We always feel a bit hesitant but excited before crossing the border into a new country. You have these pre-conceived ideas of what the country will be like and images in your head from photographs or descriptions from other travellers and blog posts. But now you are here, at the frontera. Stamps are pressed into the pages of your passport, exiting from one country and then into another. We filled out our vehicle import permit ourselves on a computer in a small store, and then waited an hour for the border to re-open after the lunch break. We actually saw quite a few backpackers disembarking busses and motorcyclists from Europe organizing their paperwork. I noticed the change in local fashion right away, Cholitas dressed in full layered skirts, flowery aprons, and two long braids connected at the base.
After our wait at the border, we enjoyed the short 9 kilometer drive to our first Bolivian town: Copacabana. The town is situated on a beautiful stretch of Lake Titicaca, deep blue and Mediterranean-looking with a rocky shoreline. The shoreline was dotted with brightly coloured fishing boats and plastic hamster-wheel looking things that we discovered the local tourists love to take out, screaming as the see-through contraption is pulled behind a motor boat. Our campsite was filled to the brim with overlanders: a Bulgarian family, French couple, British couple and Spanish couple. Our American friends George and Jenine showed up the next day and it was great to catch up with them on their travels. The French couple served delicious crepes with sweet and savory fillings and we all piled into the warm kitchen to chat over dinner. We also ran into Enif, whom we met several months back in Ecuador at Finca Sommerwind.
Dave and Meryl’s epic Pinzgauer has been all over the world. It was originally a military vehicle before Dave customized it into an overlanding rig, and is definitely one of the most unique vehicles we’ve seen on the road.
The town of Copacabana surprised us at how touristy it was. Trinkets lined the streets, backpackers grimaced at the weight of their bags combined with the altitude, and the steep main street was filled with tour offices and restaurants. The food and items at the local market weren’t the freshest, but we did end up finding a few gems at the Rest Stop Café (tasty baked goods and brownies) and at a tiny store close to the tour operators (piping hot and freshly baked cheese empenadas). On our walks back and forth from town we had a great time playing with the local dogs (and two puppies, yes!!!!), who were all very good-natured and loved to run and sniff out the piles of garbage overflowing from the bins by the beach. We felt quite relaxed in Copacabana, watching the epic sunsets at the beach and foraging fresh eucalyptus from the forest nearby. Anything to freshen up the cab of the truck we had been living out of for the past 6 months or so.
We clambered up the steep stone steps to the top of Cerro Calvario, where we were greeted by wonderful views and various Catholic monuments representing the Stations of the Cross. Lit candles flickered, incense burned, and empty plastic bottles were strewn amongst the small bushes below.
We made a trip to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), where you can walk from one side of the dry, dusty island to the other. The ride from Copacabana took two hours on the most painfully slow boat we had ever been on, but it was all good since we had been on some horrific boat rides on this trip in the past (a.k.a Nicaragua…)! We trekked across the island scoping out rocky ruins and sacrificial tables left by the Incas, meandered through small villages, and enjoyed the expansive lake views. We chatted with Jenine and George the whole way and the journey went by in a flash. We chugged back to the town of Copacabana, our bodies filled to the brim with Vitamin D and our Camelbacks desperate for a refill.
The next day we packed up our belongings, said goodbye to our fellow overlanders and headed to the big city: La Paz. But first, a sketchy boat ride. As you do.