Take two, maybe three days for Isla del Sol our travel friends had suggested. We had exactly four hours, if you don’t include the time on the ferry from Copacabana to the island. With seven days until our flight from Santa Cruz del Sierra, in Bolivia, time was running out.
A day trip is easy, said the manager of our guest house. And it’s easy to walk across the island. Once you’ve climbed to the top it’s all flat.
That didn’t sound too onerous. I can do that, I thought. The ferry dropped us at the small village of Challapampa at the northern end of Isla del Sol, where we bought some delicious chicken rolls for our lunch and the first of the four passes required to walk across the island, to the village of Yumani.
It was a long and dry slog straight up for an hour, from the lake shore to the view point. We started at 3,800 metres. That’s high. Very high. But we’re acclimatised, or so I told myself. And we took it easy. No sprinting uphill at that elevation!
At the top, or more correctly at what I thought was the top ,the views were magnificent. The blues of the lake were stark against the harsh landscape. Eking out a living here must be a challenge.
There was no time to dally if we wanted to walk across the island. It was already past midday. The ferry would be leaving at 3:30. We’d been warned it wouldn’t wait.
When we purchased the second of the four passes required to walk across the island I asked the ticket seller, Is this the way?
Yes, he said. Up the mountain.
Up? Up the Mountain? It was supposed to be flat, easy walking for the rest of the day.
Maybe a sensible person would have taken the lead from the 90% of our travel companions who lingered at the mirador (viewpoint). They had time to stroll around the Inca ruins, this island is said to be the birthplace of the Inca Sun-God, and to wander leisurely back to Challapampa. That done, they spent the afternoon on the ferry as it wound its way to the village of Yumani at the southern end of the island—where we were planning to catch it.
Yes, that would have been the reasonable, even sensible thing to do. Perhaps my brain was already addled from too much exertion in the thin air.
We can do it, I said to John.
He’s always up for a challenge and once those few words were out of my mouth he was never going to say: it’s a bit much don’t you think. Ten minutes into the walk, which was supposed to be flat but instead climbed up and around and down and then up and up and up the mountain(!), there was a little voice in my head which was saying exactly that. Not that I paid it any attention.
Later, an hour later, when there was no point in turning back because the ferry would already be on its way to our planned meeting point, the voice in my head was a whole lot louder. Yep it was shouting at me: You’ve bitten off too much this time!
The elevation of 3800 metres was now 4200. What’s a mere four hundred metres? you might be wondering. I can tell you, rather a lot when the air is thin, when exertion is not such a smart idea, when you’re walking up and down and around, the clock is ticking and there are no roads. There was only one way out of this predicament: keep walking.
The track wound on and on and on.
The last half hour or so was all down hill. Easy peasy, I thought, until a herd of donkeys came along. They thought nothing of either pushing past me, or if a morsel of greenery presented itself stopping immediately in front of me to grab it. Their handlers were in as much of a hurry as we were. Not to catch the ferry but to collect the goods that had arrived on the boat from the mainland.
I considered hopping on the back of one of these donkeys, but somehow I think they’d have bucked me right off.
Amazingly, we did made it with half an hour to spare. There would have been time to linger a little at those ruins after all. But, it was true that the ferry didn’t wait. Back at Copacabana we met some other walkers who missed it. Luckily for them, they hitched a ride on a later boat.
If I had the chance again, I’d take our friends’ advice and spend longer on this island. It would be the perfect place to rest and recuperate after weeks of travelling, assuming you can cope with the altitude—not everyone can.
For us our hike was a good compromise, if a little rushed. And I was very proud of myself for having done it.