hot temperatures during the daytime, make sure to have your market-purchased Bolivian knitware ready. In October, when we were there, it was not quite summertime yet, and temperatures plummeted to below freezing at night. There was no central heating; it would have been as out of place as the sight of Lady Gaga fishing out on the pier!
Once we donned all our jumpers, scarves and gloves to battle the cold, we set out to find somewhere to eat. It was not the hardest task seeing as this part of the island is not a tourist trap and has only locals living on it and only a handful of households at that! Whoever said less is more, though, is definitely on to something as both dinners we had on the island were nothing short of absolutely delicious. The meals were made even more delicious by the two-hour wait we endured watching a lovely Bolivian lady single-handedly cook homemade vegetable soup followed by trout, which was caught fresh from the lake earlier in the day, with rice and homemade potato chips.
This is definitely not the place to be if you cannot live without a McDonald's drive-thru, but, as I mentioned previously, every second on Isla del Sol is a world away from home. And, based on the nickname we acquired at dinner time, "the Sex and the City girls," we should have been catching the first boat out of there. Forget noisily packing your bag in your dorm room at 3:00 am; apparently, taking the train to Machu Picchu is the worst traveling sin you can commit!
To prove that we were, in fact, expert trekkers, and to take advantage of the gorgeous scenery surrounding us, we decided to spend the following day walking from the north side of the island to the south side. It only takes about three hours, so "trek" might be a slight exaggeration, but I doubt Carrie Bradshaw has done anything similar! This was definitely the best way to explore the island.
If traveling is about experiencing different lifestyles and cultures, then you won't get more removed from reality than watching your dinner being prepared from the inside out! Nothing quite highlighted the difference between life on Lake Titicaca and life in London Town more than waking up to the sight of our dinner, a headless farm animal lying upside down in a wheelbarrow, outside our bedroom window! As stomach-churning as such a sight might seem, don't let it dissuade you from visiting Isla del Sol. The most important aspect of life on the island is sheer survival, meaning catching and preparing your own food is vital.
Add Lake Titicaca to your South American itinerary if you think you can handle cold showers that make army boot camp seem like an over-60s holiday you would send your nan on; flushing the toilet using buckets instead of handles; and leaving it all behind feeling familiar with the insides of a popular farm animal. I promise you won't want to head back to a chaotic city any time soon!