Posts Tagged ‘Bolivia’


First published in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, 1976

POSTMARK:  Bolivia


In Indian language, Titicaca means jaguar, and from the air Titicaca Lake on the border of Bolivia resembles a jaguar.

Yet how did the ancient Indians, lacking aerial transportation or sizeable mountains to climb, conceive of this design? It’s another of the innumerable mysteries we have encountered in South America.

Traveling nearly 20 hours overland from Cuzco, Peru, to Titicaca, the highest navigable body of water in the world, we stopped at a small village called Copacabana, situated on a peninsula that juts out into the lake.

On sunny days the beauty of the area is stupendous. The crystal waters sparkle with a blinding blue effervescence, and miniature waves combine with an infinite horizon to create the impression that Lake Titicaca is a sea. Native dugout canoes drifted by as we lounge on the boulders along the shore.

The Indian women, with their toothless grins, were amiable and frequently engaged in conversation with us. In our first chat with a native Indian we committed a faux pas: They prefer to be called campesinos (peasants) rather than indios (Indians), the latter being an offensive title to Bolivians. Thereafter we referred to them as campesinos.

Because of the high altitude, the sun at Copacabana is extremely intense. Our thirsts were satisfied when we discovered a peasant women with a makeshift stand set up in front of the lakeshore. Her product instantly enticed us — fresh peach juice. Like the surprise packages in a Crackerjack box, much to our delight we found a genuine peeled peach at the bottom of the glass.

As we were about to leave, 15 men marched by, decked out in neat blue uniforms. The campesina proudly informed us that they were her country’s navy. We found this rather humorous, considering that Bolivia is a land-locked nation. But the campesina pointed to the vast lake, proclaiming “Bolivia does have water!'”

Fresh Titicaca trout is Copacabana’s kitchen specialty. But surprisingly the price is high ($1.29) for a good filet with trimmings, because the supply has been drastically depleted over the years and the people have unwittingly failed to give the fish enough time to regenerate.

From Copacabana we moved on to La Paz, distinguished as being the world’s highest capital. The seven hour bus ride to La Paz was unusual, since the bus was jammed with peasants transporting contraband from Peru into Bolivia to sell on the La Paz streets for a reasonable profit.

At two check points along the route we were detained by “aduana” or custom agents. Naturally the smugglers didn’t want to be caught with an overabundance of outlawed goods, so we were asked to conceal in our backpacks such unlikely items as soap, underpants and tennis shoes.

We willingly complied with their request, taking it more or less as a joke. The Bolivian police ignored us, but a poor peasant woman fought viciously to retain an inconsequential product which would have earned her money in La Paz. From the bus window we watched the tragic drama unfold.

First the agents removed her box from the bus to their jeep. At this point, she jumped on the moving vehicle and, clinging steadfastly, she desperately pleaded with them to give her a break. Tears streamed down her face and her baby dangled from her papoose while the agents mercilessly shoved her off the jeep into the mud. The entire affair was absurd when we learned her “crime” was transporting toilet paper.

We arrived in La Paz during the midst of Carnival.  Although Rio de Janeiro is the Mardi Gras capital of the world, every town in South America celebrates its own version of Carnival.  Throwing water balloons is a characteristic of Carnival and the streets were hopping with high-spirited pranksters.  No on escapes without getting wet, either from a balloon or from a bucket of water upended by a sniper on a rooftop.

Two hours by bus from La Paz lies another one of South America’s mysteries — Tiahuanaco.  This obscure archaeological site consists of only several intact ruins; nothing else has been reconstructed or restored.  Chunks of rock are strewn througout the fenced-in area.  We calculated that if put together like pieces of a puzzle archaeologists could surely provide some answer or hypotheses to the hundredsof unanswered questions concerning this place with no known recorded history.  The rocks look natural just lying there on the ground, but we suspect they used to be part of some magnificent formation. 

The most impressive ecavation is the so-called subterranean room.  It’s an extremely large perfectly symmetrical pit with walled stonework reminiscent of that at Machu Picchu.  On all four sides of the quadrangle are sculpted heads representing various races from all over the world, including Oriental, Negroid and Caucasion features.

Another spectacle which awed us was “La Puerta del Sol” or the Gate of the Sun.  It’s a megalithic doorway carvedout of a 50-ton rock, complete with intridcate designs of birdmen engraved in the stone.   Above the door’s entrance is a man crying because, as oral history has it, his people left for the stars.  Tears spotting his cheeks are clearly visible.


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