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October 21, 2004

Isla del Sol

From Copacabana, I took a boat to Isla del Sol, which the Incans consider the birthplace of the sun. As promised, it truly is a beautiful place, and seems very mediterranean, what with the dry hillsides of white, red, and pink rocks; scrubby bushes; tall, elegant eucalyptus trees; scorching sun; and water so startlingly blue it's almost painful.

I got dropped off on the south side of the island, and hiked a ridge trail to the north side. I had the trail pretty much to myself the whole time--a little over three hours. The views were breathtaking all around, with both sides of the island often visible and gracefully sloping down to the coast. I often would get out my camera, try to frame a few shots looking in different directions, and finally just shake my head and put the camera away--there was just no way to capture it in such a small frame. I've felt that way often on my trip, and have to stop and just soak it all in since pictures can hardly do justice to many of the landscapes I've seen.

I arrived at the Incan ruins and was immediately reminded of Tulum, the site of Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It's rare to see archaeological ruins near the water, and as with Tulum, it was a stunning location and a beautiful spot--the perfect place to eat the lunch my hostel had packed for me. The menu, in poorly translated English, had said my sandwich would be on "weed" bread--I thought it sounded interesting, and thought maybe it was a Bolivian specialty and had something like dill in it. It wasn't until I was about halfway through this tasty sandwich that it hit me--they meant wheat, not weed! Either way, it was great.

Not having a guide, I wasn't sure which rock was the so-called sacred rock where the Incans performed rituals, and after talking to others later, I think I took pictures of the wrong rock, but later sat on the right rock, enjoying the view! Go figure.

I spent the night in Challapampa, a small town on the east side of the island. It's situated on a spit of sand that stretches from the main part of the island, and has just a few hostels, a few restaurants, and a funny little museum containing a few artifacts found on the reef off the island. After wandering around a bit, I headed back to the hostel and found the young boy of the family that runs it flying a kite made of twigs and a plastic garbage bag. As it crashed onto the beach, I went to help get it back in the air. It fell again just a few minutes later, and we crouched down together to try to fix it. After about 5 minutes, he said we should go back to the house to get some other things (I think!), but then decided the kite was a lost cause and balled it up. Then he asked if I wanted to play boats, and showed me a plastic bottle with one side cut out and kind of lifted up like a sail. I was so impressed with his resourcefulness! And, it's rare to see kids just playing here--they're often working with their family, in the fields or selling something. He made another bottle for me--I cringed the whole time as he hacked away at the thing with a kitchen knife--and we headed down to the beach. Only then did I realize he planned to get in the water, which I already knew was quite cold! But I hiked up my pants, put on my flip flops, and waded in after him. It was fun to be playing in Lake Titicaca! Meanwhile, a few pigs and cows wandered down the beach. And despite this boy's creative recycling, I did find some trash in the lake, sadly. Most notably, what I took to be a huge shell turned out to be a piece of a cow bone, I think!

That was one of my best experiences with a kid so far on my trip, but I also experienced some of the worst on that island. I think it's a place lots of travelers have gone over the years with things to hand out to the kids, and now they all expect handouts--I actually had a few kids say "Reglame," which pretty much means "give me something." A few also asked for pencils (in English), and were clearly very offended that I didn't have anything for them. It was really disturbing, knowing that they were running up to say hi and giving me a charming smile only because they expected something from me. Pencils became an acceptable substitute for candy at some point, and I suppose maybe they really do need pencils, but if that's the case, I'd much rather find a local school and give the pencils to the teacher to hand out. It's really upsetting that this culture exists, and it's a tough thing to deal with. I clearly do have more than these people, but I think it's damaging to their culture to demand things from visitors, and on the selfish side, it damages my trip, too.

The next morning, I got up at sunrise and hiked back to the south side of the morning. It took half as long as I expected, so I had some time to relax and ponder my experience on the island. After a boat ride back to Copacabana, I relaxed all day, and did hardly anything at all, which was wonderful. It was such a beautiful place, it was hard to leave.

Posted by Amy on October 21, 2004 05:45 PM
Category: Bolivia
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