The bus ride took longer than we thought it would. The most interesting part of the ride was when we had to disembark from the bus to cross Tiquina Strait. The bus went across on a ferry and, after paying a fee (of course), we were herded into motorboats and went across. Once on the other side, we petered around the plaza and waited for the bus to arrive. Once it did, we got back onboard. But not everyone realized the bus had come. The driver didn’t seem to care. He began driving off after honking a few times. Some passengers began yelling “Faltan! MUCHOS faltan!” (Missing, there are many missing!) So he relented and went back to pick up the stragglers, who were still unaware of their plight.
When we reached Copacabana, it was getting dark. We had selected some hotel possibilities from a travel book, and immediately headed for them. I knew things were looking bad when both hotels were fully booked. Copacabana was packed with tourists because it was a weekend. It’s summertime in Bolivia, so some children are still on vacation. We, of course, hadn’t thought of that. Also, we had bumped up our trip to Copacabana a day because of the transportation strike we knew was coming on Monday.
We literally walked up and down the streets of the city looking for any place that at least had a room with a private bath. Yoli said she felt like Mary in Bethlehem, looking for an inn. Eventually we found something, but it was a room for three people. Even though we were only two, they made us pay for three people.
After leaving our stuff in our room, we tried to find a good restaurant. We were famished because the bus ride had taken longer. We found a fancy sit-down restaurant, with waiters dressed in ties. They served trucha, a fish caught in Lake Titicaca. It was delicious!
A quick side note: A challenge I dealt with for a day or two was my eyes and nose… I seemed to have had a bad allergic reaction. I think the air pollution in La Paz irritated them, but I don’t know for sure. We sought an open pharmacy to get some artificial tears to irrigate my eyes. We found one but didn’t have enough money to buy what they had. So Yoli ran back to the hotel to get some more. After she returned with money in hand, the pharmacy owner showed us that we had a counterfeit 20Bs bill. We were quite surprised. So she ran back yet again to get more money. And then it rained. But at least we got our eye drops.
The next morning it was time to explore a bit. We knew from the start we didn’t have enough time to do the most popular thing in Copacabana — sail out to the Isla del Sol, where the Incas believed the sun and moon were created. Instead, I wanted to climb a nearby mountain that overlooked the city. This mountain has a steep trail to the top, called the Calvario (Calvary), which features the stations of the cross. Well, it was a long walk, and definitely not easy. But we were glad we did it. It was very satisfying to climb to the top and look out over the city and the lake. The view was amazing.
Along the way to the top, we saw many Indian priests (I can’t think of a better word) performing various rites of blessing for families. (We want a new car, I’m starting a new job, etc) The rite involved shaking up bottles of beer and repeatedly swinging them in the air, spraying the beer onto the ground as an offering to the Pachamama (mother earth). At the top of the mountain there were many Cholas selling miniature cars, houses, wads of fake dollars, etc, which are used in these rituals. There are also stone altars for offerings of incense, etc.
Many pilgrims come to Copacabana because of the Virgin, who is enshrined in a beautiful Moorish-style Catholic church in the center of the city. Twice a year festivals are held in her honor, and these draw thousands of pilgrims. Outside the church we found the street filled with cars and buses, adorned with flowers. A priest came out and blessed all the vehicles and there was a lot of popping of fireworks.
Inside the church was extremely ornate. A crowd gathered at the front to receive a blessing from the priest who had some holy water. We also observed many blatant offenders of the posted warnings (“No pets allowed” “Don’t take photos” “No cell phones”).
From a personal religious perspective, these scenes fascinate and yet also bother me. Catholicism in much of South America is blended with the old religions, and the resulting amalgam seems to me in many ways contrary to what I believe about Christianity. I guess you could call it religious culture shock. I had a conversation along this line with the guy in the pharmacy, though I couldn’t articulate myself very well because of my bad Spanish.
When it was time to go, we boarded a bus. There were many there in the plaza, because it was Sunday and most folks were leaving for home. But it turned out we were on the wrong bus. So we quickly had to get our luggage and find the right bus. Everything worked out, and we made it back to La Paz. But the bus ride was very long. The traffic was awful in El Alto. If it hadn’t been for an ambulance behind us, we never would have gotten through.