Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lake Titicaca!

Where in the name of God do I even begin?!

I had been planning a trip to Lake Titicaca for some time now with Forest Jarvis, a fellow exchange student. I thought it would be impossible to convince Rotary, but we finally got everything worked out, and we shipped off for Lake Titicaca on the night of Friday, April 23.

Forest made it to Sucre by around 2:15, and we spent the day running all over town in the rain. Forest found a toothbrush, I kept myself from eating chocolate, he ate a burger...and my gyro, I forgot our luggage, and I laughed hysterically. Nightfall came quick, and we headed to the bus terminal(with our luggage). We miraculously made it to the right bus and did everything perfectly. By the time we rolled out of Sucre at 7:45, we were laughing and comfortable--well, I was at least. For those of you that have seen my monstrously tall brother, well, you should know that Forest tops him. At least Forest's shoe size is human though. I ended up picking the two worst seats for Forest's legs, and after kindly begging nearby passengers to change seats we just gave up. Bolivians aren't too friendly about that kind of thing. So I lulled myself off to sleep eventuallly by saying randomly ridiculous things to Forest. Thank goodness he could laugh at my stupidity instead of getting too annoyed by it. I guess I slept until about 2:30, while Forest sat uncomfortable on a quiet, smelly bus. We stopped then in Oruru and switched seats, which allowed Forest to get some sleep and me to get no more. By 7:30ish we arrived in La Paz, found an 8:30 bus to Copacabana, and continued our travel. The 3-hour drive to Copacabana was pleasant. We saw the lake for probably 2 hours of the trip. We had to stop in a tiny town to cross part of the lake on a barge. I was too tired to remember much of that point, but there were lots and lots of tourists that Forest and I got to laugh at.

By noonish we were in Copacabana searching for decent bathrooms and a real meal. The town was charming and quiet. After eating a quick lunch and laughing at the nearby germans(german sounds like english cuss words), we headed up to the cathedral and scoped out a few Kodak moments. Eventually Forest decided to get my touristy self on track; we bought some bus tickets for the return to La Paz, and scoped out a boat for the trip to Sun Island(Isla del Sol). All the boats had left, so we had to pay for a private boat. One guy offered us 300 bolivianos, but we eventually got a trip for 150 bolivianos. By late afternoon Forest and I were seated atop El Cisne in the cool, open air awaiting our arrival to La Isla del Sol.

After two hours of rocking back and forth on Lake Titicaca and getting wind-burned cheeks and lips, we pulled up to the southern end of the island. I was super excited for the hike to our hostal, but I seemed to lose that after 2 minutes of hiking. Forest Jarvis. That kid knows how to hike. His long legs and 0% body fat served him well. I, however, wasn't doing too well. Literally two minutes in, I was panting. The altitude, my ridiculously out-of-shape Bolivian body, and my three bags were slowly killing me. I stopped at least every minute of that hour-long up-mountain hike to inhale some desperately-needed Lake Titicaca oxygen. In my favor, we were going at a ridiculous pace. I kind of expected the hike to be a little more relaxed and pleasant, but the sun was setting quickly and hell if Forest the Fotographer was going to miss out on that. :P At long last, my butt reached flat lands. And my butt was happy. So were my lungs. And my back. And my feet. And my legs. I about burst out laughing when we got the keys to our rooms and Forest said he was going to hike up the next mountainside. 'Is he kidding?!' I left him and his camera alone while I organized my room. After a while I gave in and decided to do a nice little hike as well in time for the sunset.

The village was adorable. Filled with hostals and food joints, but incredibly quiet. Every other pizza place had a donkey and some women knitting behind customers. Typical Bolivia. The weather was pretty chilly, but perfect for such hiking. Again, I eventually made it to the top of my next hill/mountain, but that included a fair amount of stopping and panting. There was a small band practicing halfway up that managed to put a little spring into my lazy step. Every time I stopped to appreciate my surroundings, the view got better. The view changed so much every ten feet of rise. It got better every time. The lake is HUGE! Immense. Gigantic. I don't have the proper adjectives to help you all understand just how impressive and big the lake is. There should be another word invented just for that lake to represent something between the size of a lake and the size of a sea. I sat at the top among other tourists as the sun set and the day was pretty well over.

