Even after what seemed like a hundred hours on the bus, Lake Titicaca was spectacular. At 4000m, it’s the world’s highest navigable body of water and so enormous it seems like the ocean except that it sits so spookily still and in the sun the surface looks like gem coloured glass.
The surrounding hills are all covered with agricultural terraces, many from Inca times and their brown barren looks make the lake stick out all the more. When the bus stopped and a man got on collecting “sanctuary tax” for entering Copacabana, I didn’t begrudge it – mind you it was the equivalent of 7p! (Later we discovered that this tax is just a scam.)
This Copacabana couldn’t be more different to the famous Rio city of the same name. It’s a colourful little town full of Indian faces right on the edge of the lake in between two hills. There are market stalls lining almost every street and a quite out of place looking white-domed Cathedral.
Here in the highlands around the Lake (it’s over 4000m) the only inhabitants are Bolivia’s Aymara Indigenous people – campesinos similar to those who inhabit the highlands of Peru.
The difference here is that there are almost no “metizos” (people of mixed Spanish and Indian decent) or Latino’s (Spanish decent) and so the atmosphere is completely different to Peruvian towns where there are many Latino faces amongst the Indian ones.
Although Copa is quite touristy and has a couple of big hotels, it still has the feel of an indigenous town quite untouched by modern life. Campesina’s trudge around with their loads on their backs or sit behind mountains of different types of nuts, pasta, corn or gadgets on the endless market stalls. Some just sit on the pavement with a couple of piles of pathetic looking vegetables.
The Aymara women’s dress is different to Peruvian Indians: they wear layers and layers of voluminous knee length skirts and underskirts with a jumper, and a shawl. Quite frankly this outfit makes the women appear huge – although I am sure not all of them are (check out their skinny legs). They all wear their hair in two long plaits on top of which is balanced a dark coloured bowler hat. They also have the same rectangle of brightly coloured material slung over their backs in which they carry everything from Coca leaves to babies.
After asking the way to the fruit and veg market about 50 times on our first day, it became clear that Spanish was a second language to these people – they still speak the Indigenous language – Quechua.