From La Paz it’s a mere four-hour drive to Lake Titicaca and we felt it would have been a shame not to go. Our hotel in La Paz provided direct transportation to our hotel in Copacabana, a city on the shore of Lake Titicaca where we would stay for a night (on 3/5). The hotel had a great view of the waterfront and our room seemed to be one of the nicest in the building (being the off-season, there were only a few other people occupying rooms). There were indicators that Copacabana would likely be heaving with people during tourist season, which gave it a slightly empty and drab appearance due to the lack of activity while we were there. Thankfully this was only a stop over for our real destination: Isla del Sol, an island in Lake Titicaca with no motorized vehicles or paved roads, and where the Incas believed the sun god was born.
The next day (Monday, 3/6) we took a 90-minute ferry ride from the shore of Copacabana across Lake Titicaca to Yumani, a small community on the south end of Isla del Sol. There are many small ferries for this route, all of which have bench seating inside and open-air rooftop seating, accommodating about 40 to 70 people depending on the size. Due to ominous looking skies and cool winds, we opted to sit inside. The ferries seemed to travel much slower than what we’re used to but the surrounding scenery made it a relatively pleasant ride, aside from the mildly stressful moment of passing through a narrow break in the nearby rocky islands.
Upon arriving in Yumani, we saw an elderly man standing on the shore holding a sign with the name of the hostel where we had made a reservation. He led us up a few sets of steep stairs to our hostel where we were greeted by an elderly woman who did not appear to be aware of the fact that we had already booked a room. This was perfectly fine as they had plenty of space for us, but did cause a little confusion. She showed us to our room, then let us be.
We took a few moments to settle in, then went for a short hike to a lookout where we could see across Lake Titicaca in all directions. This also provided the best views we would get of the snow-capped Andes across the lake and views of Yumani from above. We got acquainted with the southern end of the island for a couple hours, then headed back to our hostel’s restaurant for dinner.
When we arrived at the hostel, the elderly woman who checked us in was sitting outside the restaurant and all the lights inside were off. I asked if we were able to have dinner and she said yes, then opened the door, turned on a light, and gestured for us to sit at one of the three tables inside. The restaurant was a small, simple room which served multiple administrative functions and had a kitchen in the back which resembles a basic kitchen in an average small home. Once settled at our table she asked if we wanted pizza. There were no signs of a menu and it felt as though we were in her home and being offered the only food available, so we said yes. She listed a few available options for toppings and we only said “no” to the one topping we couldn’t translate. The finished product tasted fine and we went back to our room with full bellies.
In the morning we returned to the restaurant for breakfast which was included in our booking. The elderly woman was there again and asked if we wanted bread, butter, jam and eggs. We said yes to all of the above. She provided plenty of food as well as options of tea or juice. We filled our bellies once again, then donned our rain gear and hit the island’s trails under drizzling clouds.
We headed toward the north end of the island, following an undulating trail that eventually made its way along the island’s center ridgeline. We passed through a couple small villages, smelled a lovely grove of eucalyptus trees, and continued to acclimatize to the thin air of the region (Lake Titicaca’s altitude is 12,507 feet). Thankfully the rain held off for most of the hike and we enjoyed panoramic views of the island’s landscapes and across the massive, seemingly endless lake.
By the time we returned to the hostel it was dinnertime, so we freshened up and walked over to the hostel’s restaurant once again. This time the elderly woman was accompanied by a younger, middle-aged woman who we assumed was her daughter. We defaulted to asking the elderly woman for another pizza, making the assumption that it was the only option available given our interactions from the previous night. The elderly woman was agreeable to our request but seemed to be more withdrawn this evening, taking a backseat to the daughter.
While waiting for our pizza to be cooked, a few other people entered the restaurant and occupied the other two tables. The daughter took charge of assisting these guests and appeared to have more authority and know-how for the business side of things. And, to our complete surprise, she handed the other people menus! Menus?! We had been staying here for two days and had no idea the restaurant had menus. Apparently, when left to her own devices the elderly woman only offers pizza (possibly because it was the most convenient and/or enjoyable thing for her to make). After serving us our second pizza, she quietly disappeared while the daughter took charge of running the show.
The next morning we went back again for breakfast and found consistency in the inconsistency of service between the daughter and mother. Instead of just asking if we wanted bread and eggs, the daughter handed us menus with multiple choices available then asked what we wanted (versus just asking if we wanted Option A with no other options being offered as the mother had done). We both found entertainment in the generational gap and, despite the limited options we were given by the mother, we ate just fine with no complaints.
After two nights on the island, we rode a ferry back to Copacabana. This time, the front of the ferry where we were sitting (on benches facing toward the middle of the ferry) filled up with three generations worth of local Aymaras, including one woman who sat on the floor and used my legs as a backrest while re-spooling a ball of yarn for the entire ride. Although quite uncomfortable, it was forgiven since each and every Aymara was laughing and jovial, dishing out light-hearted jokes which were occasionally at someone else’s expense. Even though we could not understand what they were saying, it was clear they were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company and it provided passive entertainment for the two of us.
Once back in Copacabana, we ate a quick lunch then walked to the hotel where we had previously stayed to meet the driver who would take us back to the hustle and bustle of La Paz. Coming from an island with no internet or heating and minimal modern amenities back to the center of a chaotic city plagued with traffic congestion and pollution made us even more appreciative of our ability to experience the nature and simpler lifestyles of more rural and secluded areas.