Donkey dung. Now on my pants for the next 24 hours. We were departing the birthplace of the Inca gods, the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, and hence were trudging through the donkey dung strewn path down to the ferry. On the island, these donkeys are the beasts of burden, and, as a tourist, one can have one’s luggage carried up or down on the backs of one of them.
We were in a rush, so we shouldered our backpacks and set off. The path was slippery with donkey fecal matter. As we got close to the edge down by the harbor, we could see that the ferry was pulling in. We started hurrying. Next minute, I was on my back like an upended turtle. Except that my leg was bent in the other direction. For one second, I thought it was broken and thought how awkward that would be when halfway up a hill in Lake Titicaca.
The edge of the cliff was a foot or so away, and the only damage I had suffered was a bit of manure on my jeans. My friend gave me a hand up. And then, I was reminded of how lucky I was.
We made the ferry too. I enjoyed the aroma of my donkey dung for 24 hours. It didn’t smell that bad.
“It’s mostly a flat walk and takes only three to four hours” said the manager at the eco-lodge. Beware words like those.
After paying a princely sum of 30 Bolivianos (it wasn’t the amount we found annoying but the constant milking as tourists — but, hey, that’s what we came for, right?), we took the ferry 30 minutes up to the north side of the island. At the north end of the Island of the Sun, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, is where there are several Inca sites (this is where the first two Inca rose out of the lake), including a sacrificial stone slab table, a stone maze, and other sites. More about that another time. We were taking the little “walk” along the ridge of the island. Three hours, he said.
The Island of the Sun is six miles (10 kms) long. It rises about 600 feet (200 meters) of which you feel EVERY step uphill. It’s like a slow stairmaster. With all the independent entrepreneurs asking us for five Bolivianos here and five Bolivianos there, it felt a bit like that tale of Billy Goat Gruff.
It was just after 11 a.m. when we got off the ferry at the hostel infested port. We stopped to have a glass of orange juice and take a photo of the lake. After paying the site entrance fee, we started our walk along a beach, up a path, past kids racing home for lunch, and past couples toiling away in their fields, harvesting rocks. The ladies look like a breed of bird with their round bowler hats and bright red skirts.
We continued to walk uphill for another hour. When we got to one of the Inca sites, we had a Swiss tourist take a photo of us. We admired the view, and I wished that the little hut was a toilet. As we shared the view, a local runner came bounding up the rocks with two white plastic bags in his hands. From one he extracted two styrofoam containers and Powerade drinks. He handed these to the Swiss couple. It was 12:30 p.m. and it was lunch time.
We left them and continued down the vista point to the other Inca ruins. The sun was baking the landscape a dun color but we didn’t feel warm because of the jerky-making wind that sandpapered the air around us.
At every ridge on top of the 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) mountain, we kept walking uphill. It seemed impossible that we could keep walking up. Around 3 p.m. and several “rock” t(r)olls later, the ground started to level out. As in, it stopped going uphill all the time. At this point, we had a tiny bit of water left and no food. I had some nuts in a bag and I was eating them every few steps, trying to keep the hungry wolves in my belly at bay (have a nut, you ravenous carnivore! It tastes like steak, no? It’s a Macadamia!).
By the time it was 4:30 p.m. and the sun was roasting the backs of my calves (instead of the front), we were resigned to making it all the way to the south side of the island without lunch.
Then, like a mirage, I saw my friend holding up a giant water bottle, glinting aloft in the sunlight like a trophy. We had arrived at Las Nubes, a hostel in the “clouds.”
Wide skirt and bowler hat firmly in place despite the knuckle freezing winds, the proprietress was manhandling a log for my friend to use as a stool over by the table with the view.
When I stumbled up to the shop window, I asked the lady if she had anything to eat. She said, “no, because when I do, no one comes.” Which I can believe because we had only run into about 10 other walkers, all European, hale, and lanky. In a red plastic basin on the floor, I noticed a giant gourd soaking, and as hungry as I was, I coveted it for a brief moment. But, I then focused back on what I could eat and drink. She had Pringles, Snickers, and Kitkats. I got a can of Pringles and two Snickers. It was a feast. When I got to the table with the view, my friend said that I could have shared her can of Pringles. To this I replied that I intended to eat all 2,500 calories of carbohydrates in MY can, by myself. I did give her a Snickers for dessert.
I asked the lady of Las Nubes for a photo and she was ready to take the photo but was surprised when I said that I wanted one with her. My Spanish only got me far enough to explain that we were happy she existed.
After the lunch of champions (electrolytes!) of sugar, salt, and fat, we still had another hour and a half to the village.
When we got to the village, I ordered four glasses of juice.
After eight hours getting whipped by the wind, my skin was super soft. Like I’d been at the spa.
It takes a certain kind of courage to travel the world alone with one’s guitar. I’m not one of those people but I like it when I see it. When traveling alone, one gets to talk to new people and study one’s surroundings. When traveling with others, there’s a shared experience. Both are interesting.
Mostly, just get out there if you can. Be brave. Take water.