Sunday, April 19, 2009

Isla del Sol

The next morning it was raining as hard as ever. We dawdled over breakfast vainly hoping it would subside, so that it was nearly noon by the time we left Copacabana. Increasingly thick waves of pilgrims had washed in overnight and the lake shore was now littered with tents. However, as we walked towards the outskirts of town, the crowds thinned and a patch of blue sky opened wide enough to permit a few powerful beams of tropical sun to dry us out and make the rain jackets uncomfortably hot.

Crazy sea rocks?

There was a surprisingly steady flow of cars on the muddy, rutted road to Yampupata. Semana Santa is a great opportunity to sell some trout that you caught on your slice of lakefront Titicaca property that morning. We walked past numerous paceños who were playing tourist around the lake as well, before we wandered by a farmer who offered to ferry us across the channel to the Isla. We didn't think we were quite in Yampupata (the closest piece of mainland), but his price was about what we were expecting to pay and it was getting towards dusk so we hopped in the motorboat.

It was nearly dark by the time we crossed the channel and hiked to the biggest settlement on the island, Yumani. We had hoped to camp on a random terrace out of town. But with fading light and a stream of dubious warnings of nighttime thievery from the (obviously neutral and disinterested) hostel touts, we paid a few dollars to sleep in someone's backyard. Fortunately, it was well-drained, because minutes after pitching the 'Mid, the heavens opened again and didn't stop until dawn.

We slept poorly. But the insistence of the mid-morning sun forced us from our bivy and we stumbled out of town, heading north. Very rapidly the views opened up as we hiked along the backbone of the island, passing a steady flow of gringos a flotilla of boats had vomited on the north end. We continued our retrograde march for a few hours until we found the north shore of the island, and the highlight of the various ruins on the island, the coffee table of the Inca. Scholars insist it is a temple of the sun, but we thought otherwise.

Panorama from near Cerro Bárbara

We were nearly out of water, so a descent seemed appropriate. Water, water everywhere, right? We found the east coast of the island and the tiny settlement of Challa'pampa. Yumani with its clouds of piranha-like touts had been fairly mala onda, and fortunately Challa'pampa is its antithesis. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the beach, tying one on with a random contingent of other foreigners (as well as the island's resident shaman, who happens to be Australian and sells cheap jewelry on the side.) Random and buena onda. We stumbled again in the dark looking for camping, before we submitted to the approaching downpour and spent a kingly sum ($2 per person) on a room. The storm beat scandalously against the thin roof all night.

Dusk at Challa'pampa

Rainclouds swallowing the moon

We miscalculated a bit the next morning and got on the 1:30 boat back to the mainland. It was a slow, slow boat that took the rest of the afternoon. Dusk had fallen by the time we made it back to Copacabana. With a numb ass and dead iPod, I looked east and saw the Cordillera Real pierce a clear sky and could tell that the coming night would be fair.

Ancoma and Illampu beating back the clouds

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