Copacabana & Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Some of my travels remain in my memory because of the places I visited. And others because of the people I met along the way. Copacabana and Isla del Sol remain in my memory for both of these reasons. During these few short days, I experienced some amazing landscapes, markedly the indescribable sunsets and sunrises, as well as meeting some of the loveliest and friendliest people I have met on my travels so far.

We arrived in Copacabana, which is only a few kilometers from the Peruvian boarder, on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, just in time to witness this amazing sunset pictured below (No photoshop tricks or filters here – this is what the sunset actually looked like. Amazing, huh!). Almost the entire bus load of people scrambled out to the water’s edge to take some amazing shots of what, in life looked to be an oil painting transposed onto the sky. It was truly magnificent, and like all great things, it lasted only a few short minutes, but we were fortunate enough to see it.

One of the nicest hostels we stayed in during our trip around South America was in Copacabana. We stayed in Hotel La Cupula¬†, (we were originally hoping to stay in the neighbouring Hostal Las Olas, but they were unfortunately booked out) and for about AU$30 for a double room, it was a steal! (This was expensive for Bolivian standards, but paying that extra $10 won’t break the budget, and you’ll get a beautifully decorated, clean room, hot showers, comfortable beds, etc). Oh, and their restaurant serves up a delicious breakfast!

We immediately fell in love with Copacabana – the easy, laid back almost bohemian atmosphere of the town, the great shopping, the fantastic restaurants, not to mention our accommodation with its view out onto Lake Titicaca. Bliss! After an evening and a morning meandering through its streets, spending too much money on jewellery, and gorging ourselves on quinoa soup, we hoped onto a boat and headed to Isla de Sol.

It was on this boat ride which we met a bunch of people with whom we’d spend the rest of our stay on the island. I remember it was Rodrigo and Marc (two university friends, one was Peruvian, the other Spanish) who broke the ice with everyone, offering around some Pisco (the national spirit of Peru, although some Chileans claim it as theirs). All the guidebooks say that when in Peru, you must drink Pisco Sours. I agree, if you want to spend your holiday nursing a hangover, as the drink is lethal. So anyway, we all managed to warm ourselves up on that icy afternoon as we made our way to Isla del Sol, with the consequence of a few of us dizzily stumbling out of the boat once we reached the shore.

Isla del Sol (The Island of the Sun) is located on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, about 1 – 2 hours motor boat ride from Copacabana. There are no cars, nor paved roads on the islands, and the inhabitants of the island’s several villages living a simple life making a living from farming, fishing and now tourism. Isla del Sol is an extremely sacred place for the Incas. They believe that their creation myth, and their civilisation, began on Isla del Sol. Accordingly, they believe that the sun god was born on Isla del Sol and it is from this place that the Inca civilisation began. Some archeologist believe that the island was inhabited since the 3rd millennium BCE. There is an ancient temple, one of many archealogical ruins which are scattered around the island, which is dedicated to the sun god. We were lucky enough to have a local guide show us to this sacred site, as well as taking us to his family home, allowing us a glimpse into how the native people live on Isla del Sol.

Sunset on Isla del Sol is absolutely spectacular, in want of a better word. Many people visit the island solely to witness the sunsets and sunrises from it’s peaks. A group of about 10 of us from the hostel sat back, enjoyed a few glasses of Bolivian wine (which was the best red wine I have tasted to date! And unfortunately I’ve forgotten what it was called. We cleared out the island’s entire stock of it that night, it was that good!), and watched the sky dazzle colour for a few fleeting minutes. We continued with our wine drinking after the sun bid us good night, and managed to end up in a tiny little restaurant, ten of us all squash around a table, ordering massive giant-sized pizzas from this lovely little Aymaran man. It was such a great evening, full of chit chat, laughter, good food, good wine and great new-found friends. A few of us organised to meet at 5am the following morning, yet another early start, our trip was full of them, to watch the sunrise. And I’m so glad we got up again at the crack of dawn. You can see by the images below (which is only a few of the many, many photos I took that morning) that it was well worth the lack of sleep.

We sadly said good-bye to Isla del Sol that afternoon, to continue on our gringo trail, towards the Atacama dessert.

Notice the snow-capped Andes in the background. Magic!

The amazing landscape on the way to La Paz.

