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Trekking Isla del Sol, One Step at a Time

This post is a continuation of this post.

On the hike back we began to pass other trekkers, as well as women and children herding sheep. When we came upon the house where the man had told us we were early for tourists, we realized it was not just a house, but also a shop selling soda and water. The man was nowhere to be found but there was a little boy behind the counter who sold us four liters of water and let us feed crackers to the round little puppy who scrambled after us.

rolly polly puppy

We were warned not to touch the animals because they could be rabid. This one definitely looked dangerous.

Further up the trail we stopped to eat the raw peanuts, mandarinas, and the rest of the crackers we had scavenged from the bottoms of our packs. We spread our gear out to dry in the sun because when the morning frost melted, it left our sleeping bags and bivy sacks soaking wet. We took off our shoes and let our feet breathe. We shared news and recommendations with the morning’s ferry-load of trekkers who began to stream past, mostly students and grad school graduates, young people from all over the world.

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I took this picture to remind myself of this moment: I was exhausted, hot, sweaty, and hungry. Mike and Dave were flying up that hill and it made me mad. My muscles burned. I felt like I couldn’t possibly go on, I would never make it up that hill, not with this heavy pack on my back and the sun in my eyes. And then I remembered something Marie told me about her three-week backpacking trip. She said that when it got hard and she thought she couldn’t go on, she would tell herself, “I can take one more step.” And then she’d take another step. So that’s what I did. I can take one more step. I can take one more step. It became a rhythm I could move to. One more step. One more step. One more step. My mind would drift with the rhythm, one more step, and I wasn’t thinking about the sun (one more step) or the pack (one more step) or how steep the hill was. One more step. One more step. One more step.

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Look at the hillside to the right of the photo. See how it’s cut into so many lines? Those are terraces for farming. The Incas did that – terraced all the mountainsides – and the people who live there now keep working the terraces, farming the land, pulling the rocks out, leveling, fertilizing, growing, feeding their babies generation after generation.

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These women hike these hills day in and day out, babes on their backs, full skirts, patent-leather flats.

One more step. One more step. One more step.

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If you look at the left side of the house, you can see where they did not stucco over the mud brick. Nearly all of the houses we saw while we hiked around Lake of the Gray Puma were made of mud brick. When your house begins to wear down from years of rain? You build a new one, right next door.

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I said “nearly all” the houses were made of mud brick.

By the time we arrived in Yumani we were ravenous. Our last real meal had been almost twenty-four hours earlier. You burn about 5,000 calories in a day of hiking and we’d probably only eaten about 500 calories. Even our hair was hungry. (At least mine was.)

Yumani was a ghost town, not a soul anywhere. The restaurants and hostels were abandoned, except for one pizza place with a television blaring in the corner. Dave and Mike were not interested in pizza and I was too hungry to argue. (Interestingly, pizza is HUGELY popular in Yumani. Almost every restaurant boasts pizza and Italian food.) We found a tienda and bought a bag of quinoa we thought we could fix for dinner that night. A little closer to shore there was an open place with four tables that offered sopa, sandwiches, trucha, pollo y papas, and coca mate. They even had a clean bathroom, though we had to use our own toilet paper and hand soap.  It felt like an oasis. I ordered a cheese sandwich, expecting something wonderful and melty. What I got was dry bread with wet farmer’s cheese and sliced tomatoes. My mouth watered at the sight of those perfect, red fruits, but they were off limits. Raw vegetables and fruits = diarrhea that sprays out your bum and won’t stop. So I picked the tomatoes off and prayed I wouldn’t get sick from the little bit of juice that soaked into the bread. (I didn’t.)

It never ceased to amaze me, not nine days on the trail, how happy and refreshed I would feel after a short rest and a simple meal. I could be absolutely falling-over exhausted, but thirty minutes off my feet, some bread and some cheese, and I’d be ready to go again. After lunch we hiked for another thirty minutes or so, all down hill, through the town, toward the shore. It was only two-thirty, so I stretched out on the grass by the dock and napped in the sun while Michael and Dave chatted with other travelers. We caught our boat at three sharp and I slept all the way to Yampupata.

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*photo courtesy of Dave

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

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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.

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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.)

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Moonset

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Sunrise

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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.

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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?)

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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!

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***

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Un gatito! *photo courtesy of Dave

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Una niña! *photo courtesy of Dave

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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.

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Tricia found a dead thing! *photo courtesy of Dave

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

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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.

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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

Quinoa Comes From Bolivia

Quinoa comes from Bolivia.

Wikipedia says:

The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or ‘mother of all grains’, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’. During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish colonists scorned quinoa as ‘food for Indians’, and even actively suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies. In fact, the conquistadors forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.

While Quinoa is a particularly wonderful thing to eat, I don’t just want to eat it, I want to know it. I want to know more about it. Where does it come from? I’ve done lots of Internet searches trying to find out more about this wonderful little seed and the land from which it comes, but other than a few articles, I haven’t found much. Sure I’ve found information, facts, crime stats, but I want to know more.  I want to know what the stars look like from that part of the world.  I want to smell the streets of La Paz. I want to use the public restrooms, buy food from the vendors, cozy up to the locals. (But probably not really because apparently they really like to steal your wallet and they aren’t shy about it either.) I want to spend a day (or 5) trekking the Apolobamba, pooping in holes I’ve dug myself, and using llama dung to fuel the fire that cooks my evening meal. I want to know where quinoa comes from.

This July, Michael, his brother, and I will make the journey from Los Angeles, through Mexico City, past Lima, Peru, to La Paz, Bolivia, where we will learn all about where quinoa really comes from.  We will spend a few days tooling around town before we take a lovely (two day) stroll from Isla del Sol to Lake Titicaca.  (No, I won’t ever be able to say that out loud without chuckling. Titicaca. Titicaca!) After that we’ll take a bus from La Paz to Charazani where we hope to stay in a hotel, take showers, and possibly shave my legs if Mike will let me bring a razor. (I’m only allowed two pairs of panties so I’m guessing a razor is out of the question.) (What? We’re backpacking. Would you want to carry all my extra pairs of panties?) Our goal is to hit Charazani’s winter fiesta (it’s winter there! In July!), but I guess maybe their town has limited Internet because there’s no website or anything, so we don’t know what the exact dates of the festival are. We’ll spend a day or two in Charazani either way, and when we feel nicely acclimated to the 9,600 foot altitude, we’ll hike from Charazani to Pelechuco, which should take four to five days. And it will probably kick our asses.  Apparently, there’s going to be a lot of walking up and down hills. While carrying forty-some-odd-pound backpacks with all of our food, water, and other supplies. And also ziplock bags full of our poopy toilet paper. Because we don’t want to litter.

It’s going to be a Very Big Adventure.

mummybag

Omg, do I really have to sleep in this?