After getting struck with altitude sickness while trekking to Machu Picchu, spending a day by the world's highest lake, Titicaca, in Bolivia was a godsend, even if there was a powercut and I had no money. Here's the seventh excerpt from my book.
|Absolutely Marvellous: Lake Titicaca-Bolivia|
Photo by Ivan Mlinaric
I’d heard good
things about Bolivia: hospitable locals, cheaper accommodation and food, a
bustling historical capital, and an excellent place to visit the Amazon. I was
excited about seeing a new country and wanted to relax and fully recover from
the altitude sickness. However, just as in Ecuador and Peru, my first day in
Bolivia had complications.
“Donde esta un banco - Where’s a bank?” I said to the hostel owner in Copacabana, Titicaca’s lakeside town. I
felt drowsy after another sleepless overnight journey, this time because the
bus driver’s loud trashy pop music had kept me awake. The white haired hostel
owner stared and frowned. “Un banco por
“No banco, no, no,” he said, wagging his
finger. Was he saying there wasn’t a bank in Copacabana? I hoped not. After
leaving Cusco in a rush I had no money.
“Banco, no tengo dinero,” I said, showing
him my bank card.
“Ah, okay,” he said. I sighed and waited
for him to signal where to go. “No, no
banco; problema. No hay luz.” I thought luz
meant lights, not electricity. A power cut had struck Copacabana, which meant
even the cash points were out of order. What was I going to do?
Luckily, he let me
off paying until the next morning, and even leant me $3 worth of Bolivianos. I was starving after not
eating since Cusco, but settled for some bread so that I could have an evening
meal. I refused to let the power cut ruin my day and went down to the lake.
Titicaca is the
world’s highest lake at just over 3,000 meters above sea level, also known as
‘Rock Puma;’ titi – wildcat or puma,
and karka - rock. The map of Titicaca
is supposed to look like a puma chasing a rabbit - to me it’s like a
Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing Bart Simpson - either way it’s massive.
As I walked
downhill passed the red, yellow, and green houses and souvenirs shops, the deep
blue reminded me of San Pablo Lake in Otavalo, but a few hundred times the
size. The enormity of Titicaca was daunting.
Copacabana was like
a beach resort town by the sea: gringos sipped beer outside the bars while
enjoying the mild sun, a handful of stray dogs ran about barking and biting
each other, and a few tourists dressed in shorts and t-shirts were out on a
A couple of
Bolivian ladies dressed for winter in colourful shawls and funky little bowler
hats were parked on a red stone wall, pointing and laughing at the silly
gringos on the funny boat-bike. I sat up from them and ate my bread discreetly
so the stray dogs wouldn’t come running, but something worse came my way.
A spicy meat smell drifted past. Shaded by a
large yellow umbrella, an old guy had sparked up his special Titicaca Kebab
stall. Next to him a group of four kids quarrelled as they played table
football. Their parents stood waiting for succulent kebabs. The rich smell was
too much. I felt poor and hungry, but nothing compared to the many people I’d
seen on my travels. Suffering would do me good.
I spotted a few
tourists walking up a small hill by the side of the beach and went to explore.
In ancient Spanish, Copacabana means ‘to see the lake,’ which I did from the
top of Mount Calvario. The hour stroll up was a breeze after Machu Picchu, and
the view over to Isla Del Sol reminded me of Greek islands. The hill is one of
the most important religious places in Copacabana and is a popular Christian
A group of tubby
local women with plump round happy faces gossiped by a wall. I imagined their
“So what did he
guess, apparently the tubby look is back in again.”
“It was in last
week’s Hola magazine.”
“Finally, that will
stop him moaning about me losing weight.”
“It’s about time
too, eh? Poor old Javier’s Titicaca Kebabs was about to go out of business.”
“Yeah, I heard that
one of his friends cut the power to force everyone down to get a kebab.”
“I’m not complaining,
let’s get going before he runs out.”
The hunger was
getting to me.
round mountains in Peru, Copacabana was an invigorating change. Seeing water
was calming and, even without power or food, the lakeside town was turning into
one of my favourite spots.
Back down in the
village, I ambled round the grid like streets, took a few photos of the bright
white Basillica church, and browsed the many colourful markets. Not once did I
feel threatened being alone.
mid-afternoon heat, the local’s choice of clothes surprised me. The men wore
jumpers and jackets, and the women long skirts with a jumper or shawl and a
traditional bowler hat. Were they expecting a sudden snowstorm? And why were
most of them overweight? I thought Bolivia was one of South America’s poorest
I finished my
afternoon by Titicaca. Sitting next to the highest lake in the world was a
strange sensation. How had a lake like Titicaca arrived to the middle of South
America? It would have been interesting to put the scene into rewind and watch
Copacabana form around Titicaca, a marvellous natural sight.
As a reward for
starving myself all day, I stumbled on a restaurant that accepted credit cards
using the swipe system. Fresh trout with potatoes, salad, and a couple of cold
beers sorted me out; no wonder the people in Copacabana were a little on the
The electricity was
back on in the morning. I settled with the owner, gave him a few extra
Bolivianos to say thank you, and then squeezed into a small van heading to La
Paz, the capital, about four hours away. I would have stayed longer, maybe just
to try one of the delicious smelling kebabs, but I had to move on.
Next month's excerpt from Brazil...
Labels: best parts of tefl teaching, Bolivia, book excerpts, Lake Titicaca, nonfiction travel literature, teaching English in a foreign land, travelling the world