Our second day began very early. As tired as I was, I somehow awoke at 3:30 a.m. By the time 4:15 rolled around, I was bundled up and headed up the mountain. The stars were killer, and the air was crisp, but the hiking kept me cozy enough. I took a break halfway up to sprawl out under the stars and play zampona--mostly because I was tired and unable to see with just the light of my cell phone lantern. :) When I became cold again I just kept right on walking until I found a nice cranny at the top of the mountain to shield me a bit from the wind. Around 5:30 I heard the crunch of footsteps nearby. Sure enough, it was Forest. We were both having trouble sleeping, and the idea of a sunrise on Lake Titicaca seemed to suit us better than a warm bed. So we sat and waited for the sunrise. It was gorgeous, but it would have been better if my toes weren't nearly numb. By 7:00 I was bolting back down the mountain to the warmth of my bed, and I understand that Forest was right behind me once his camera started getting loopy due to the cold.

So we started the day early. I got a quick nap between 7:00 and 8:00 before going down for a breakfast of two hot chocolates and two deliciously dense pieces of bread with jam. Soon after breakfast, Forest and I were headed out of the village on a hike. We curved down one side of the mountain through another village. Eventually we lost track of the path and did our own thing. I slipped more than a few times and all-out fell at least twice. We regularly crossed paths with quiet natives and always greeted them with a friendly 'buenas tardes.' Most times they responded the same. There was an abundance of pigs, donkeys, sheep, and llamas on leashes during the hike. Much to Forest's amusement, I had to stop regularly to baby-talk to them as I have been missing pets and animals dearly. At last we made it off the steepest part and ran into a group of farms overlooking a happy little bay. I managed to make it down through streams and sloppy animal pens without getting dirty, but I am not so sure about the condition of Forest's shoes.

The bay was stunning. There was nothing in sight but the clear waters and gorgeous mountains on a distant shore. To our backs we were surrounded by a village and farms running down the sides of three high hills hugging us. The braying of donkeys, the mooing of cows, and the oinking of sloppy pigs reminded me that I was actually in Bolivia and not skipping through pages of a travel magazine. A cute 3-year-old native Aymara boy took a break from his life to skip rocks on the lake with Forest while I took off my shoes and hunted for pretty rocks along the shore. I think both Forest and I were in heaven at this point. I could have taken a nice long nap on the beach, but lunch was nearing and we didn't have much in the way of food.

We continued the hike after a couple hours of serenity, wrapping up the sides of the hills surrounding the bay and passing through another village. As we crossed from the east side to the west side of the island, we ran into random villagers doing laundry in a stream or herding their sheep. Every child we passed asked for candies, food, or money to take a photo with them. The only food we had was my two packs of crackers, so I willingly whipped out one pack to give to a sweet little girl. She saw the other pack and asked for that as well. I couldn't say no, so Forest and I were left with just a little water to tide us over until a very late lunch. We made it back to the hostel around 1:00 or 2:00, so lunch was sounding like a good plan. We scoped out a pizza joint of the many to choose from. It was completely void of customers, but it had an umbrella and a fair view of the lake. Moises, the owner, popped his head out of a door after I called out a few times in search of service. He was so eager to serve us. Overly friendly. We only had once choice of pizza, but it sounded delicious so Forest and I said yes. Moises was so eager to explain that it might take a while as he makes the dough instead of purchasing it premade in Copacabana. He just seemed so happy to have a customer and to make us happy. I really didn't care how long it took. The sight was too charming to think about the wait, and I made up for the wait in stupid laughter, blonde moments, and great conversation. Forest explained that his host-grandfather was a guerilla way back when, but I heard that as 'gorilla.' That resulted in some nonstop laughter. Then I just randomly burst out in hysterical laughter for no apparent reason at times. We just kind of lazed around that afternoon and it was really great.

