Titikaka is a hilarious name.
We arrived in Puno after 2-days of abject misery spent in a hotel room in Arequipa attempting to recover from some sort of illness. Misery loves company and I was wallowing in it—at one point I started planning my funeral and swore that I would only eat healthy food for the rest of my life (today I had ice cream and fried chicken). Anyway, it was in this awful state that we arrived in Puno, a town of 150,000 or so that looks a bit like what you picture when you think of the word “poverty.” All of the buildings appeared to be half-finished and made of the same material, mangy dogs ran amok and the lake appeared to be made of garbage. Our hostel ($14 a night) didn’t help elevate the mood, but it had a television so we spent 24-hours pitying ourselves and watching movies (this one random channel seemed to have a bead on my tastes and played “What about Bob?” and “Mistaken for Strangers,” a wonderful documentary seemingly about a famous band but really more about what it means to be successful).
We made it out of the hostel for a bit and were lucky enough to catch a parade, a resplendent affair complete with a big-brass band and ladies in traditional garb of poofy-pleated skirts, crocheted shawls that cover most of their long, braided pig-tails except the very bottom, which has a ribbon integrated into it. The best part is the misplaced little bowler hat that is magically affixed to the top of their head. They’re all colorful and made-up and did a little spinning dance to show off the skirts. We were finally wearing smiles, again.
Onwards to the other side of the lake to Copacabana, Bolivia. Somehow we missed the memo that we needed a visa to enter Bolivia and controlled chaos ensued. Still feeling miserable, I was not helpful and Jean did a wonderful job navigating this problem. After the money was paid and we were on our way, she stated “I need a cigarette and I don’t even smoke.” It was slightly harrowing.
Copacabana is a gem and offered a much needed morale boost. We are traveling with a company that has guides on every bus to help you along and got very lucky to have a fellow named Roger at the helm on the way to Copacabana who helped us find good food and a top-shelf hotel. The hotel is owned by a German man named Martin and all of the buildings were designed and built by him (with help from laborers). For our first night, we stayed in a whimsical concrete teepee complete with custom woodwork and huge stained glass windows. Our second night was in a cozier room with a private patio and a view of the lake. Still on the mend, we spent the day reading and enjoying the view as well as the resident alpaca who keeps the grass short.l
It was our anniversary and we did dinner at the hotel (beef and cheese fondue). Martin had heard from Jean that it was our anniversary and surprised us with a special dessert—an entire “Baked Alaska” but Titikaka style, which was comprised of wafer cookies as a base, at least a gallon of strawberry ice cream, and a thick layer of meringue lit on fire and left at our table without explanation. The entire restaurant had already seen our table packed with enough food for four very hungry people and were clearly talking about us in their native tongues. However, we won the entire restaurant over when we ate a small portion and then passed the rest around.
Finally, on our last day in Copacabana, I felt OK enough to get on a boat to Isla del Sol, a small island on the lake with some old Inca trails and a couple small towns. Rather than ride in a public boat, we chartered a vessel that normally seats about forty people for the two of us partially because we were late but also because it sounded nice. Lake tits-and-poo sits at approximately 12,500 feet where the air is thin-as-hell and hiking up is awfully hard. We asked a girl which way to the lookout and she said something to the effect of “I’m not sure, I got lost on the trails” and proceeded on our own. We found the trail, mocked the girl for getting lost, then eventually got lost and ended up next to a pig-pen. Karma. We saw an alpaca (what else is new?) and heard a donkey making the saddest donkey noises. The trek ended early on account of the fact that I was still miserable and we played cards at a beach. Such is the exciting life of a traveler with travelers sickness.
Overheard conversation that I can’t get enough of. Quick sketch of who the Canadian is— he said at one point that “if he didn’t have a job, he would be a model. But he also mentioned that he quit his job. Anyway, here it is:
Aussie girl: I broke my neck in India coming down a mountain…
Canadian man: Which hospital did you go to?
Aussie girl: West Bengal.
Canadian man: Well, that wouldn’t have been my first choice.
Aussie girl: [stunned silence] My neck was broken…