Sunday 24 May

Barren Altiplano

I am ready to be leaving La Paz. Our various ills have prevented us from tackling the Takesi Trail, a two-day trek across the Cordillera Real and down into the Yungas rain forest, and I feel that I have seen enough of the city. The bus journey to Copacabana is scenic but not stunning, although I am in a much better state to enjoy it than on the outward journey. We arrive in Copacabana just before noon and order breakfast at a lakeside café.

To Island of the Sun

Island of the Moon

It is not difficult to arrange the boat-ride to the island. The young Bolivian at the helm seems to enjoy taking the boat within inches of some of the rocks that we pass on the way, nonchalantly steering by means of his foot pressed against the outboard motor while he leans backwards over the side of the boat to see the way ahead. The ride to the Isla del Sol is not as long as the two hours suggested in the book—more like one and a quarter hours. But the book is certainly right about the steep climb from the harbour to the hostels at the top of the hill.

Inca Springs

The path rises up a flight of stone steps with a spring flowing down a channel at the side. Well-kept terraces of colourful flowers are on either side. As we near the top, a young boy who joined us on the way up suddenly becames very keen to help us find our way to one of the two hostels on the brow of the hill, despite the fact that it is clearly visible from where we are. He should have been on commission from the owner of the hostel (who is probably his father), and we are a little taken aback when it is made abundantly clear that he is expecting a tip for his ‘help’.

The rest of the passengers from the boat head for the other, newer, hostel, which an Australian on his way back to the mainland had been heartily recommending to all whom he passed. However, we are more than happy with the Residencial El Imperio del Sol. The conditions are basic—there is no electricity or running water on the island—and the room is plain. But what is lacking in the decor is more than made up for by the wonderful view from our upstairs window over the lake to the Isla de la Luna and the snow-capped Mount Illampu on the horizon beyond.

Dinner is served by the light of a paraffin lamp in the corner of the room and by candles on the table. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we are served fish. Afterwards, in the clear mountain air, and in the perfect blackness of a sky spoiled by no artificial lights, the stars shine like jewels and the Milky Way crosses the sky in a broad swathe of swirled and dappled silver. It is a very special place. Perhaps it can remain so for a while at least, resisting the twin gods of commercialism and progress ever eager to bring across the water the neon lights of the mainland.