Friday, August 29, 2014

A quick visit to Copacabana (Part 1)

While the Skyrace was fun, getting to it was a bit of an adventure in itself.

The necessity to get on a plane and travel to La Paz for the race begged the rather obvious question:  If you're going to do all of this travelling for a race, why not explore a new place a bit as well?  My initial thoughts were trending toward staying in and around La Paz, but just a week or so before the race it occurred to me to ask how far Copacabana was and how difficult it would be to get there.  Copacabana sits right on the shore of Lake Titicaca and is a very popular destination for tourists; it turned out to be a fantastically easy trip from Santa Cruz.

A couple of days before I left, I went out to the airport here in Santa Cruz and bought my plane ticket, having finally committed to doing the race in the first place.  I was on an 8am flight with BOA, and the round trip cost to La Paz was something less than $200.  I had reserved a room at a hotel in Copacabana, La Cupula, which by all rights looked quite nice both on their website and on Trip Advisor.  They were also pretty darn reasonable, I had a single room for $15 per night, and I didn't even notice that I was sharing a bath with another room... 

I get ahead of myself somewhat,... I flew out on time and arrived in La Paz (el Alto in actuality - about which I have nothing good to say) at about 9am on Thursday before the race.  Getting my bag and out of the airport would have taken no time at all, but I needed to eat something so I got a sandwich and sat at the airport for a while.

Soon enough I was fueled up and out to a waiting taxi where (as advised by the hotel) I asked to be taken to the main cemetery where the buses for Copacabana parade.  The driver said that there was another stand closer but otherwise equivalent in all respects and asked if I wanted to go there instead.  Yup...

After what seemed like 3 minutes, we arrived at the "station" where there was a waiting van ready to head out.  In reality, the station is just some place where vans just sit, waiting at the side of the road waiting until they have sufficient passengers to head out. That means a ride in one of these vans is a bit like getting a ride in a sardine can, but it's inexpensive - 30 Bs to get the 4 hours to Copacabana.

Copacabana is only 140 kilometers from La Paz, if 4 hours seems a bit extraordinary, it does to me too.  Traffic in El Alto is ridiculous, it was the better part of an hour just getting to open road 20 kms away, and then there is the small matter of crossing the Strait of Tiquina.  I got to ride in a boat!

Not the boat I rode in on...
I can imagine the crossing to be pretty hairy in heavy wind, but fortunately the weather was absolutely spectacular.  I am sure these boats wouldn't pass US Coast Guard inspection, but we made it across just fine.  The van had to cross on another ferry/barge thing, and that took a while - only 2 vehicles at a time can cross per barge and there are a limited number of barges...

Once across the strait I was within spitting distance of Peru.  Heck, if I were drawing the map, Copacabana would be in Peru, but I didn't so...

Until across the strait, I hadn't really noticed any ruins, but as I was looking out the van's window it became apparent just how extensive they were - entire hillsides terraced, for miles.  It is truly astonishing the scope of the labor, and impossible to appreciate without seeing it.

At any rate, the van finally arrived in Copacabana around one o'clock in the afternoon and I zen navigated my way over to the hotel, not knowing for sure where it was. Before I had to ask someone for directions, I found a sign and figured out where the office was.  I got checked in and asked at the desk for a bit of information about how to kill a couple of hours before I ate dinner.  It was suggested I visit the Horca del Inca and the 16 Stations of the Cross.  Okay, sounded good so, off I went.

Now, I think I perhaps should have worn my GPS for these little climbs; they were quite remarkable.  Precipitous, to say the least.

Could have focused a touch better on the plant in the foreground, but...

I first went to Horca del Inca.  More zen navigation: Walk straight out that street until you go past the market, turn right, you'll eventually find it on your left.  It worked out pretty much like that, I wasn't sure when I was past the market, but I turned right and eventually found the trail on the left...

Horca apparently means gallows and one can see if you click that link above why the Spanish may have named it that, but rather than a great pile of bones, it is a pre-Incan astronometrical station; every winter solstice at sun rise, a beam of light gets projected through a man made hole in a rock and shines on a horizontal slab of rock, indicating the beginning of the New Year.  Cool.

I didn't actually take a picture of it.  I was more interested in getting to the top of the pile of rock upon whose flank the Horca perched...The views of the Lake and Copacabana were spectacular.

Rock fins near the top of Horca del Inca hill.
Copacabana from Horca del Inca hill.
Once I had mucked about up top for a while I decided to go see what the 16 stations of the cross were all about.  In the picture above, they are on the hill at the far side of town.

I should note that there was some sort of festival going on when I arrived and this place may not always be as I describe, but after walking across town, past the hotel and to the foot of the stations, I was greeted by an informal marketplace.  People were selling toys, candles, firecrackers, alcohol, beer...figurines made from molten metal...I found it to be quite strange, foreign and rather unpleasant.  To my (rather New England/Puritan influenced) perspective it felt a bit like allowing the money changers back into the temple.  Couple that with the fact that I felt my temple (outdoors in a beautiful setting) was essentially vandalized by the plastic trash strewn around.  Not my deal at all...

Despite the rather scathing review, there were some
spectacular vistas to be had if you could get away from the people.

After climbing around on the hill for a while, I headed back down and to my hotel room for a little rest, and picture review before I ate dinner at 7.  The next day was going to be long, and rainy and cold, so I went to bed early and slept well.

Thanks for reading, I'll write up the hike and return to La Paz in my next post.

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