Central Aust '09
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Copacabana - Day One
Our Copacabana adventures started at the Peru/Bolivia border. The bus from Puno stopped at the border in front of a shop where could use the toilet and change our money into Bolivian Currency. We had read that we shouldn't exchange our money at the border as the exchange rate is bad. But this wasn't the case, so we exchanged some of our money. There was basically zero instruction from the bus staff, we were just told to get off the bus. We worked out that we had to walk up towards the border to get our passport formalities done. When we went into the passport office on the Peru side they wanted the immigration form that we had filled out at the airport on our arrival to Peru. We had our passports, but these bits of paper were on the bus! So we were told to go next door to the immigration office so we could fill out a new form and pay S/. 15 each. Lucky we hadn't exchanged all of our Peruvian Soles!!! So we paid and then went back to the first office to get the passport done. At this time the attendant noticed we were Australian (I don't know why he didn't realise that the first time) and he laughed while saying something in Spanish. I don't know what he actually said, but probably something about us not needing the immigration forms!
After getting our passport stamped we went to the second office for another stamp, then walked across the border into Bolivia. One of the bus staff was there so we asked what to do. Turns out that bus had left our luggage in the car park and headed off to La Paz. Anyone could have come along and stolen ou bags! He said that we must go to the Bolivian Immigration office and get more passport stamps, then walk back to the car park, grab our luggage and take the other bus to Copacabana. So off to the Bolivian immigration office we went, and waited in line. There were no signs or other indicators to tell us we needed to fill in a form, but rather just as we were almost at the door the security guard gave us some forms and we quickly filled them in. No worries from there, so we went to get our luggage. The 'bus' from the border to Copacabana was just a private taxi van, and again there was no indication as to which one we had to take. We eventually figured it out by asking the drivers, and were soon on our way to Copacabana! The trip from the border to Copacabana is only 10Km so it didn't take long.
When we arrived to Copacabana we saw a lovely small town with a beautiful bay, and there were people in parachutes floating around which we later saw had jumped from the highest mountain in the area.
We were dropped in the main street and we took the 10 minute walk (really 5 minutes, but we had all our luggage so it took 10) to Hostal Las Olas which is up the hill and has a lovely view of the bay. We checked in and went to our room which was absolutely beautiful! The room was made from rocks and timber, two storey with a little kitchen, a sitting area, an extra bed under the stairs and a table, chairs and hammocks outside on the grass.
We left our gear in our room, and our first task was to visit reception and book our trip to Isla Del Sol for the next morning. This was easy and the man gave us heaps of useful information. We then went into town to change the rest of our Peruvian Soles into Bolivianos which was no problem - there are currency exchange offices everywhere, even some small shops double as currency exchange.
We walked around for a bit, had a look at some shops and the square, then went to the bank to change our large money (100 Bolivianos notes) into smaller notes - no problem, except that with the look the bank woman gave us I thought she wasn't going to let us change the money or something.
After the bank we visited the cathedral, followed by a walk up the hill to Horca del Inca. This was a hard walk uphill in the high altitude and we found ourselves out of breath. But once at the top the views of Copacabana were fantastic, and it was so peaceful as there was absolutely nobody around.
We went to Hotel Rosario on the way back to town - they are the local agent for Turisbus, the bus company for our Copacabana to La Paz bus. We just wanted to confirm where to meet since our tickets said "concentration at Hotel Rosario" - turns out we just needed to meet at the hotel foyer and they will take us to the bus in the main street.
We grabbed some supplies while we were in town and then headed back to Hostel Las Olas for a cup of coffee (coca tea for Briony) and some relax time on the outside table and chairs. We had no milk for coffee so I used half a carton of chocolate milk - the coffee was great!
At 17:30 we went for a walk up Calvario Hill behind the hotel. There are some monuments up there and it's the done thing for tourists to go up top an watch the sunset and nice views of Copacabana. It was a steep walk up but certainly didn't take the hour that we'd heard people mention - it took about half an hour. I guess to walk from the town centre would add an extra 10 minutes though. The views from up top were very nice and we got some good photos. When we got to the top we sat down with a view of the setting sun and grabbed some photos. It was here that Briony chose to look directly at the sun through the camera zoom lens, and she complained that it hurt her eyes and somehow I was in trouble for not warning her. I just told her the story of the sun, the magnifying glass and the ant. Anyway we relaxed for a few minutes and then decided it was just a sunset, so we went back to town for dinner.
We ate at a small restaurant called Cafe Bistrot. We ordered garlic bread plus some curries, all of which were great (the garlic bread was huge!). Briony had a banana shake and I had a beer, the total was 104 Bolivianos. We also ordered (30 Bolivianos each) 2 takeaway lunchboxes for our Isla Del Sol trip. The woman in Cafe Bistrot was wearing a Linux t-shirt which I thought was cool, and her computer guy was there doing some stuff. I was going to ask her where she got the shirt, until I saw that her computer was running Windows XP, at which point I became disappointed so I didn't bother about the shirt!
After dinner we went back to the hostel and to bed - both Briony an I agree that the beds were the most comfortable we had ever slept on! Plus they were very, very warm!
Copacabana - Day Two
Day two was looking to be a lovely day - the sun was shining, we'd had a good night's rest and we had booked a trip to Isla del Sol. We put some breakfast on and started getting ready. Suddenly I yelled to Briony to just hurry up as we were going to miss the boat!! There had been a change of time zone when we crossed the border into Bolivia but I had forgotten to change the time on the alarm clock! So we were running half an hour late.
