April 6, 2012

Our Pilgrimage to Copacabana

Each year roughly 15,000 Bolivians make a pilgrimage from La Paz to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, for Easter. Our entire South American itinerary was planned around only a few special events, and this was one of them.

We purposefully booked our bus tickets with the nicest company in La Paz because we had heard some horror stories about the others. Once we were out of the suburbs of La Paz, the drive was really interesting. Not only was the scenery beautiful, but there was also some spectacular people-watching in the countryside.

The only problem was that we ended up with a renegade bus driver who spent half of the trip passing other cars on the wrong side of the road. He would also purposefully turn off paved highways to take single-lane, cliff-drop, unpaved alternate routes.

After about 3.5 hours we pulled up to a bustling little dock on the lake and drove right onto a wooden boat. Normally when there’s something unusual about a heavily traveled route like La Paz to Copacabana, we’ve caught wind of it either through reading or word-of-mouth from other travelers. How had we never heard about this? We were pretty excited to be on a bus on a boat.

Then all of a sudden our bus driver started yelling at everyone to get off the bus quickly. So we all scurried off with our day packs and stood on the dock waiting for instructions that never came. The next thing we know, our bus’ boat had shoved off-shore and was on its way across the channel…powered by 3 guys with long sticks.

Everyone on the dock just looked at each other confused. There goes our boat…with our backpacks (and the only belongings we have for a year) on-board.

We eventually figured out that we needed to buy a ticket to catch our own ferry across the channel to meet our bus.  We waited in a 50-person line to buy our tickets and then had to wait in another line, which was probably about 1,000 people long, to actually board a ferry.

Right as we got in the super long line, it began to hail. At first it was just little pellets but then they turned big and they hurt. We didn’t have our rain gear because it was all on the bus, which was now over halfway across the channel. This was turning out to be a Twilight Zone moment.

I took our day bags, which had all of our electronics and passports and ran into shack to wait it out. Steve saved our spot in line and stood in the hail and rain for an hour. 2 hours after we were already supposed to be in Copacabana, we finally boarded our little “ferry” to cross the channel.

Our crazy bus driver was waiting on the other side for us, dry as a bone.

The rest of the drive to Copacabana was thankfully uneventful. We saw hundreds of pilgrims either on foot or on bike. So maybe you could call this our pilgrimage, or perhaps, our rite of passage.

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