Sitting on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca Copacabana is a small town of about 50,000 people. Surrounded by hills a few streets tumble down to the lakeside. The main drag is littered with both market stalls, local shops and restaurants and hostels catering to the budget tourist. It’s here that I’ve seen more backpacking teens and twenty-somethings than anywhere on my journey so far. Last night it was impossible to find a seat at 4 or 5 of the local restaurants because they were packed with tourists. And these are not the gringo flavor tourists I might have seen wandering the streets of Angigua in Guatemala or Granada, Nicaragua. Most of these tourists seem to be from South America: Argentina, Uruguay, Chile etc. It’s their summer and this is summer vacation. Four Uruguayan girls I met have been traveling by bus for the last 3 weeks and are headed to Machu Picchu and then they’ll turn around and head back south.
Busses come in and out all day at the terminal near lakeside. Dropping off and picking up dozens of backpackers. A stroll through the morning market captivates me and my camera and we decided that a visit to Isla del Sol would be a true highlight of the trip but given we have one day here we decide to wander through town – 3 out of a 5 hour trip would be on the boat, there’s much to see and experience in this sleepy but enchanting town.
Later Jeremiah runs into a group of 3 adventure motorcyclists from Chile and leads them to our hotel. They’re at the back end of a 13-day expedition from Chile to the Bolivian Amazon. Swapping stories and cards we now have a home when we arrive in Santiago later this month. One of the Chilean riders is a authorized BMW off-road instructor. Without barely any english in his vocabulary it’s quick to see why he’s a good instructor. I had more tips and corrections to my Spanish from him than most anywhere. And I like that. I know that my accent and poor grammar sounds as funny to me as a Hispanic in California trying to get by with a short list of words and phrases. I always try to help people speak better, and I hope they’ll do the same for me. I want to learn and speak this language — any language. I’ve often said that if I could have one wish in the world that I choose to instantly be able to speak in a dozen or more languages. Communication after-all is truly the key to understanding people, culture and history. Since wishes like this are dreams, I must continue to practice and make friends with people like Ricky.
The Chilean bikers bought us breakfast the next morning and encouraged us with offers of good wine and a peak into the Chilean culture when we get to Santiago.
The ride out of Copacabana has us climbing and climbing. Dark clouds and a scant blue sky likely meant rain, cold and a challenging weather day. We hopped to avoid a extra long day by catching a ferry across the lake a few hours southeast of Copacabana. We had no data other than the map showed the road ended at the water and then picked up on the other side of the lake. There had to be ferry service.
Though it took us riding up over 15,000 feet and through a minor snowstorm that while not much accumulated on the road, it did make for a tense and tenuous ride over this high pass. When we finally made it to the end of the road we found ferry service alright. But you wouldn’t believe it. These were the equivalent of miniature barges with rotten planks loosely thrown over crossbeams over the hull. Out of a dozen or so boats lined up, we spotted one that seemed to have the most solid flooring making for getting the bike on the ferry a tad more easy. But it wasn’t this boat owners turn. We were relegated to a shanty ship with holes in the floor. Plus, there was only one way on the boat and one way off. Mind you there was no “dock” to speak of and at the other side there is barely a ramp to get the bike off. Even more, driving onto the boat might work, but getting the bike off this boat and over the shoddy boards and cheesy ramp would be risky as one false move and the boat would fall into the bilge between the planks. Of course there was no room and not enough flooring to turn the bike around and finding a place to put the kickstand down securely was next to impossible. No tie downs other than our own arms to brace the bike as it navigated the waters of Titicaca.. I was shaking my head and simply crossing my fingers.
Tension and voices raised high when we got to the other side as Jeremiah’s bike almost took a dump into the bilge. Mine too. An impatient truck driver who’s vehicle had to wait until the bikes were off offered no help as Jeremiah, me and the boat captain tried and eventually successfully got our bikes off the boat and into a pile of mud. Good god.