Leaving La Paz was a bit loco—translation nightmare. There were some demonstrations in one of the big squares, just outside the government buildings. Roads were blocked off, crowds filled the streets, and the cops were out in force—many carried tear gas canisters and launchers.
I had shared a room for the last few days with Elin and Emelie from Sweden and we were all headed north to Lake Titicaca, so we had lunch together, went back to the hostel to pick up our stuff, and hit the streets to hail a cab. A taxista pulled over and quoted us fifteen Bolivianos, but it ended up being twenty by the time we got to the bus terminal.
The trip started out at a crawl until we had gotten away from the extremely congested area around the demonstrations. We had to climb the hills toward the upper part of the city, skirt the mess, then descend back down to the station. Some of the hills in La Paz are quite steep. Unfortunately, on one of the hills, the taxi had to slow down for other traffic. The driver tried playing tricks with the clutch—I thought he was going to burn it up—but whatever he tried didn't get enough power to the wheels to get us up the hill. We wondered if we were going to have to get out and push. Don't laugh. Elin and I had to get out while he and Emelie drove up to a more gentle slope a few hundred meters ahead. At almost 3,700 meters, Elin and I almost passed out by the time we got to the cab. We were huffing and puffing like mad. After getting back in the cab, we told Emelie she was paying the whole fare.
We arrived at the bus station at about 3:00 P.M. We went to one bus company that went to Copacabana, but the lady said there were no buses leaving today—from any company—because of the demonstrations. We walked about fifty meters to another company and bought three tickets for Copacabana. The bus left at 3:00 P.M. It was just after 3:00. The lady called the bus and told them to wait. For some reason, the bus left from a different part of town. We hustled out front with the lady from the bus company and she arranged for a taxi to take us to the bus. We had no idea where we were going, where the bus would leave from, or what kind of bus we'd be riding in.
We arrived at a random corner in a random neighborhood of La Paz. The bus was a micro. It had seats for probably twenty people. The driver threw our bags on the roof and covered them with a blue tarp. We boarded the bus, found some empty seats, and apologized to the other passengers for being late.
We clawed our way out of La Paz, stopping behind other cars and buses that stopped in the middle of the road from time to time, passing others. And of course there was the ubiquitous honking. We eventually crested the valley top and slipped into El Alto, one of three cities comprising the La Paz metroplex (La Paz, El Alto, and Viacha).
We passed dozens of welding, body, and auto shops—these kinds of things get grouped together, possibly to make it easier for the consumer to find what they need. You just go to the right part of town for your need. We passed collectivos—basically mini-vans—lined up for blocks. It must've been the part of town where you catch rides, sort of an informal bus station. It was a hectic city. I wished I had visited here while in La Paz.
Within several minutes, we left El Alto, and said goodbye to La Paz. We were headed north, to the southern end of Lake Titicaca, where there was a very popular and touristy town called Copacabana. From there, we would take a boat out to Isla del Sol to visit some ruins and do some hiking.
Shortly after leaving the more densely populated area around La Paz, I noticed the Andes mountains off to our right. It was the most beautiful section of Andes I had yet seen. I made a mental note to come back here and spend a few days trekking in this area. There were some beautiful photographs to be had here.
At about the halfway point of our bus ride, we came to a branch of Lake Titicaca that we had to cross. We were instructed to get off the bus which proceeded to drive onto a barge. We purchased boat tickets for a couple Bolivianos—i.e., they cost a couple Bolivianos, we didn't buy boat tickets for other people—and got onto a small boat. There were only a few of us on this boat, as most of the passengers had filled up another boat in front of us and had already set out across the choppy lake. We waited another ten minutes or so until another vehicle arrived and our boat filled up. The ride across the lake was slightly rough, but we made it without capsizing.
Upon reaching the other side, the girls and I searched out a bathroom. When we found it, it was closed, so we did what anyone in Latin America does when nature calls. We found a fence, a wall, or a tree, and went. It at least gave the illusion of some privacy.
From the other side of the lake, we climbed up into the mountains. The sky grew dark, there was lightning and rain, and the sun disappeared. It was a beautiful evening as we watched the lake go by below.
During the rain, the windows in the bus fogged up. The driver wiped off the window in front of him with a rag, but we weren't convinced he could see, based on how he was driving. I thought there was a good chance he would drive off the road and over a cliff, but Emelie kept thinking positive thoughts. The rain stopped, I opened my window, and the windshield cleared up. The driving didn't really improve, but we pulled into Copacabana none the worse for wear. Thank you for those positive thoughts, Emelie!
A few men met us at the bus stop—simply at the side of the road at the main plaza. They wanted us to stay at their hotels. Elin went and checked them out while Emelie and I stayed with the bags. They both promised "Showers, 24 hours a day" but one of them had a private bathroom. That's the one we decided on. We took our bags, hiked the few blocks to our new home, dropped our things, and went out for dinner. After dinner, I went back to the room and went to bed, while the girls checked out the town for a bit. There wasn't much going on, so they returned before midnight. We all hit the hay, as tomorrow would be a long day—we were headed out to Isla del Sol for the day.