That El Choro post was weak and rushed. It’s not that I’ve been battling writer’s block per se, more a case of lucking out with the universe’s greatest
travelling companion (Mark from the UK) and so I’ve been filling my days with far better things than writing (ha!) since we hit the road together in early November. My apologies, constant reader – you remain a priority always. Anyway, this is a good time to introduce Mark because it was at Loki La Paz where we first met, where I instantly recognised him as one of those unforgettable cats whom you either woo with a rum and coke or live to regret it.
But allow me to fill in some blanks about the El Choro trek before moving on to the grandeur of Lake Titicaca.
- Horseflies that drew blood bid me welcome to the jungle on the second day of the trek. Jo was left untouched by those brutal flying beasts, while my light-blue tights turned burnt red due to the relentless attacks focused predominantly on the ass-end of things. The pants were let go after the hike, but the itch remained long after.
- Just before sunset on our second night, I had an outdoor shower only marginally obscured by oversized palms and ferns that hang off and up from the cliffsides. The shower was perched right on the edge of once such dramatic drop, the mud giving way underfoot every so often and making showering there not only an act of careful discretion but also one of balance.
- Jo introduced me to Archer that night in the tent. This half-hour animated comedy is a revelation, it has changed my life, and it is the best thing to ever happen to television (even on a tiny handheld screen). I was an instant convert, and so too now is Mark. Thank you Jo, we are forever indebted.
- During the early hours of the morning bizarre, bright, lingering lightning woke me up. I poked my head out of the tent only to be greeted by cloudless skies – the stars couldn’t have been closer or clearer – while the constant lightning was followed quickly by imposing and rolling thunder. Magic.
- I sacrificed my Nth pair of sunglasses to the jungle on the final day. I had put them down on a rock to marvel at the longest ant highway in existence, and then the guys had pulled far ahead of me again, so I scrambled on behind them, forgetting my essentials right there. I have since lost or broken at least two more pairs, I think I am on pair number eight or nine now. I find I can’t really do anything without sunglasses anymore and I insist that I suffer from debilitating case of photosensitivity brought on by years of sitting in front of a computer screen. Blink.
- That bird in the previous post is an Andean cock-of-the-rock, says Dad. Apparently quite the bird-watching coup. It sang beautifully, too, and punctuated the uniform green with its obnoxious orange head, apparently aware of its own beauty, cocky even, as it hung around long enough for us to capture a few moments.
Nothing kaka about it
Boy, was I an uncharacteristically busy bee those first couple of weeks in La Paz. I’d work my bar-hind off for four days then set off on one adventure or another. The first was El Choro, the second involved Copacabana on the banks of Lake Titicaca – not the highest navigable lake in the world, nor even the largest, but so grand and mighty that it resembles a sea. The main drawcard here, besides Titicaca, is Isla del Sol – birthplace of the Incas’ sun god – and generally travellers head to Copacabana and then get straight on a boat headed for the island.
Not I, of course. No, not me. For days I pored over a single paragraph in Lonely Planet that recommended a 17km walk along the peninsula, skirting the lake and cutting through villages, to Yampupata from where you can take a slightly more exclusive (er, expensive) ferry to the south end of Isla del Sol. The woman at the tourist office in Copacabana said “no no no” when I asked her if it was OK for me to do this walk alone so I approached a random stranger in town and invited him to join me (as if that’s safer!) – it was worth a shot. He gently turned me down and then I flipped a coin. The coin didn’t give me the answer I wanted, so I set off on the hike alone – I am after all from Africa and it’s 17 measly kilometres … what can go wrong? (Spoiler: nothing did.)
The unique serenity of adventuring alone. It is one of the big changes that happened to me this year, and something I will carry with me always. I am irrevocably different – a lust for discovery, the skill of reading a map (or, failing that, asking for directions), the perseverance to continue even though the road ahead is not entirely clear.
Titicaca is immense. People live and work here as pigs and puppies and cows and sheep will testify. And while the hike was really just a long walk up and down a dirt road, the place was peaceful and remote. All the while Titicaca shimmered to my right reflecting the day’s heat off its immense, impossibly blue, endless waters.
It was a hot day, and the road was long, and more than once I wondered if I’d taken on more than I could successfully pull off. But the climbs always ended just before I was ready to collapse and relief arrived timeously in the form of a downhill amble. That said, the legs were starting to buckle.
It took four hours for me to get to Sicuani – the last village before Yamapata – where the only signposted hostal was boarded up. Panic bubbled deep inside, but emboldened I knocked on the next door. There, two women took their time to tell me that that hostal closed down ages ago. I had already begun to walk toward Yamapata, deflated but not down and out, when one woman called after me: “But if you want somewhere to stay tonight, try the hostal on the other side.”
Hostal Inca Thaki is run by Señor Hilario Paye Quispe, the self-same colourful boat-operator that Lonely Planet mentions. Sadly I was not treated to a ride in his famous reed boat, but I did get to look through a hundred or more postcards that he’s received from tourists-cum-friends over the last two decades or more – after dinner we journeyed together through the Canada, Holland, France, the UK, the 70s, 80s, 90s …
In the morning we took Hilario’s boat to the south end of Isla del Sol. I’ll be honest, by the time I huffed up the little hill behind the pier I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way around the island. The legs, they didn’t want to do it. Not even a long rest with breakfast and a view got the blood pumping sufficiently for me to give enough of a damn.
I managed a couple of kilometres – basically just to the next set of piers – but the hills looked so daunting, and I knew they carried on for hours, and it was so calore (hot), and the shores below looked so cool and inviting, and so I gave up after an hour (who’s keeping time, though) and went down to wait for a boat back to Copacabana.
I vowed to return to Isla del Sol the next weekend, or on my way to Peru, but that never did happen. Nevermind. The time spent with Titicaca was more than gratifying, off the tarred track and as solitary as it should be. Sometimes life gives you a choice: stick to the to-do list and be satisfied, or cater to your whims and discover those things that will change everything you thought you knew.