6/25/2011: Copacabana (Isla del Sol)

It is when the sun goes down that my demons arise.

This was to be a day of extremes. It started with perhaps the worst night of the trip, and ended with one of the best days of the trip.

I found that the evening and night were when I was the most lonely, and when I had the most doubts. That first night Copacabana was particularly bad.

I was marginally cold in the evening, so when I went to bed, I crawled under a thick heavy blanket or comforter. I slept fine until around 3am when I woke up warm and sweaty. Then I couldn’t sleep. With the comforter on I was too warm. With just the blanket on, I got too cold. I tried emptying my bladder just because. Eventually I took an antihistamine to help me sleep.

I kept dwelling on the events of the repacking in La Paz. I was really kicking myself for not taking my full pack (like most people). I had originally planned to put the stuff sack in my duffel when we hiked to the base camp at Tarija, but our guide told us that he wanted to start hiking lower down on the mountain to give us more exercise to help us acclimatize. I couldn't imagine hiking with a pack on my back and holding my stuff sack in my arms. Between that and the lack of my down jacket, my head was full of evil thoughts. I could not get them out of my head and spent quite a while tossing and turning before falling asleep.

View from Hotel Room

When we left in the morning, I wore both tees, my orange fleece shirt, my down vest, and my soft shell jacket. It was about all the warm clothes I brought. We were to take a boat to the Island of the Sun to hike, but there was a bit of a delay as the boat driver had apparently been out drinking late the previous night and was not around. Eventually, the boat owner took us.

Some people went up on the roof of the boat, but I stayed inside due to the cold. We did not go very fast as it was just being driven by a single outboard motor. The course kept veering left and right, so that it was hard to tell where we were headed. I didn’t intend to, but at one point I noticed that I had nodded off.

On the island, the guide was offering some coca leaves to chew on. I tried a few, didn’t notice much, and eventually spit them out.

Almost immediately as we started hiking, I had to take off clothes. I think I spent the bulk of the day wearing just the two tee shirts, but I had to put on the soft shell when we stopped moving.

We went up and down a few hills, past a few villages and views of terraced farms, and eventually ended up on the summit, about 1000 feet above the lake.

Hiking up
Flock of Sheep
Town on Ridge

I could feel the altitude, but I was doing fine. This was the good part of the day. On the way down, I bought a necklace and a small belt for Michael from a little girl who was selling them with her mother nearby. They were Ba 10 each, which works out to about $3 for both.

At one point on the way up, during a rest stop, I emptied one liter bottle into my hydration bladder. That worked out quite well, with the exception that I didn’t know how much water was left until it ran out. As usual, I made several bush breaks on the way up. I drank both liters of water by halfway down.

We then took a short boat ride to the boat owner’s house, where we had lunch. I took the stairs up the hillside too quickly, which rather winded me. But as we were sitting at lunch without hiking, it got apparently colder, and I had to put on my soft shell. In the sun it was OK, but barely.

When we took the boat back (a 30-60 minute cruise), I put on all of my clothes (e.g. down vest etc) and sat on the roof. Particularly with the sun, I was fine. Without the sun, I would have been totally miserable. That is why I dreaded the evening. I really hoped that there would be a jacket waiting for me the next day, and that it is warm.

Back in Copacabana, some people went out to rent motorcycles for a few hours. I was going to be going with a different group at 4:45 to hike up a hill and to get a view of the town at sunset. The motorcycle people , however, returned before we left for our hike, so they joined us.

On the way up, we took a steep goat path somewhat reminiscent of Mount Monadnock in terms of rock scrambling. There was a shrine at the top, and stations giving the life story of Jesus. There were also people in booths selling trinkets.

We stayed for the sunset then came down, fortunately on the easy way and not on the steep goat path rock scrabble.

The way up got my heart cranking in places due to the steepness and a lack of air. On the way up I wore just my two tee shirts. On the way down I added my orange fleece and soft shell. I was not cold and enjoyed the trip.

We went to a local restaurant for dinner. To get there, we walked down some dark alley-like ways, but the restaurant looked okay. They crammed several roundish tables into a nook, with the chairs wedged between the tables and the walls. Getting in towards the back half was an exercise in humor. There was an interesting woven roof, and around the corner where I couldn't see was some live music.

Dinner was good. I had dropped some not so subtle hints during the day that it was my birthday. So after dinner, we were having ice cream for dessert. Then the waiter brought out something flambé. (It turned out to be banana). I forgot to make a wish, and then I blew out the flames. Of course the results of doing that were that the bananas were very  high octane—the alcohol hadn’t burned off.

Even more surprising, considering how bad I usually am with numbers, I nailed two numeric trivia questions. One was the distance from the earth to the moon. I guessed 270,000 and it is about 263,000. We took a poll/wager on the deepest depth, where and how deep. I knew where and I guessed 35,000 feet. We googled it after we got back to the hotel, and it is about 35,500.

Overall, I would say that I had a good birthday. I wrote: Woo Hoo! I’ve made it for a half century!

I really wanted to mark the day of my birthday itself with something special. That dinner, along with the surprise flambé afterwards, and the camaraderie of the people there made that evening special. It was particularly nice having followed an easy day of hiking.

I don’t know why, but dinner was a much more jolly affair, with more laughter etc. then previous meals. Maybe it was because we were all in a big irregular circle and could see each other, rather than in a big line with several smaller conversations going on at the same time.

It was odd being with “hard core” climbers. More than half had done Kilimajaro; a fair number Rainier. The conversation tended to be different than with a generic crowd.

I finished the day with the thought: I’m going to bed in a really good state of mind. I wonder if this will keep my demons at bay.

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