The Uros Islands, Peru

Water is in my veins. I literary grew up in the water – as a toddler we always had a blow-up pool in the backyard, as I grew older my parents bought me a slip ‘n’ slide, or two, and once we went through a few of those, placing the sprinkler under the trampoline on a hot summer’s day was better than heaven; I was forever doing squad swimming, both mornings and afternoons during my school days, I’d spend my entire summer holidays at the beach, or on my Dad’s boat… Even these days, when work and other commitments unfortunately take priority, I still make that bit of spare time to go for a jog along the beach, or around the bay, just to get a glimpse of the ocean, of the water. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived the majority of my life on Sydney’s northern beaches to be able to indulge in my love of water and the ocean. It must be in my blood. Both my parents come from the seaside towns on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. For generations we have lived by the sea, with the sea. So I always feel so refreshed and alive when being on the water. And this is exactly how I felt spending a beautiful sunny day floating on Lake Titicaca, on the Uros Islands, known as the floating islands, located on the Peruvian side of the lake, only a short boat’s trip from the town of Puno.

Just a little bit of information about the Uros Islands and the people who inhabit them:

The Uros Islands are inhabited by a race of people who pre-date the Inca civilisation. During their time, the Incas failed to take much notice of the ‘uncultured’ people of the floating islands, whom they believed to be simple and inferior, living on floating reed constructions, rather than in ‘grand cities’. Although the Uros people today have inter-married with local Aymara people, their civilisation and their customs still live on, outlasting that of the Incas. Although the Uros people do continue to live according to their traditional lifestyle, they have not completely rejected modern life – some people have motorised boats and solar panels to run electrical appliances, and most children attend school on one of the larger islands on the lake or in Puno.

There are approximately 40 floating islands that make up the Uros islands. These islands are constructed from totora, a native rush reed which grows on the banks of the lake. The dense roots of this reed create the foundation of the floating islands, which is about a metre in thickness. As the totora rots, more and more layers need to be added, meaning that the islands are in a constant state of repair and construction. Many of the islands change shape and size over time, accommodating the needs of the family which inhabits the island. The totora is also used in the construction of their houses and boats, and is also eaten and used for medicinal purposes by the native people.

It was quite a strange, yet relaxing sensation being on these islands. The ground constantly undulates with the flow of the tide and current, feeling almost as though you were on some enormous waterbed. I still remember the feeling – I could have laid in the sun for hours, breathing in the refreshing lake air and the smell of the totora reed. The people of the islands were happy to show us how they lived – it was rather amazing to think that these people actually lived on these islands – it all seemed a little surreal, as though I was in some sort of bizarre theme park. Although the Uros people do rely heavily on tourism today, I still felt that in visiting the Uros islands, I was gaining a true snapshot into the lives of this extraordinary civilisation.

A day trip to the Uros Islands is most definitely on the ‘gringo trail’ to do list. There are many boats leaving Puno at numerous times of the day at you can complete the round trip within about 3 hours. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time, but some trips offer an overnight stay on the islands with one of the local families, as well as visiting some of the other nearby islands on the lake, which I’m sure would be well worthwhile.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

The Women of Peru

During my travels through Peru, I was fascinated by the women of this beautiful country. Their looks, their clothing, their arts and crafts, their day to day lives – be it weaving beautiful textiles or preparing delicious food – I was in awe.

Throughout my two week stay in Peru, women seemed to have a greater presence then men. It was women who usually held the market stalls, women who prepared our food, women who we bartered with, and women who gave us a glimpse into the way of life of both the rural and urban Peruvian people. From the mountains of the Lares Valley to the islands of Lake Titicaca, it is the women of Peru who are most deeply etched into my memory.

One thing which I was particularly intrigued by were the distinct region differences in women’s native clothing. The women of the Lares Valley, also know as The Weaver’s Way (which accurately highlights their talent for weaving beautiful textiles), wore a flat topped hat, usually red or deep orange in colour, which was narrower at the bottom than on top. Their clothes were usually made of brightly coloured woven textiles, primarily of a red/orange hue. In Cusco, the women were usually dressed in more Western styled clothing, with a number of them wearing a white or brown hat, in a similar style to the turn of the century, English gentleman’s top hat. In contrast, the women of Manu National Park in the Amazon Rainforest were plainly dressed in distinctive western clothing. Like the women the the Lares Valley, the women of both Raqchi and the Uros Islands wore very distinctive clothing. The former wearing deep terracotta coloured jackets, with either a large, disc shaped black hat, or a brown ‘top hat’. The latter wore natural straw hats with eye-catching, brightly coloured clothing of fluro oranges, bottle greens, fluro pinks, deep reds, royal blues, lime greens, etc.

Here are a selection of photographs taken in Cusco, The Lares Valley, Manu National Park, Raqchi, La Raya, Sicuani and The Uros Islands.