I left my breakfast and coffee, and started packing our bag while Briony finished her shower. As soon as the bag was packed I raced down to the dock to make sure I could hold the boat, calling into cafe Bistrot to grab our pre-ordered lunch box. Briony was to be a few minutes behind me. Once I got to the dock i realised that in my haste I'd forgotten the boat tickets to I had to buy new ones, a fact that Briony still does not know to this day (unless she's read this website of course).
Anyway we got on the boat just in time, and started the two-hour jourrney to Isla el Sol plus another half hour to the northern end of the island. The boat was packed, and had a really bad exhaust problem while moving slowly, the whole cabin was filled with diesel fumes.
Once we got to Isla del Sol everything was much better. We grabbed some water and a bag of giant popcorn, and started walking along the tourist route. We walked along the beach and saw lots of pigs wandering around, and then headed up past some houses and a school.
After 45 minutes we arrived at the Inca Ruin which was okay but not that exciting - probably what was more exciting was the sheep wandering through the ruins looking for grass.
I should also mention here that for the entire day I was paranoid about a hotel fire!! I had been cooking eggs for breakfast and I could not be sure that I'd turned the stove off!
The rest of the afternoon was spend walking from the north end to the south end of the island. This took around 3 hours. There's nothing really to report about the walk, except that the path was fairly decent, the views were nice, and a reminder to take sunscreen!
At one point along the walk I sat Briony down on a rock and I was going to ask her to marry me. I had the necklace in my pocket and all was good, until she told me I had something in my teeth. That sort of spoiled the moment :(
I should also mention the excessive number of checkpoints along the walk. We knew there was to be one at the first Inca ruin, where we'd need to get a ticket stamped (we'd paid the entrance fee back at the township). But at the Inca ruin we had to pay another entry fee to keep walking, and then 3 or 4 more times along the way there were men standing on the path wanting money in exchage for an entry ticket. The fees were only small, but it was weird that there was no mention of multiple fees!
Towards the end of the walk we arrived in the village at the south. There were houses and restaurants, plus a T-junction in the road. The only thing missing was a sign telling us which way to walk! We found another tourist and he showed us the way. After walking 10 minutes down some steep stairs, we arrived to the boat dock at the bottom. There we just hung around and waited for the boat back to Copacabana. the boat ride took around 2 hours.
Back in Copacabana we went to the hotel, packed up a few of our things and went for dinner a a pizza place which was in the same building as Cafe Bistrot. The pizza was vegetarian and had hearts of palm on it. It was one of the bext pizzas I've ever eaten, except for the olives having pips left in them which was a little weird! Dinner cost 74 Bs including a Coca-Cola and two beers.
After dinner we visited the shop across the road and bought a bottle of water, a coka quinua (cola drink made from quinua) and a milky way - 18 Bs all up.
We headed back to the hotel, and after Briony having a whinge about her sunburn and hair smelling like exhaust fumes from the boat, we went to bed.
Copacabana - Day Three
For our last day in Copacabana we had a bit of a sleep in. After a shower and a coffee we checked out of Hotel Las Olas and took our luggage to Hotel Rosario since this was the meeting point for the bus to La Paz later in the day. Once the bags had been dropped off we had around 2 hours to kill, so we went for a wander to the town.
The first thing we noticed was there were more people in town than other days, and once we got to the main square we saw there were festivities happening. There were performers in the street, people sitting on the side of the roads watching, there were vendors selling sandwiches and ice creams and a lady cutting up a hunk of meat to make sandwiches.
Since Copacabana is about as safe as you could hope for, I left Briony in the square while I ran back to Hotel Rosario to get the cameras. We found a place to sit and just watched the parade for a little while, taking stacks of photos of course!
We eventually had to head back to Hotel Rosario to get the bus to La Paz. We got there with plenty of time to spare, and just sat around waiting. The bus had been arranged by a La Paz company called Turisbus, and we soon saw a couple of people come to get us. For whatever reason it was, the bus could not be there today so we ended up getting private transport in a car with a driver and a tour guide.
After a short while driving we had to make the crossing of Lake Titicaca at its narrowest point. the crossing is done on a ferry, and although we'd read about this on the Internet it was still interesting to see buses, trucks and tractors on these tiny ferries!
Once at the other side we visited the bathroom (quite dirty!), the driver and guide grabbed some food and we were back on the road again. I was surprised that once the driver had finished his food, he threw the plastic bag out the window of the car - I wouldn't have expected this from a tourist professional!
The rest of the journey really wasn't eventful - just country roads, little towns, and eventually the city of El Alto - somewhat a part of La Paz, but large and isolated enough to be a city in itself. It was really interesting that everything seemed to be huddled close to the main road which was about 4 lanes in each direction. There was the usual traffic chaos, with plenty of really old vehicles spewing black smoke everywhere.
Eventually we arrived to La Paz, ad were dropped at our hotel. We didn't check in as such, as later that evening we had the overight bus to Uyuni. So we just sat in the hotel, rearranged our bags, checked email and waited. I popped down the street and for some food. For 30 Bs I bought 3 big bottles of water, 2 packs of biscuits and 2 pieces of cake, plus 10 Bs for four bananas. We had dinner at the hotel - Briony had spinach ravioli, I had chefs lasagne, plus we both had banana shakes and some garlic bread.
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