As we wrapped up lunch, I opened my bag to pay. Moises chuckled when he noticed my zampona sticking out. I was so happy as this opened up a great opportunity. I had been hoping to run into someone to teach me a zampona song typical of the area, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I asked him if he could teach me a song, and he seemed eager to engage yet again. I lent Moises my zampona for him to practice a bit while Forest the Fotographer headed out for some Kodak Moments and I relaxed under the sun. Finally Moises decided he'd had enough practice, and we all stepped into his restaurant. I was absolutely delighted to film him playing two songs that I have yet to learn, but the best part came later. He started playing a song I recognized--the first song I learned on zampona, 'Alturas.' We did a horrible-sounding duet of Moises on cana(another wind instrument) and myself on zampona. I don't even care that we sounded horrible because I had such a great time being able to converse and share music with a random man on an ancient island in the middle of a lake named Titicaca. How many people get to say they have done that? I like to believe I am one of very few. We wrapped it up as the sun started to fall behind the mountain. I was feeling quite giddy and rejuvenated as I stepped out his door.

That was pretty much a day, and Forest and I split up to lollygag around the village after sunset. I was left without an appetite after a late lunch; I offered the leftover pizza to Forest, settled for a banana, broken crackers, and water, and hit the sack early in the pursuit of decent sleep after a very long day.

Again, I managed to wake up at 3:30, but this time I stayed warm in my bed until the sun came out. My anal self had everything pretty well organized and packed the night before, so there wasn't much to do on our last morning. I sipped hot cocoa before checking out of my room and simply sat outdoors in the chilly air, appreciating the last hours of my stay on La Isla del Sol. Forest wrapped up his morning and we headed out early for the hike back down to the boats. I think I managed to fall once, and my legs were quivering from the steep down-mountain hike. I claimed to prefer hiking up that mountain versus hiking down it, but Forest knew better. He had to listen to my whining all the way up two days earlier, and apparently it was far more exaggerated on the upward hike. :)

We arrived at the bottom, bought some tickets, and laid in the shade while waiting for our 10:30 departure.

Before coming to Bolivia, I would have been sad to descend the island. I think Forest and I both agreed that good-byes have become much easier. Too easy. I have come to see that good-byes don't have to be forever, and more often than not they are most definitely not forever. So instead of taking crappy last-minute pictures and being sad for the tail end of a trip, I just keep the trip going until the end. I don't waste time being sad, but appreciate each part of the trip for what it is. Then end is no different than the beginning. I am certain I will be returning to Bolivia and its natural wonders some day, and if I do not return then it will be because I am doing even bigger and better things with my life. On the last two hours of our bus trip to La Paz, I started to realize that I would have to say chau to my kick-tushy travel partner at some point. Again, instead of getting sad, I just took advantage of what could possibly be my last two hours with him and threw in what remained in my storehouse of randomness, stupidity, and non-stop laughter. We hopped off the bus, gave eachother the hugs we promised at the beginning of the trip, and walked in other directions. It was almost too easy to say goodbye, but that is the way life goes I suppose.

I walked to the bus terminal, bought a 7:00 bus ticket, and the rest is history. I had a great trip. I feel so lucky to be here in South America! Rotary youth exchange is the best. I don't know how I ever would have been able to handle a trip like that so well were it not for this opportunity that Rotary has given me. I feel like I am prepared to continue my life and do so happily. If a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old can plan, execute, survive, and enjoy a trip alone in a foreign country, then that must mean something. And at this point in the paragraph, I quit beginning each sentence with "I." :)

Good morning, good afternoon, and good night. Be happy, peoples....and go see my fotos of the trip at

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