The country of Bolivia has exactly one public beach and it’s right here in beautiful, clear skied Copacabana, the first stop in route from Peru, just 10 minutes across the border. Bolivia, along with Venezuela, has institiuted a new visa fee in the last couple years for US citizens. All our fellow travelers from Europe walz right across Bolivia’s border. But as a response to the fee charged of Bolivians wanting to visit the US, people’s president and socialist Evo Morales (the first Bolivian leader of indigineous decent) started charging US citizens to enter Bolivia- the exact same amount we charge them, $135. That makes Bolivia the most expensive country for SU citizens to enter in the world. But everything we have heard about this small and impovershed country tells us that it’s worth every penny. Not only because it’s a cool country, but also because it’s the cheapest country once you’re inside. (Evo Morales is quite the character and I promise to write about him as I learn more about Bolivian politics.)
After aproximately five trips to the Bolivian colsulate in Peru, 15 instant passport photos (absolutely no smiling allowed!), bank statements, hotel reservations, passport photocopies, deposits to a local bank, and flight itineraries proving we aren’t planning to stay forever, we were granted the magic stamp on our passport giving up persmission, as US citizens, to enter Bolivia. Yey!!!
So back to the beaches. Copacabana, our first stop in the beautiful country of Bolivia is famed for two things: it’s beach and it’s blessings. The beach is not the sandy paradise you might imagine, but more of a littered grassy slope that leads to the cold water of Lake Titicaca. The reason I write about Copacabana’s beach is that our stroll along the water’s edge this afternoon was a grand conglomeration of all that is Latin American beaches.
The actual beach area is absolutely covered with paddlesboats of all shapes and sizes. You have your choice of paddleboast with a swan, pelican, or Donald Duck head jutting off the front. This particualr beach also boasts kayaks and gigantic reed boats depending on your tastes. These reed boats differ from the ones I talked about in my last entry in that they have been equiped with a motor for quick and efficient tourist rides.
Off shore from the mass exodus of beached boats lies the next level of beach entertainment: Foosball tables. The sidewalk is lined with them. For only a few cents you can enjoy the excitement and copetition of a fooseball match against your friends. Teenage boys flock to the tables.
Beyond the foosball tables is layer number three of beach enteratinment. Trout restaurants. Not one, not two…but 50. All with identical menus and prices vying for customers. Fried trout, griller trout, garlic trout…you name it. But it always comes with frech fries and rice. The requisite 2 liter bottle of Coke is extra. Nothing like lakeside Coke and trout. (turns out that trout, a huge part of the diet around the lake, was actiually introduced to the waters in 1939 as an attempt to increase the protien of the local diet.)
If those activities aren’t enough to keep you enteratined there is always the bike rentals (mountain bikes, tricicles, push carts for the little ones, or dirt bikes for the big ones), the lifesized stuffed lion you can climb on for a photo, the guy selling “instant photos!” with his poloroid camera, the many ice cream vendors, the woman posing
with her alpaca on a leash in case the tourists want to take a picture in exchange for some change, the kids digging in the garbage can for enpty plastic bottles to build sand castles with, and of course, the cars decked out for their blessings.
Car blessings are Copacabana’s second claim to fame. People come from far and wide to line up for have their car blessed. But first you have to stop by the plaza and wander past the car blessing vedor stalls where you can buy flowers for the hood, ribbons for the antanea, saints to dangle from the rear view mirror, and of course champagne to celebrate the blessing. After the car is adequeately “dressed up” you drive into line and await your turn for a blessing. The line stretches for blocks in the morning and gradually dwindles as the day wears on. The practice is so popular in Copapcabana there are signs, complete with “blessing hours” to direct traffic into the proper blessing lines.
I love this truck photo because of the proud owner posing in front. The only other time I’ve seen a Latin American man pose so proudly was at the cock fight. Cocks and truck. Things to be proud of.
After our relaxing 24 hours in Copacabana, we boarded a bus headed for La Paz, the highest altitude capital city in the world. La Paz deserves it’s own blog entry, but I did post photos below of the very interesting bus journey. At one point, we were all herded off the bus and onto a motor boat, while our actual 16 wheeler tourist bus drove right onto a little boat of it’s own. We floated along side each other, praying that the bus with all our belongings would stay afloat, all the way across the narrowest part of Lake Titicaca, where we re-boarded our bus and continued the journey. I have to say, it was quite the site to look out at see 4 or 5 gigantic buses floating their way across the lake.