Twitter Facebook

Trucha Frita

1

When we got home from Bolivia and my father asked me what the best part of the trip was, I answered, without hesitation, “Breakfast at the floating island trout restaurant.” That statement holds true today. My heart heard angels sing that morning, I swear to you.

Now where were we? That’s right, day six of our travels, day four in Bolivia, day three of our first trek, about two hours into the day. Approximately eighteen hours since our last honest meal, not counting the half-cup of cold, practically raw quinoa we had shared the evening before. As the morning waned, the road we hiked became more traveled, not by people on foot like us, but by vehicles. Which would have been no big deal except that it was a dirt road and whenever a truck went past it kicked up a cloud of dirt so huge and thick we were completely enveloped for the next minute or so. We quickly learned to anticipate this, cover our nose and mouths with the neck of our fleece, and hold our breath. Because otherwise – ick. And even still – ICK. I’ve never inhaled so much flying dirt in my life. Add to this our hunger and the morning soon went from a lovely stroll through an idyllic village to a horrible trek through miserable misery.

In my memory we hiked for hours and hours like this, but it couldn’t have been that long. We started hiking around six-thirty and we found the magical floating island around nine-thirty, so maybe it was only two hours of miserably misery?* We hiked and hiked, shielding our faces from the dirt blown up by passing trucks, and the longer I hiked the hungrier I got. Soon the hunger pangs were so bad I was doubled over, hardly able to walk.

(*ED: I just checked with Mike and he says we left camp at 6:00 a.m. and arrived at the restaurant at 10:30 a.m., so it had been a four-and-a-half hour hike by the time we reached the floating island. No wonder it felt like hours of misery.)

I realize that sounds incredibly weak and dramatic, but I’m a delicate flower when it comes to hunger. If I bothered to see a doctor about it (which I would if I had health insurance, but I don’t) I’m sure I’d be diagnosed as hypoglycemic.  When my blood sugar drops I get very, very sick. I can’t think straight, I shake, my vision wavers, and I suffer awful stomach pains. I usually carry glucose tablets wherever I go, but of course I didn’t bring any to Bolivia because I was saving weight! But the few ounces of weight saved didn’t matter when I finally collapsed on the side of the road next to a cow, shaking, my head between my knees, tears making tiny clean spots on the toes of my dusty boots.

Just take one more step, I told myself. One more step. One more step.

I don’t remember how we finally found the restaurant, or why we decided to check it out, but suddenly, there it was.

2

A mirage. It must be. We were so hungry we were hallucinating. Mike dropped his pack and told us to stay put, watch his stuff, he was going to investigate. There were some locals doing, I don’t know, local stuff I guess, and I don’t know what was said but there was much pointing and nodding and when Mike came back he said that in fact what we were seeing was real, a real restaurant, and it was open. It didn’t look open, but we figured it was worth a fifteen minute walk out of our way. Our next chance for food was probably Copacabana and that was easily three more hours of hiking, so off we went.

3

We had to hike down and around and up and back down and across. It took us twenty minutes but the closer we got, the more beautiful the little floating island became. Mike rushed ahead to make sure we really could settle down and eat there. The man he spoke to told him that we probably wouldn’t be happy eating breakfast there, as they only served trout. What he didn’t realize is that we would have gladly eaten spider guts at that point.

“He’s catching the fish now!” Mike called to us. “Hurry up!”

6

Have you ever seen so many fish in one place in your whole life?

9

10

He caught the fish right in front of us, three beautiful, silvery, jumping fish.

11

And then he gutted them, right there, while they were still alive and flipping their tails in his hands. I wanted to feel terrible about it, for their suffering and pain, but instead I said a prayer of thanks for the meal I was about to eat, and for the sacrifice of the little fish lives. I know that there are people in the world who go weeks without food and it was less than a day for me, but by God I needed something in my belly or I was going to kill someone a lot bigger than a fish.

As soon as the fish were cleaned and ready, he handed them over to his wife who fried them up. While she cooked, we amused ourselves by wandering around and taking pictures. My heart had completely lifted at the prospect of a good meal and for the first time in all the six days we’d been traveling, I felt like I was on vacation.

4

5

13

14

12

And there you have it, amigos. The best meal/best moment/best EVERYTHING of our entire three weeks in Bolivia.

Ok, maybe not the best EVERYTHING, but certainly one of the highlights.

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito

Copacabana

Isla del Sol en las Fotografias

Trekking Isla del Sol

Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

Evening in Yampupata

The Village Awakens

Trekking Isla del Sol

1

We woke up on Isla del Sol around 5 a.m. covered in frost, as you can see by the picture above. We had no idea at the time, but this would easily be our most comfortable night and warmest morning. We broke down camp under the light of a full moon and were hiking by six a.m. along the ridgeline of the island, surrounded on both sides by Lago Titicaca.

