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Copacabana and hiking tour to Sampaya

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Copacabana - this word makes one immediately think on Rio de Janeiro, white sandbeach, sun tanned beach beauties and deep blue sea. But we are in Bolivia and not in Brazil! Thus is it a coincidence? Not at all, as the name of the famous sandbeach in Rio is originated in this Copacabana nearby the Titicaca lake. This village was founded by the Incas under the name Kota Kahuana that means something like view to the sea.

Map of Bolivia; click to enlarge The lovely bay of Copacabana with a dream - as the name already says -  view to the sea

By looking to the wideness of the sea one knows the name could not be better for this place located in a little bay at the southern end of the Chucito lake, close to the border of Peru! But supposedely, thousands of years before the Inca era, this was a significant ceremonial and cultural centre. After the defeat of the Incas by the Spaniards, the christian belief got mixed with the one of the Incas, and the Augustinian monks used the famosity of "Copacahuana" to their advantage and made the place of pligrimage to their religious centre. There is a specially beautiful view to the bay and over the sea from the Calvary hill that is accessible after an ascent of approximately 30 minutes alongside a Kreuzweg with 14 stations.

One of the many excursion boats at the harbour waiting to be used The last traces of the fiesta are removed

Today, Copacabana with its aproximately 10.000 inhabitants is a famous place of pilgrimage and also the destination of many tourists. It is so knwon that to honour it, a small chapel was founded in Rio de Janeiro just at that beach that has the same name ever since; Every year there are three important festivities in Copacabana and the biggest of them is the Fiesta de la Virgen de Copacabana on August 5th/6th to which 60.000 people come every year and all accommodations are fully booked. Unfortunately, we missed this festivity by two days, but on the other hand we were happy as according to Erichs statement, an absolute chaos dominates the streets, drunk people tottering everywhere, Bolivian wind music playing endlessly, and also the risk of theft is respectively high; We prefer it more tranquilly and placidly and happily abstain from the bustle. We already got up in the early morning and enjoy an abundant breakfast with coca tea, fresh fruits as papayas, mangos, melons with fresh cheese and cut colds, and even muesli is available.

Morning chat at the harbour of Copacabana At the harbour road, the snack bars string together in front of the hotels, up the hill at the left there is the way to the Calvary hill

As we still have to wait a little for our bus driver, punctuality is an unknown term in Bolivia, I take the opportunity to have a short walk to the harbour nearby to which I get to from the hotel over a paved and narrow road. Slowly, the sun rises up in a soft light, the first fishing boats leave their anchorage, an old women sweeps the garbage from the street that remaind from the fiesta.Some of the snack and souvernir shops already open now and hope to make a good business, at a few metres distance some men are standing together and have a chat, probably about football, the sport no. 1 in Bolivia. Suddenly, a young woman roars on her motorbike, her child, not more than 2 years old, sits relaxed at the front and seems to really enjoy the trip. There are a lot of small boats of different colours at the anchorage waiting for taking the tourists to the main place of attraction of Copacabana that is the Isla del Sol, the sun island that today is also going to be our destination.

The basilica of Copacabana shines in white - in front of it, the sales stands with the paper decoration for the car consecration A recently consecrated new bus, a crate of beer is pleasantly drank in the morning in convivial company to celebrate it

I do not like to leave this idyllic place, but meanwhile the bus driver arrived as I can see him turning into the hotel drive. We load our luggage and also ourselves into the bus and drive through a few alleyways to the central plaza of Copacabana, the Plaza 2 de Februaro. Here is, apart from a beautiful small garden complex, also the main destination of the pilgrims, the basilica Virgen de la Candelaria shining in white. The church complex is surrounded by a wall that looks similar to those of a castle, the entrance to the church court takes place through a huge gate that is abundantly adorned with some mosaic stones. The beginning of its building is dated on 1605, but it was not finished until the year 1820. behind the gorgeus main altar there is the miraculous black Madonna of Copacabana of the 16th century, who was officially declared as a saint in the year 1925. Even the pope Johannes Paul II. visited her in the year 1989.

Unfortunately, we cannot view the interior of the basilica due to time reasons, but also from the exterior, the gorgeous building offers an imposing and interesting view. In front of the outer wall, many sales stands catch our eyes that are selling some colourful garlands, small flaggs and paper flowers. But what does this have to do with the catholic church? Erich explains that it is almost a tradition that in front of this church, cars are consecrated, no matter if new or used, in order to get the blessing for a safe drive free of accidents, a thing that is understandable considering the Bolivian driving style! As a sign of the blessing, the vehicles are adorned with this colourful decoration of paper.

Some of us buy some souvenirs, alpaca caps, sun hats or also some nice silver jewelry, but we do not have much time as we planned a hiking tour before being taken by boat to the Isla del Sol. We get again into the bus and leave Copacabana. We pass a school at the city limit and it seems they currently have a break as the boy and girls in uniform cavort on the place in front of the school building. In Bolivia there is compulsory education but many children and teenagers, specially from the very poor families, do not go to school as they are needed at home for the field work. Thus, it is not surprising that a good third of the population are analphabets.

