Blame it on the A-A-A-A-Altitude

by Ekua on October 8, 2009 in Bolivia

July 31, 2009

The reality of Altiplano winter travel is that there are times when it’s too cold to shower. My hostel claimed to have hot water. It turned out to be a trickle of lukewarm water followed by freezing cold water. I passed on the shower and made sure to put on deodorant. I walked down to the shore to catch the boat I’d booked to go to Isla del Sol for the day. I’d bought a ticket the day before at one of the many ticket agencies. It doesn’t matter which agency you choose because you’ll end up on the same boats as everyone else.

Leaving CopacabanaLeaving Copacabana

Two Finnish girls sat in the seats next to me. We ended up chatting the whole way. Like many people who were traveling from the south the north, they had stories of extreme stomach illness and extreme weather. The stomach illnesses remained a mystery, but it seemed like a lot of people had gotten caught up in the same storm. I’d heard tales of being stuck in snowstorms at the Argentinean or Chilean borders and wind that was so strong that you could lean back into it and not fall down. At such high altitudes, the equator already offers very little respite from the cold. I was nervous about moving further away from it. But they assured me that despite the awful weather they’d experienced, they’d seen some amazing things.

If you choose a full day trip to Isla del Sol, they’ll drop you off at the far end of the boat so you can spend the day walking across the island, visiting the ruins and enjoying 360 degrees of loveliness. You have to make it to the other side in time to catch the boats, otherwise you might be stuck until the next day. The Finnish girls and I got off to a slow start. We leisurely strolled around, stopping often to take pictures. It wasn’t long before we realized that it wasn’t going to be a casual walk.

Isla del Sol - Terraced Hills

I was having issues with altitude. I don’t think the hike would have been as challenging at a lower elevation. Walking up even the slightest incline left me gasping for air. And the poor Finnish girls were still recovering from their stomach illnesses in addition to dealing with the altitude. I tried to encourage them by reminding them that it was good practice for their upcoming Inca Trail trek. They were great Isla del Sol buddies. If one of us caught a burst of energy and went ahead, we would call back to let the others know when we were coming upon a downhill section. Descents made us very happy.

Regardless of the feeling that I was suddenly asthmatic, the island was incredibly beautiful and worth the visit. At the top of every hill and around every corner, you are treated with gorgeous new views of the lake, islands in the distance and the simple island life. We made it to other side of the island just as the  boats were starting to leave. Whew, we made it!

Incan AltarIncan Altar

Aymara gathered on the hillsideAymara gathered on the hillside

Isla del SolSome sort of ruins?

Isla del Sol - SheepBaaa!

Three little girlsThree little girls

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

talesfromtwocities October 8, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Great info – I really want to go to Bolivia and Peru! In Northern Chile we were at pretty high altitudes but luckily everyone in our tour group was okay.

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Ekua October 11, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Yeah, you never know how the altitude will affect you. Most people I met were fine, but when I was in the high altitude areas, I felt out of breath most of the time!

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