(Side note: When we were first planning this trip I couldn’t say “Titicaca” without snickering. I’ve said it so many times by now that I’m used to it, but it helps to have found out that the literal translation of Titicaca in the Aymara language is “gray puma”. As in, Lake of the Grey Puma. Isn’t that lovely?)

It was our first morning on the trail together, Dave, Michael, and me. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to start hiking so early – we couldn’t see a thing. At first I was frightened of the shadows, worried some horrible thing would jump out at us. The moon was so bright and the morning so quiet. We came upon a house and two dogs barked furiously. A man appeared, a silhouette against the darkness. He’s going to ask us for money to keep going, I thought. But instead he called out, “Buenos dias, amigos! Es temprano para los turistas. Eso es bueno!” And we laughed and said, “Sí, al principio es bueno!” and kept going. I felt bad for thinking the worst.

4

3

Around seven the sun began to crawl into the sky over Bolivia to our right, while the moon hung stubborn over Peru on our left. For the next thirty minutes, the sun turned the clouds pinker and pinker as it rose and the moon slid slowly into the horizon. There was a brief moment when both sun and moon faced each other, and we knew why the Incas called this island sacred. (And I knew why someone would want to hike so early in the day.)

6

Moonset

7

Sunrise

5

Breakfast that morning was a box of crackers, split three ways, but we didn’t care. We were giddy from the beauty that surrounded us. The road we hiked was an ancient Incan road, though for a long time we couldn’t tell. And then it changed from dirt to huge, flat stones, interlocking to create a smooth path, thousands of years old. After a few more minutes we passed a large, square-shaped stone table, surrounded by smaller, nearly perfectly cube-shaped stone seats – a ceremonial sacrifice table.

Then we came to the Incan ruins, a maze of stone walls, still and quiet as the night. We dropped our packs and stooped under the entrance. I closed by eyes to see if I could feel the history, hear the whispers of ancient voices, but there was only a soft breeze.

11

8

9

10

The Incas were much smaller than Mike.

It was a wonderful morning. We spent a long time wandering in this ancient, revered place. We hiked to the top of a nearby hill to get a better view, forgetting our cameras in our packs down below. It was early still, not yet eight-thirty, and we were the only people for miles. I started getting hungry but there was no food. We had a full day of hiking ahead of us if we wanted to hike the rest of the island (per our plan), and no guarantee of food anywhere along the trail. The day before we’d pre-paid for a private boat to take us from Yumani to Yampupata and it would leave with or without us at 3 p.m. With these things in mind we decided instead to hike the four hours back to Yumani where we knew there were plenty of restaurants allowing plenty of time for a leisurely meal before we needed to catch our boat. We dug through our packs and discovered we weren’t completely out of food; we found peanuts, a few more crackers, and a couple of mandarines. Dave gave me two Cliff bars he had saved from the day before, so we knew we would be fine for four more hours.

…to be continued…

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito

Copacabana

Isla del Sol en las Fotografias

Isla del Sol en las fotografías

What I can’t believe is that a) we’ve already been home from The Big Bolivian Adventure for over three weeks and 2) I’ve written five posts about the trip and I’m still only telling you about the second day. Alright, the fourth day if you count our first two travel days, BUT STILL. At this rate, I’ll be writing about Bolivia for the next year. If I can even remember everything for that long.

Hold on. Bolivia. Is that near Mexico? I can’t remember anymore.

If you’re counting from the day we left Los Angeles, day one was all air travel, day two was air travel, day three we puttered in La Paz, and day four we traveled from La Paz to Copacabana to Isla del Sol, where we commenced our first afternoon of trekking. It was a wonderful day and I wrote about it here. Now how about some pictures?

Wait, one more thing. I hate to say it but I have to: I’m incredibly disappointed by my photos of Isla del Sol. It was, without a doubt, one of the loveliest places I’ve ever visited. However, my photos portray a rather bleak and dusty little town. None of the charm exists in my digital renderings. There’s none of the bustle and beauty, the breeze and the sun and the sound of bleating sheep are glaringly absent. They’re just photos of stuff that barely hint at what was real. Like in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, when the enchanted rose wilts and begins to die, all the magic wearing out. My photos are a wilted version of what I saw in real life.

For example, I took the photo below of a family washing their laundry because, in person, it was exquisitely picturesque. Mama washing the family’s clothes on the shore of Lago Titicaca, Papa laying out the clean clothes to dry in the sun, the little children clambering up and down the rocky slopes, their shrieks and squeals of glee echoing off the island’s surface. It was lovely. And it does not translate. (Also, can we ignore the fact that I’m totally romanticizing a very mundane chore, made arduous by the fact that these people don’t have a laundry facility? What is wrong with me?)