In the first pass, a dream view opens to a small bay with deep blue water On a pathless complex the sudorific way continues uphill to the first pass of the day

We drive through the fields and are always close to the lake until the sand piste becomes increasingly gruffy and narrow and finally ends by Hinchana. The bus drives back to Copacabana in order to load there our luggage on a boat to the sun island; And now the first bigger hiking tour of out Bolivia trip starts, fortunately only with some light luggage for one day on the back! The well visible path leads first without any slope through a shady eucalytus forest but becomes increasingly unclear until it gets lost at the edge of the forest. Now, we continue on a stony ground and quite steeply uphill, and we start to wheeze, as the air at a height of 4000m is only saturated with 60% oxygen and also the sun heats us pretty up. But before get too sweaty, the complex gets flatter again and we arrive to a small pass. And suddenly, a gorgeous view opens up to us to a small bay with deep blue water that together with the yellow icchu grass results into a spacially contrastful and fascinating picture.

Cantuta buxifolia - the national flower of Peru that shines in a strong red At the peak of the Cerro Sampaya with the stone heap and the fascinating cirrus clouds

On the other side of the pass we come again to a fixed path and hike in an easy up and down though a clear eucalyptus forest, pass one single farm where a dog growls distrustfully and blocks our way to continue, but then turns away and we can continue our hiking tour notwithstanding. At the edge of the path, some different kinds of flowers grow, amongst there is the shiny red cantuta that is shaped like a bell, it is the flower of the Incas and is the national flower of Peru. We get again to a small pass where we have a little break in order to have something to drink. Some of us can't help but climb up from the pass approximately 100 altitude metres to the view point. Through the dense icchu grass, we get to the "peak" with a piled up stone heap that we call Cerro Sampaya, my altimeter shows 4075m, thus a real four thousander!

The view over the titicaca lake to the Cordillera Apolobambawith the six thousander Chaupi Orco

In the Alps, a peak of such a height could be only climbed with mountain- and glacier-equipment and a great effort, but here, we make it "by the way" and with normal hiking equipment. From there above we have a marvellous view over the Altiplano and the wideness of the Titicacalake to the Cordillera Real, and even the Cordillera Apolobamba located at a distance of ore than 100 km in Peru is visible. The are long extended cirrus clouds are moving in the deep blue sky that look like plumes offering us a fascinating natural show. Back to the pass, we continue our way together in direction to Sampaya that is only downhill.

A nice donkey examines our travel group precisely Most of the ones of our group see a real lama for the very first time

After some time, we come across to an old woman with some sheeps, some pigs and mules on a wide cart tray. She looks at us a little surprised, as it apparanently does not happen oftenly that some tourists get lost in this beautiful place that is located a little aside from Copacabana. But as soon as i want to make a picture of her and the animals, she wants a boliviano. There is the superstition that if a woman is photographied, her soul is taken away from her and due to this reason, the women turn around or even hide away as soon as they see someone holding a camera. But it is possible to give their soul back to them...by handing out a little change to them. Other countries other customs! Shortly before Sampaya we come across to the cementery of the village where instead of crosses, there are some small buildings on the tombs that look like doghouses and some single flower arrangements at the front. And right beside it there is a football court, I can't say if this is a good or a bad sign. After a few further steps we reach Sampaya, a small dreamy village which origin goes back to the Inca era. There are still some buildings left from that time which walls consist on precisely piled stones, and also a sewer that is already a little grown together makes reference to the Incas. Additionally, all around the village there is some cultivation done on slope terraces and this is also an indication that in former times the Incas were settled here. The place seems to be deserted, neither we see or we hear anybody, but suddenly we hear a rustle and a a Lama comes up around the corner.

The colourful emblem hanging above the entrance door of the school The place Sampaya is idyllically located beween the slope terraces and eucalyptus trees

We are all very surprised, as for most of us, it is the first encounter with this shaggy small camel of the Ands that are owned here at a height up to 5000m. And we are amazed about how trusting the animal is, as it even permits us to stroke it, and not a bit of their famous spitting. (later, during our trekking tour, we experienced that the lamas can also be different!) It appears that there are only animals in this place, as at the other side a brown donkey appears that looks very curiously at us as he would wonder what we are doing there. Above the entrance of the school we discover a beautiful and colourful emblem with typical Bolivian symbols as a lama, a condor, ears of wheat, a sun, a coconut palm, a church, but also some cannons to remind the numerous bloody churches.

Bizarre cloud formations above the Illampu and Ancohuma

We slowly leave the idyllic Sampaya over many stairs in direction to the Titicaca Lake, hike on a narow path that meanders through the terrace complexes, steadily and slightly downhill, whereby we always keep the 6000er Illampu and Ancohuma in the vision field. Above these two ice peaks, some bizarre cloud formations emerged that remind me on some dramatic foehn situations in the Alps.

Once we finally arrived at the small harbour of Sampaya, there is already a boat with our luggage on board waiting to take us to the sun island, but we first have our well deserved midday break with some tasty snacks and enough drinks, I cool my feet in the lake and dream along with closed eyes. But before I really fall asleep, Erich asks me to get on the boat ans we start the boat trip of approximately 30 minutes to our day destination, the sun island. This time we are more lucky and get a little bigger boat and therewith, according to my opinion, a more safe one, for the case we would get into stromy weather again. But fortunately, the lake is very calmed today and we even can really enjoy the transfer and pass in review our hiking tour to Sampaya before we start a new chapter of our Bolivia trip in the sun island.

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