You know, when you buy a ticket from Arequipa, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia, you tend to expect you will be taken to Copacabana, Bolivia. Let me gives you the heads-up that I wish I had been given: this is not always the case.
I went with a Julsa bus on this leg of my trip (not recommended; the seats were cramped and this company’s buses have been involved in several high profile bus crashes due to poor roads and poor driving). 15 km shy of Copacabana, the bus pulled over in the border town of Yunguno, Peru. The bus driver promptly started unloading the luggage, a loud hint for us to get off the bus.
I followed him around for more information until he finally explained this was the immigration area for Peru, so we should all go in the unmarked building across the street to get our exit stamps.
And then get back on the bus? I asked. He shook his head. Nope. Then we should walk across the border to the second unmarked building on the hill to get our Bolivian visas and entry forms.
… where the bus will meet us? I asked. He shook his head. Nope. Where we have to make our own arrangements to catch a minibus or cab into Copacabana. I then had to turn and explain this unexpected turn of events to some fellow passengers, a large group of British backpackers who did not speak a word of Spanish and who were quite unhappy to hear the news. Still, I crossed the border without any major incidents and without any demands for bribes (which I had been warned to expect).
Although this turn of events had made me a little uneasy about going to Bolivia, I felt better as soon as we drove into Copacabana, a developing resort town on the south shore of Lake Titicaca.
My minibus took me through the plaza of the cathedral, where cars and vans were covered in flower garlands and ribbons awaiting their daily blessing from the priests.
Then we turned a corner and headed downhill and I spied the lake glittering at the base of the road. I had a good feeling about this place.
There is a trick to enjoying Lake Titicaca. The more distance you put between yourself and the lake, the better it looks. I only lasted twenty minutes walking along the shoreside in town, having to hold my nose to keep out the odor of rotting fish, picking my way around litter washing ashore in the waves and keeping a watchful eye on the bold street dogs nearby. The water was dingy and grey and altogether unappealing.
Then I climbed Calvario, a hill on the outskirts of Copacabana. It took me an embarrassingly long time given how short a climb it was, but when the altitude makes you feel like you are breathing through a straw, you can only move so fast. The views once I reached the top took away what little breath I had left.
I had been told that Bolivia is the Nepal of South America. I have not been to Nepal, but I could easily believe the mountains of Bolivia stand up against the Himalayas for spectacular scenery. Copacabana was just a taste of the amazing natural landscapes I was to see in Bolivia. What an introduction!