March 24, 2005

Pilgrimage to Copacabana

Pilgrimage to Copacabana

One of my fondest memories from my life in La Paz is the pilgrimage to Copacabana. This is a trip about three days on foot from the city of La Paz to the little town on the shores of lake Titicaca, Copacabana.

The trip required more than I ever thought I could take. My friends and I departed from La Paz one Wednesday evening. In the beginning the walk was fun. A sudden feeling of liberty and adventure stroked me as we were walking away from the city. We were still upbeat and still walking faster than the rest. The road was full of people. Pilgrims of all kinds. Those experienced who had been there many years before and will be there many years after. Those inexperienced, like us, who were a bit nervous because they did not know what awaited them. But, over all the mood was somewhat festive.

As the trip progressed and time passed on, we started to look for places to spend the night. Boy, there were places to pick. All kinds of offers. With bed. Without bed. On the hey. On the floor. So we felt picky and looked for the best one we could afford. The first nigh was pretty cool. We could sleep relatively well.

The next morning we started to feel the walk. We walked for most of the day. We made short stops, for eating and resting. But, the walk....oh, the walk. There are some moments when you just get in a kind of a trance and start walking automatically. The excitement wore off and tiredness started to take over. One of my friends was talking out loud with out any apparent reason. He was just talking to the mountains. Another heard some donkeys making noise and he thought he understood them. He started translating what the donkeys were saying. At one point, we decided to take a short cut. We were getting impatient. So we walk down this path, which we thought would lead us straight to the mountain we took as our reference point. All of the sudden we see this huge dog with the biggest fangs you could ever imagine coming towards us, barking like crazy. I see this and immediately start running the opposite direction. Meanwhile, one of my friends, still in shock (I think) calmly started to look for a stick he had in his backpack, which he had kept precisely for moments like this. All this while the dog was coming towards us. We just pulled the guy and his pack with us before the dog could get him.

The rest of the day was just as boring. :-) As we approached the next evening and started to think where were we going to sleep, we noticed that there was far fewer people walking with us and that the choice of beds had reduced to nothing. So we ended up having to knock on houses and begging if we could spend the night somewhere. That night I had the best dinner I ever, ever, had in my life. It consisted of freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked bread. Those people in the country side really know how to make some bread.

That night we got out very early because we were loosing time. We had to hurry. So we started walking aroung 3 in the morning. At some point, after an hour walk, we sort of gave up. We were so tired that we just lied on the side of the road. After about half hour of sitting there, I start to look around and suddenly a horrible thought comes to mind. We had heard some supersticious stories about a small town in the Altiplano rising against the owner of the Finca (land) and giving them the most horrible death. These people were murdered close to the town's curch and left in the church. The legend goes that the murdered family still walks around that area and some times go after the pilgrims.

Well, guess where were we lying down. That's right, near the church. When I suggested that to the others we all looked at eachother and at the same time looked at the empty street. There we see this lonely silhouette calmly walking towards us. One of the guys (the one we called Rambo) said is nothing. Don't worry about it. But, as it was dark and the silhouette kept apporaching more and more, we got nervous and started walking faster.

All of the sudden, the silhouette starts hissing and running towards us. He had a cowboy hat on, which made his face even darker. In a low voice he said "let me walk with you". We all said ok and kept on walking. No one dared to look at the guy. We all walked in silence. This accentuated all the noises around. We always wondered about the guy. Why didn't we talk with him?

By the third day we were pretty much robots. We walked and walked and walked until we could not Walk any more. When we reached Copacabana, our hearts filled with joy and admiration. What a view. The lake in front of us, deep blue and the town of Copacabana, idyllic and picturesque. The first thing we did was to go to the local market and ask for a Saice. This is a tradicional paceno dish made with rice, ground meet, peas, souce and onions, masterfully prepared by the paceno women.

After settling down, we spent lots of time on the shore of the lake. Walking around the little town and visiting my friend's finca.

What an experience!

Note: As a suggestion of my wife, I expanded a little bit the story.