South America 2015 · Travel writing

Copacabana (and Lake Titicaca, pt 2)

(My first post on Titicaca, from the Peruvian town of Puno, is here).

I was sad to discover that the song is not about this Copacabana — it’s about the seaside town in Brazil. But that town is named after this one, so that’s something.


The town

Copacabana (Copa) can best be described as a half town. Many buildings are half-built, shops were half-open, restaurants were half-full. Everything seemed like it was at half-capacity, as though it were always Sunday, or the middle of the off-season. We often felt like we were intruding, or that we made things harder for the people around us.

imageIt was an odd feeling for a town so tightly based around tourism — it had a little enclave of hotels, identical restaurants, and overpriced tchotchke shops where we spent most of our time.

(The reason that the town originally became famous is that it has a cathedral with a particular statue of Mary — The Virgin of Copacabana. The pure white cathedral was beautifully decorated, and the Virgin was pretty — although the room of Mary paintings next door to her was a bit creepy. Quote from Jess: “I didn’t know Mary was a brunette!” Mary is only moved on special festivals; moving her at other times is believed to cause floods.)


La Isla del Sol

The Lake was, fortunately, much more beautiful this side than on the Puno side, and the weather less perishing. We spent a day sailing on it visiting the Isla del Sol, an island sacred to the Incas and upon which, they believed, sit some stones from which either the Sun or the Creator sprang. There is also the Isla de la Luna, which is much smaller and has its own mythological heft, but it is much smaller and is only open to tourists on weekends. (I wonder what the people are like).
imageAnnoyingly, our tour around the island was similarly half-good. We were ostensibly placed into groups to walk the trails, but the guides made no effort to keep their groups in check, and scoffed when we asked if they spoke English. We walked for miles up steep slopes and every so often we heard the man that we had latched on to whispering something in Spanish. But I walked around much of the island and I hardly know anything about it.

imageI’m not saying that I deserved a guide who spoke my language — it’s selfish of me to expect that anyone would — but I felt that with so many tourists there who didn’t speak fluent Spanish (because they were American, English, French, German…), it was incredibly frustrating to be standing there and looking at each other, clueless.

imageWe visited a small collection of carefully placed rocks, which I believe were a reconstruction of a sacred Inca shrine or platform or dais, and then we visited one of their stone buildings. Back on the boat, we headed south and visited an Inca garden, which was stunningly beautiful, and which I would also love to recreate in Minecraft.


Looking back, the highlight of that day for me came when Jess and I were walking back from the ‘stones’. There was a steep rock protruding out of the path to our right, and a little boy (about seven) and his little brother (about four) were walking along it. The older boy jumped off the rock easily, crossed the path, and went on down the hill, but his little brother made a little sad sound and stood still where his brother had jumped off the rock, clenching his fists in fear. I walked over and reached up, and he leant forward into my arms and I put him down on solid ground.


I’m sorry that I don’t have more to say. If you are feeling rich, like calm stray dogs, and speak fluent Spanish (or don’t care about history and stuff), Copacabana is the place for you. Otherwise — I wouldn’t get your expectations too high.