This week’s challenge was an interesting interpretation of the word spare. The definition they used was lean or sparse. As far as sparse landscapes, Iceland was a unique blend of awesome beauty and a sea of ice and snow. This lava field with a volcano in the background was a typical scene during our trip.
We had planned on seeing quite a bit while we were in Bolivia, but on the day that we went to Incallajta, our guide treated us to a couple of unexpected treats. As we drove from Cochabamba into the surrounding mountains, we stopped at a tiny village. This was the first time that our guide had taken this route and he was excited to find a little Spanish church that he’d never seen before. Then, after we visited the ruins, our guide took us to what he called a “ghost village” where almost all of the inhabitants had moved away. Neither of these stops were on our agenda for the day, but they made for some of the most interesting memories of the trip.
As we drove through the countryside filled with farms where the people worked the land as they have for hundreds of years, we stopped to talk to a couple of villagers. Well, we didn’t talk to them because they only spoke Quechua, but our guide and driver spoke to them. The person who had the keys to the church wasn’t there, but we peeked in through a tiny window to see the altar. This tiny little church probably hasn’t had foreign visitors in all of its history, but we were excited to see the unexpected treasure.
Visiting the town of Chimboata left us emotionally drained. Our guide, Remy, took us to the Spanish colonial village for us to see a traditional Bolivian village. He told us about an old man that he used to visit whenever he would take people to the town, but he had recently passed away. As we walked through the empty streets we came upon a woman laying in the doorway of an abandoned building. He spoke to her in Quechua and she sat up and showed us the yarn that she was spinning. Remy told us that she had seen our camera and had said that it was okay for us to take her photo. She was literally just waiting for her time to come and it was extremely heart-wrenching to see. As we waited by our van, Remy and our driver looked around to see if there was anyone around to take care of the woman. Eventually they found a man who told them that she was being taken care of, but sitting in an abandoned building did not seem like being taken care of to us.
As we drove out of town, we came upon a group of children on their way home from school. One of them was a five year old girl named Bellina who had a three mile walk ahead of her to her house. So, we offered her a ride and took her the rest of the way. She smiled bashfully and spoke quietly as we drove her to her home. Her youthful smile was such a contradiction to seeing the old woman in the village. These people live without electricity and their only concerns are growing food and taking care of family. The thought of politics, world conflict, or anything that doesn’t have to do with their day-to-day living doesn’t ever cross their minds. Our visit to their village or farms was probably quickly forgotten by them, but will be remembered by us forever.
It is often the case that the unexpected parts of a trip are sometimes the most interesting. We are extremely thankful for our guide, whose enthusiasm for sharing Bolivia with us took us to see things we might not have otherwise seen. Despite all of the historical and beautiful sites that we saw, it is the people that are most fascinating. The thought of that poor woman laying on the floor will remain entrenched in our memories as will the smile on the little girl who we gave a ride.
Of all of the places that we visited while we were in Bolivia, Copacabana felt strangely out of place. It was very much a tourist destination with resorts sitting on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We’re glad that we went to Copacabana towards the end of our trip in Bolivia and not at the beginning because it might have completely changed the way that we viewed the country. It was the only place in Bolivia where we saw other travelers, mostly on their way out of Bolivia and heading into Peru, which is on the other side of the lake, with Cusco and Machu Picchu being within a day’s travel. If they weren’t heading out of Bolivia, they were on their way into Bolivia from Peru and heading to Uyuni Salt Flats, seemingly the only place that people visit in Bolivia. We sat in a café and watched the parade of young people with their backpacks getting into or out of buses as they passed through this idyllic little town.
Like everyplace we visited in Bolivia, it wasn’t easy to get to Copacabana, the roads were horrendous with apparent construction every few thousand feet where it just seemed that the road was torn up for no apparent reason. The only construction workers that we saw were placing rocks on parts of the road that were apparently re-paved, but weren’t ready for traffic yet or they just didn’t want traffic to be able to move smoothly. We also had to take a ferry across part of Lake Titicaca with cars and buses floating back and forth. We know it is a pretty common Latin American attitude, but no one is in a hurry to get anyplace in Bolivia and we got used to sitting and waiting everywhere that we went, including when crossing on the ferry. You wouldn’t know that Lake Titicaca and Copacabana are one of the biggest tourist destinations in Bolivia based upon the road conditions, but apparently thousands of tourists and Bolivians visit Copacabana all of the time.
The resort where we stayed had incredible views of the bay and we were promised a gorgeous sunset over Lake Titicaca and we weren’t disappointed. After days of non-stop running from place to place, it was actually pretty nice to sit and relax in a beach resort, a very different experience than anything else that we did in Bolivia. Instead of Spanish, it seemed that French and German were the dominating languages while we were in Copacabana, a strange change of pace. As with every resort town, there were plenty of restaurants and food stalls along the beach to choose from and a cold cerveza was an absolute must. We ended up having lunch at a place called Manchester United, named after the English Premier Football (Soccer) team, which seemed an odd choice for a name, and had an incredible version of Pollo Macho.
When we first arrived in town we headed to the local church, which is the center of every town in Bolivia. Apparently people from around Bolivia come to Copacabana to have their new cars blessed by the Catholic priest and then they drive it up to the temple on top of the mountain outside of town to have it blessed by a Quechua priest as well. Two blessings, one location. The cars are elaborately adorned with an array of flowers and they looked as though they were being prepared for a parade. In fact, there are so many cars that come to Copacabana to be blessed that there is a very active market across the street from the church taking advantage of all of the people who have come to visit. The church itself was beautiful and is the typical Spanish style church found all over Bolivia, which is an extremely religious country.
The following day we would venture out onto Lake Titicaca to visit the islands and learn about the temples, but our day in Copacabana was completely relaxing. The hotels were some of the nicest that we saw anyplace in Bolivia and the town had a Bolivian flare to a beach resort. If it weren’t for the women dressed in typical Aymara clothing, you wouldn’t even know that you were still in Bolivia. With all of the boats in the bay, hotels, restaurants, and shops, we could have easily been on the coast of the Mediterranean instead of Lake Titicaca. It is certainly worth visiting if you go to Bolivia, but make sure that you visit other parts of Bolivia first so that you have a greater appreciation for the amenities that this resort town has to offer.