Oh, Copacabana. We really wanted to like you. You were perhaps the city in Bolivia we were most looking forward to! It started out perfectly… the bus ride from La Paz was beautiful, and included a short ferry trip. By the time we arrived, and took in your gorgeous location along Lake Titicaca, our excitement level was through the roof. But we have to be honest, Copacabana. In the end, you were the worst town we visited in Bolivia.
Of course it wasn’t all bad, but let’s just get our complaints out of the way, so we can concentrate on the good stuff. Number One Complaint: Copacabana is full of hippies. Lake Titicaca is legendary as the Incan birthplace of the Sun and, my gosh, do the hippies love its ambiance of myth and natural power. Foreign hippies have taken over a huge swath of businesses, and installed themselves as an unavoidable street entertainment option. Everywhere you look: Jugglers! Bongo Players! Some Guy Twirling Around Socks Filled with Rocks! I lost track how of how many nose-ringed girls tried to sell me hemp bracelets. Europeans, Argentinians, Americans, but none of them Bolivian.
And here’s the funny thing that hippies don’t want you to know: they’re not all that nice! Oh, they’ll pretend to be laid-back and Bob-Marley and like-whatever-man-it’s-cool, but it’s not the truth. When one dreadlocked Brazilian asked if we wanted to hear some music, I said “no”. I mean, he was holding a pan flute. In reaction, he mocked me: “No, no! I don’t want to hear free music!” Bite me, hippie! I’m not obligated to appreciate your craft.
Complaint Number Two: the ridiculous lack of services. The city’s solitary bank machine wouldn’t accept our cards. The bank opened two hours later than advertised. Locals were unbelievably rude. Restaurants were terrible. A pizza joint, called La Posta, was recommended in multiple guide books, but I can’t see how anyone who’s ever actually eaten one of their tiny, disgusting pizzas could ever suggest it to others. The number of foreigners was truly depressing. One waiter refused to give us a menu for over a half hour, while he finished a card game with friends.
At around noon on our second day in the city, we began to hate Copacabana. It bears mentioning that we had arrived a few days before the festival of August 6th, when thousands of Peruvian pilgrims arrive for a huge party, so perhaps that had people on edge. But we did manage to see a few cool things within the city, the main one being Copacabana’s magnificent church.
The gleaming white Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana was originally constructed in 1550. With its bright exterior and colorful tiles, the basilica exudes more warmth than most churches. Outside, long lines of cars were decorated with flower petals, ribbons and even taped-on plastic toy cars, waiting to be blessed by the priests who were walking around with buckets of holy water. Eye roll… Hey, here’s a good-luck idea for you Bolivian drivers that might just be even more effective than holy water. How about you don’t drive like maniacs? Like, don’t pass each other at breakneck speeds around curvy mountain roads? I don’t know, call me crazy.
A section around the side of the Cathedral is called the Chapel of Candles; another bizarre Bolivian twist on the Catholic faith. The darkened room was packed with people burning candles on tables and the floor. Each group had at least twenty candles going, and would collect the dripping wax to create figures on the walls. Cars, houses, dollar signs. Good luck, apparently, and it looked like fun. Crafts hour in a smokey dungeon.
Although we didn’t love Copacabana, it’s worth stopping in for a day. Besides the incredible basilica, there are a number of Incan ruins around the city, which we’ll be writing about soon. And the city is the requisite jumping off point for a trip to the unforgettable Isla del Sol.