Welcome to Bolivia: 24 Hours in Copacabana

Border crossing into Bolivia

Border crossing into Bolivia

The trip to Copacabana, Bolivia was a bit of a journey. Rain, a stuffy bus ride, and not completely remembering the directions I heard in Spanish complicated my trip across the border. By the time I had gotten my paperwork in order and hopped back on the bus, I was glad to make it to the other side.

Copa was sunnier, calmer, and much more touristy at first. I walked down the road past the jewelry vendors, internet cafes and tour operators to the edge of the lake, where I found families playing foosball and dozens of swan boats for rent.

P1000576I settled in a hotel by the lake called Hostal Brisas Del Titicaca – the only mistake on my hostel adventures thus far. My room was so small that I could barely fit myself past the soft and sunken twin bed that consumed almost all of the space in my room.

P1000606 I spent most of the day just exploring the town, which turned out to be really nice. I enjoyed the homey and old fashioned feel of the squares and the big Catedral up the street. Vendors on all sides – hippie tourists and Bolivians alike – sold bracelets, great earrings (I got 4 pairs), and all sorts of items (clothing, purses, bags, books – you name it) in brightly stripped colors. I bought a grip of gifts for my friends and fam, as well as some jewelry and things for myself.

Up the street, locals decorated their cars in flowers for the weekly blessing of the automobiles in front of the Cathedral. Near the church vendors sold Catholic items and bright jewelry with the faces of saints decorated in fake flowers, fake gold and silver. I saw a few people going up to the church with candles and bought some of my own so that I could say a prayer for my journey and for the people I’ve met along the way.

Sending thoughts and prayers out

Sending thoughts and prayers out

On the side of the church was a small and dark stone room where families lit bunches of candles together to say a prayer and wish for good things in the coming months. Some people even made pictures out of the melted wax and wrote things like “salud”, “educacion”, and more on the walls to make their prayers more concrete. I said a prayer for the girl who fell during the hike to Machu Picchu  and wished all travelers a safe and healthy journey.

P1000610Outside near the lake, I ate a dish of trucha criolla at one of the vendor booths and relaxed. The other main thing to do in Copa (besides go to la Isla Del Sol, which I’ve heard mixed reviews about), was to go up the street to el Cerro Calvario, where people ascend up a big hill to say prayers at the top and see an amazing view of the city below. At an elevation of more than 3,800 meters, I was pretty winded til I got to the top. It was night when I arrived, which made the lights of the town glow brightly below. Getting up and down the stone pathways in the dark was another adventure…

P1000660At night back down in the town, the side streets came alive with a night market and street vendors – one of the main things I really missed from my travels in Southeast Asia. Families and friends gathered at some of the booths to eat beef and potatoes, salchichas and papas fritas, and buy snacks from the local vendors like sweet puff corn and nuts. I wanted to eat everything. I got a bottle of yogurt drink, some of the salchichas with hot sauce, a stick of meat and potatoes, and ate my grub on a sidewalk curb.

Night market

Night market

 I was starting to feel a bit sick, so I made my trip back to my hotel a bit on the early side. But sleep was hard to come by. I soon found out that every time the bathroom light went on or my next door neighbor turned on the light in their room, the light shone into my room too. The noise from other tourists, the bright lights in my room, and the lumpy sunken bed were too much for me to handle. I must have drifted off to sleep eventually, but it felt like an eternity being awake that night.

Blessing of the cars in front of the Catedralgoo

Blessing of the cars in front of the Catedral

Still sick and incredibly tired, I was ready to leave Copa the next day. I had breakfast at an amazingly mediocre spot with horrible service (The Coffee Bar Copacabana) and went across the street to a much better café with wifi. At 1 pm I was off again on another bus en route to La Paz – one of the highest (and allegedly most boring) big cities in South America.

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