OYOP: Copacabana, Bolivia
After a month in Peru, we crossed over the border into Bolivia. We took a collectivo to the town of Copacabana, only a few kilometers past the border.
Copacabana (not to be confused with the Copacabana in Brazil after which the popular song is sung), is a hip, funky town on the lakefront of Lake Titicaca that has a laid back beach vibe. The lake is so big that it is easy to forget that you are not looking out into a gulf or straight out into the ocean. Most of the restaurants have outdoor seating and easygoing music, and there’s an endless amount of street food and markets lining the streets.
Copacabana is a popular weekend destination for Bolivians, and since we arrived on the Saturday of a summer 3-day weekend holiday for New Year’s Day, it was packed. It vaguely reminded me of being on Pensacola Beach for July 4th weekend, except instead of white sand beaches filled with beach chairs and umbrellas, it was a somewhat dirty lakefront packed with swan boats and foosball tables.
We booked the only place that was relatively in our budget available that night. It was a big, beautiful lakefront hotel that probably had its glory days back in the 1970s. The outside was still rather impressive, but unfortunately, the rooms inside were uncomfortable, stenchy, and the shower water was so ice cold that we both opted out of showers. The balcony view offered up a perfect place to watch the sunset over the lake, however.
The next morning, we decided to change our habits and shop around for a place to stay. We had always used booking.com or hostelworld.com previously to read reviews and book ahead of time so that we could put down our bags immediately before exploring the town. However, in reviews of Copacabana, we had read repeatedly how difficult it is to come by hot water and wi-fi, and that the prices were significantly cheaper if you booked in person.
We decided to not stress out about finding wi-fi. Surprisingly, finding Internet to book rooms, stay in touch with home, post on the blog, etc. has been one of the biggest stresses of the trip. All hostels and restaurants advertise for it, but once you’re inside, if you have a connection at all, it won’t be strong, and if it is, the travelers at other tables are using the little that is available. So, we opted for one of the Internet cafes where we could use the Internet for over an hour for about $2. We did, however, feel strongly about finding hot water for a shower that day.
We have stayed in a variety of places including hostels, inns, and local hotels (not the big names you think of in the US with endless amenities). We have not yet shared a room, even though we stayed in a 4-bed room for 2 nights, there were no other guests in our room. Most rooms have just a bed and bathroom. We have had a tv in our room a couple of times, and there is no air conditioning in any rooms (which I surprisingly don’t really miss). And only once have we had a shared bathroom. So, we have had access to a toilet and shower consistently.
The bathroom facilities have been typical of what we are used to, with toilet paper provided, except that no toilet paper can be put in the toilets here. All must be thrown away in the wastebasket because the system cannot handle it. And as far as the showers, hot water is a precious commodity and difficult to come by. Most showers range from ice cold to lukewarm.
Also, the water is not potable in most of South America. So, we have gotten used to drinking only bottled water or water that has been boiled and using that to brush our teeth. We avoid foods like lettuce and uncooked vegetables that would be washed with the water as well. Which so far has meant no salads or sandwiches.
We intended to be doing at least some laundry each day by hand in sinks and showers, letting the clothes air dry overnight. But we have rarely done this and instead used “lavanderias”, full-service laundry shops where we can drop off our clothes and pick them up hours later or the next day. The most we paid so far was 6 soles per kilogram in Peru, and at 2.5 kilograms, we paid a little over $4 for a lot of our clothes to get done. The cheapest we paid was half that.
So, in Copacabana, we shopped around and tested the hot water in 4-5 rooms. We found the perfect room with hot water and started our day. We opted to do another hike, even though we keep saying “this is going to be our last hike for a while”. Yet, they always seem to be worth the experience and the views.
We hiked up a tall hill for a view overlooking the city. We soon realized this was a religious or spiritiual hike for many of the other people joining us. About halfway up, there was a row of shamans performing ceremonies with various locals. We sat and watched one for a while to try to get an idea of what was entailed. We gathered that the ritual started with toy cars and houses decorated with paper streamers. Then, there was a lot of beer pouring- pouring over the toy figures, pouring on the ground, pouring into your mouth, and spraying all over the general area.
Next, after a few hand gestures over a bowl of burning incense, the shaman would throw dozens of firecrackers on the ground for a lighted and loud finale. It was all very fascinating and seems to be associated with good luck in various areas for the New Year. I’m not positive but I feel like a ritual like this could be popular in New Orleans.
Once we made our way down, we walked around a lot of the town. It’s was full of activity on the main streets and the lakefront. And it is also the access point to get to Isla del Sol, which we would soon find was the best part about visiting this area of Bolivia.