Bolivia: Part 2 The Climb

Where the clouds meet the earth.
Day one in Bolivia began with a cross country drive out of La Paz and into the expanse of the mountainous countryside en route to Copacabana, on the shores of the sacred Lake Titicaca. I had traveled to Peru before and spent time on Lake Titicaca and  it is nothing short of a magical place where the bluest of skies touch the mountainous back drop of a meandering lake that seems to leave the traveler quiet and pensive.

We arrived in Copacabana, a busy little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It is here where Bolivians and Peruvians from across the lake make the trek to have their vehicles blessed by a local priest. They drive for miles and miles to receive a ceremonial blessing of their vehicle both inside and out in order to protect them in their journeys. People decorate their cars with all kinds of bling and are ready with beer in hand to have the priest bless it with his words as well as with his spritzing of alcohol on the car.  The line up for a car blessing is impressive and happens almost daily in Copacabana.

Lake Titcaca port

Copacabana is a touristy town despite it's cultural traditions that are omnipresent. Backpackers fill hostel lobbies and tourists flood the kitchy shops selling traditional Bolivian wares. Down at the lake, the docks are loaded with boats ready to take travelers across to Puno in Peru or to the Sun and Moon Islands in Bolivia.

We boarded our boats and set our sites on the Island of the Sun ( Isla del Sol) where we would disembark and set our sites on the summit of the island where we would spend the night at Ecolodge La Estancia.

Along the trail on Isla del Sol, Aymara girls sell their goods.

The luggage shuttle, aka, the donkey.
The altitude of Lake Titicaca is 12, 507 ft. although it wouldn't seem high by looking at it, one can most definitely FEEL the altitude as well as the intense suns rays. As we started our hike up The Island of the Sun, and felt the burn of altitude in our lungs and the sting of the suns rays on our skin. We traversed the rocky ridges, stopped to take a breath and a look around us to absorb the incredible sweeping views of Lake Titicaca and the mountain ranges that call it home. After 2 hours, we finally reached the the Ecolodge, winded, tired and completely awe inspired with the view that we would be gifted for the rest of the night. We carried what we could on our backs and donkeys carried the rest of our bags up the mountain, arriving just about the time we arrived.

We unloaded in our little cabins, heated only by a little black box outside of the cabin that attracted the sun's heat and in turn heated the cabin by a trap door that let the heat inside. Simple  yet comfortable accommodations were a perfect accompaniment to a beautiful view ~ stealing nothing from the surroundings yet complimenting it perfectly.

Here I am!

After settling in and sitting down for dinner, the altitude started really affecting me. My head throbbed and felt heavy. My heart seemed to beat fast for the smallest of movements and my appetite had all but dissipated. Dinner was lovely and delicious but I could not eat it. I couldn't touch it. My face was on fire from the sunburn and all I could think about was laying down and riding out the pain.

Snow capped Andes and Lake Titicaca

I went back to my room and nestled into my little bed ~ burnt from my intense sun burn and tossing and turning from the pains of altitude sickness. I'd never felt anything like this before and realized very quickly how we are most certainly vulnerable to Mother Nature's forces. I vowed from this day on that I would hydrate as I should and honor the heights that I was traversing because if I didn't, I'd fall prey to this sensation over and over again. Mother Nature teaches us quickly how to respond, it's up to us how we react. I chose to listen to her calling and tread lightly, taking great care of myself from that moment on throughout my trip.

I drank Coca tea, chewed on Coca leaves and made sure to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate for the remainder of my time on Isla Del Sol.  Coca tea and the leaves from the Coca plant are natural remedies that help with altitude issues. In addition to helping with altitude, Coca increases energy and mental focus, both of what fall prey to altitude sickness.

Panoramic view from atop Isla del Sol

The climb down was incredibly easy in comparison to our hike up the day before. The pains of altitude sickness and exhaustion were distant memories and as I boarded the boat to head to Moon Island, I felt incredibly accomplished. As I looked up at the top of Sun Island, feeling so much better than the night before, I realized that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was and that I could endure so much more than I thought possible.

The last leg of our trip down Isla del Sol

Moon Island was a lot less of an issue in terms of altitude yet equally as awe inspiring with it's Incan ruins. As I sat on the shores of Moon Island, looking across the lake at Sun Island, I marveled at the intensity of the things that we cannot see but can only feel. It took being humbled by altitude to realize that sometimes surrendering to the forces and going with the flow is the best thing we can do and when we think we can control that which can't be seen, we often find ourselves weaker and defeated. I'd learned a lot about life in 24 hours hiking up Isla del Sol. In all of my years, it took me only 24 hours of hiking in high altitude to realize that I am but a small force in this world and that fighting against the grain of life is counterintuitive to life's process.

Travel teaches a lot about grace and humility. 


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