Lake Titicaca & La Paz

We’ve been in Bolivia since last Friday. teamGoolTM travelled from Cusco to Copacabana (commonly known as “Copa”, at Lake Titicaca) by bus and had one of the smoothest border crossings so far. We’re now on country number 12 of the Big Trip and I had been a bit apprehensive about Bolivia after having been told (by other travellers) that the food was terrible and that we were bound to get ill. So far, however, Bolivia has been pretty good – cheap, interesting and mostly dry, with some good food! The women here dress traditionally, with Laurel and Hardy style bowler hats, shawls and brightly coloured gathered skirts – I think they look great.

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Lake Titicaca is ever so pretty and Copacabana was a lovely peaceful place to stay. It was warm and sunny enough in the daytime to sit outside with a glass of £1 wine and catch some rays. We took a swan-shaped pedalo out on the lake, which was lots of fun, until it came to peddling in after 30 minutes. We had both the wind and the current against us and had floated out so far that it was hard work getting the boat back to its owner! Luckily we made it in the end and Captain Gool did a sterling job of avoiding rocks and buoys this time…

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We would have liked to stay another night in Copacabana, but there was no transport on Monday because of a checkpoint and we didn’t have enough cash to stay until Tuesday (there are no ATMs in Copa), so we had to leave on Sunday instead. The bus ride to La Paz was about 3 and a half hours and involved a lake-crossing, where us passengers paid about 15p for a boat to take us across and our empty bus was loaded up onto a barge and floated across to meet us.

La Paz is almost 4000m above sea level and the highest capital city in the world. We’re staying just north of the Mercado de Hechiceria (witches’ market), which is a real feast for the eyes. The stalls sell everything from woven bags and rugs, knitted scarves, gloves, hats and finger-puppets, jewellery, musical instruments, dried herbs and spices to llama foetuses! The foetuses are pretty gruesome-looking and are meant to be buried under the foundations of your house or burnt on a plate of sweets and herbs to give you luck.

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On Monday we visited the Coca Museum, which costs £1 to get into and is tiny but packed full of information, photos, wax figures and cartoons. It even includes a coca café (with an unusually rude tips jar! See pic here), where we had more coca tea, coca coffee and coca cookies.

The museum tells the story of coca from indigenous leaf-chewing, through Spanish use of coca to exploit silver mine workers (chewing coca leaves meant they could work for longer, with fewer breaks and less food), use of coca and then cocaine and chemical substitutes as an anaesthetic, through to Coca-Cola using an extract from the coca leaf in it’s famous drink and Western cocaine abuse, addiction (Sigmund Freud was the first cocaine addict and died of nasal cancer) and possible treatments.

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The chewing of coca leaves has been positive for the Andean people for over 1000 years. The leaves are used as:

– a social lubricant (like alcohol in Western societies)
– a central part of ritual, both in healing, with shamans and witch doctors and more formally with marriage (a gift of coca leaves is given to the bride’s father before he consents to the match, then a reciprocal gift of leaves is given to the groom’s father)
– a non-addictive medicine, giving energy, dulling pain and sustaining the people in times of hardship and poverty

It seems that it was only when the West began to exploit and interfere, taking cocaine home with them, that the demand for the drug and its associated problems started.

On Tuesday we went to the museum of musical instruments, which Dad and Kit would have loved and was of course, right up Ise’s street. It cost just 50p to get in and is run by a man who clearly loves music and instruments of all kinds and is exceptionally enthusiastic about his job. He talked us through each of the 6 rooms (Inca and pre-Inca, guitars, percussion, pipes, Bolivian innovations and world instruments) in Spanish (amazingly, we understood about 1/3rd of what he said!) and let us try out most of the instruments for ourselves. Where most museums have signs saying “don’t touch”, his has signs saying “please do try” and the owner seemed to take great delight in watching visitors get interactive with the bottles, squeeze-box, drums, pianos, xylophones, tubular bells etc. There was a school group there at the same time as us, having a whale of a time. Ise especially liked having a tinkle on this organ-piano that he had to pump with his feet.

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There were guitars of all shapes and sizes (from tiny doll-size ones, to ones that were almost as tall as me and some that were about a foot deep) and made from all kinds of materials, from wood with inlaid butterfly designs and metal to turtle and armadillo! There were also some really different, innovative designs; heart-shaped, double-sided and 5-armed (i.e. 5 different tunings) guitars. In the percussion room, there was a platform full of different drums that we could try, “matracas” – like football rattles shaped like churches, baby bottles and birds and tall metal standards used at fiesta time, covered with bells and bottle-tops that jingle when you shake them. Here I am having a go.

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On Thursday, Ise cycled down the “Road of Death”, but I’ll let him tell you all about that…

P.S. A LOLCAT for you from Copa
“I needz ur eyez 4 mine witch’s potion!”

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5 Comments so far

  1. Mum and Dad C on October 3rd, 2009

    What an evil cat!!
    Do you remember Kit playing on an organ like that when we stayed on the  farm in Norfolk? Looking forward to reading about the road of death. Not the M25, then? Love, mum xxxxxx

  2. Karen & Jessica on October 3rd, 2009

    There is absolutely no way that I could have walked, cycled or driven down that road!  Well done Isaac!
    From us both
    xxx
    Although Jessica is at a friend’s house at the moment but I am sure she would agree.

  3. Gude on October 3rd, 2009

    That dog gave as good as it got – at one point it had the cat’s entire head in its mouth!!  I think they were just playing though, cause they were both quite young and neither of them yelped in pain… x

  4. Gude on October 3rd, 2009

    Me neither!  I made him take out additional insurance before he did it and spent the whole day worrying!
    Love to both of you xx

  5. David on October 6th, 2009

    A most unusual and very rude tips jar at the Coca Museum… Teehee! LOLCAT – Proof that I am right,… ALL cat’s are evil 😉