1

In the next photo, you’ll see Mike sharing the road with a pack of mules. Or, mulas, as they are called en español. This was exciting because, mulas! On the trail! Right next to us! I like totally grew up in suburbia and like have totally like never seen like a mule up close before! Like omigawd!

2

***

3

Here we are, Mike and I, grinning and happy, Lago Titicaca behind us, two boxes of crackers in front of us. Dear readers, should you ever choose to spend extended periods of time hiking in the Andes, or even hiking on an island in the middle of a lake near the Andes, do not assume that you will be able to eat locally just because your copy of ‘Lonely Planet’ says you can. When the guidebook says there are stores that sell basic provisions, what they mean is there are stores that sell toilet paper, eggs, liters of soda, and llama wool sweaters. Please do not mistake “basic provisions” for “food you can safely carry in your backpack and eat on the trail.” If you do, you will go hungry.

Those crackers? That was all Mike, Dave, and I had to eat for dinner that night and breakfast and lunch the next day. Two boxes of crackers do not three meals for three people make. Why didn’t we buy more than two boxes of crackers? Because we’re americanos tontos. That’s why.

4

And what is that? In the photo above? IT IS A RESTAURANT. In fact, it was one of a string of wonderful little mama-and-papa* restaurants that we stumbled upon as we climbed up the steep and curving road out of Yumani, towards our campsite (three-plus hours away) for the night. And did we stop for lunch? HELLS YEAH WE DID. We’re not that tantos. Not only did we eat lunch, we ate a two-course lunch of incredible, rich sopa and fried trucha and it was heaven. It was also the reason why we got away with eating only three crackers each for dinner that night.

*Mama took our orders, cooked our meals, and breastfed her baby while she waited for us to finish. Papa was in the garden, tending the animals. While we ate, donkeys wandered past the window. One even stared at us. I think it wanted my sopa.

8

The people are not at all interested in having their picture taken, so I snuck this one of a family out for a late afternoon stroll with their pig. It’s a little bit hazy because I was zooming in from a bajillion feet away. (I am sneaky. Or disrespectful. You choose.)

5

Un gatito! *photo courtesy of Dave

6

Una niña! *photo courtesy of Dave

7

Don’t you just want to fall over dead when you see those mountains? I later climbed them, yes I did. You may bow to me. I won’t mind.

9

Tricia found a dead thing! *photo courtesy of Dave

10

The dead thing that Tricia found. Hint: It’s a guinea pig. No, I do not know what happened to its other half.

11

These sheep made me cry. Alright, it wasn’t entirely the sheep’s fault.

You see, we had been hiking along for several hours and we had eaten a very large lunch because we didn’t know when we would eat our next meal, when suddenly, I needed to go to the bathroom. (If you know what I mean.) Only we were hours away from the nearest bathroom, which meant that now, for the first time ever in my life, I was going to have to poop somewhere that wasn’t a bathroom. Which would have been fine had we been hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere, but we were hiking on a road, passing trekkers, tourists, townspeople, and sheep herders every minute or two. This was a very populated road. There were no trees, no big rocks, no privacy anywhere. The longer I hiked the more uncomfortable I got and before I knew it I was hiking with tears streaming down my face. Not tears of discomfort, but tears of “oh my goodness I think I’m going to have to poop in front of a sheepherder.” Mike and Dave both tried to convince me to climb off the path, they swore if walked far enough away from the path I’d have enough privacy to do what I needed to do, but when I tried, THE SHEEP. THEY FOLLOWED ME. And I just couldn’t do it. After an hour or so we finally came upon a small patch of trees and Mike walked me off the road into a secluded cluster and once the deed was done I decided that in fact? Pooping in the woods is kind of awesome. Carrying poopy toilet paper in a ziplock in my backpack? Not awesome. But doing your business outdoors in the breeze is sort of fantastic. Not that I’m going to start doing it on a regular basis or anything, but really? It wasn’t worth the tears.

PS. On our last day of hiking in the Andes I got really sick and actually dropped trou behind a rock next to a farmhouse. Because it was that or shit my pants. And then guess what? I only had gas! The worst gas in the history of the universe, but it was only gas. I dropped my pants next to someone’s house for a fart. So. freaking. embarrassing.

12

We made camp that night about ten minutes away from where I had my first outdoor pooping experience. You can’t tell at all, but this was a beautiful campsite. We were high up on the ridge of the island, surrounded on both sides by the lake. We made camp, gawked at the scenery, ate three crackers each, and were in our sleeping bags and asleep before dark. Warm, cozy, and only a little bit hungry.

L.A. to Mexico City to Tapachula…

…to Lima to Santa Cruz to La Paz

La Paz = Love

Cementario del Distrito

Copacabana