The drive further up to the border over the road under construction was fine. It was not busy with trucks like when we came down a few days ago. After passing the Chilean border there was still a long stretch sandy road where it was not always clear where you had to drive. The border crossing in to Bolivia was well organized. You get a marked sheet where at the end of the line you should have 5 stamps before the guard at the end of the border opens up the gate for you. The police did a check if the number of the chassis of the camper was the same as the document. Fortunately we found the number stamped in the metal under the windscreen. The temporary import license gave a bit of a problem because both the young custom officers appeared to be new on the job. It took them 30 min to get all the info into the computer and give us the paper. The road from the border further into the country is good. It was 2 lanes and tarmaced. We stayed on the high altiplano round 4000 m. There are not many villages along the road, the countryside looks empty despite that the landscape looks fertile and is relatively green.
We are coming now to the end of the rainy period. Along the way we passed some funeral towers made from mud bricks. It was costume for the local Aymara people to bury their dead in such towers. I do not think they still practice this.
After 200 km we reached the first city, Patacamay on the cross point with the highway to La Paz. There, with the help of 2 teenagers, Jamaliah managed to get the Bolivian SIM card to work. We turned off the RN1, 54 km before La Paz, and found a spot on the mountain near a gravel pit. It was well out of the way but to our surprise the dirt road was frequented by walkers and cars. The campsite was at 4225 m so it was cold at night but warm under our sleeping bags. The target for the next day were the ancient ruins at Tiwanaku. This is the mother culture in the Lake Titicaca area. To get there, we had to drive in and out of La Paz. A stressful experience for Rudy as driver. The only surface area is the road. Left and right is sand/mud where the people walk and the shops are located. Quite muddy especially after the rain. Reminded us of some towns we saw in our trip in eastern Russia. At first the road was still 4 lanes but this gradually reduced to 2 lanes. Buses, taxis and cars just stop in front of you to offload passengers. Traffic lights seem to only be there to suggest that you should stop. Every drivers ignore the red light. Whole sections of the road are under construction so you are weaving in and out of bypass where you have to watch out for pedestrians. The drivers are keen to take their right which caused problems the few times we were in the wrong lane. Everyone for themselves. No give or take. Agressieve drivers. The ruins (and town) of Tiwanaku are some 70 km outside the city. The area is very green and fertile. Still you do not see much farming going on. It is as if the land is left unused because the farmers have moved to the city. The ruins are in 2 locations, close together. They mainly consist of large plateaus of different height on which priests performed their rituals. The walls of the terraces are made of large stones which had to be dragged to the temple over large distances (40+ km). Some stones are cut and made to fit together. Others were decorated with inscriptions and formed arches. The style of the inscriptions remind us of what we see on Maya temples. It looks like all these civilizations along the Andes have copied from each other. They all have terraced temples, pictorial inscriptions, and pottery with figures.
Nearby the ruins are 2 museums. Unfortunately there was a power shortage so we had to see the museums in the dark. It was relatively early so we made an attempt to drive to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. We did not want to go again through La Paz so we took a small road around it. This was an experience. You drive on a dirt track through the fields and hope that you are going the right way. Beside the few surfaced roads between major towns all other roads are dirt tracks, which can be muddy in the rainy season. This shows that Bolivia is poorest of the countries we have driven through to date. There are not many cars on the road (outside La Paz) and few petrol stations. When we finally got back to a tarmac road it was late so we found a lovely camp site near some fisherman jetty on Lake Titicaca. Along the road we saw scattered groups of walkers with rugsacks. They are pilgrims walking from La Paz to Copacabana (158 km) to do penance and on Good Friday take part in the procession in remembrance of Christ sacrifice.
From the Bolivian side Copacabana can only be reached by using a ferry. The festival of Semana Santa (holy week) was to start the next day so there were already lot of cars waiting at the ferry point. The ferries are barges where only 2 cars (or buses) go on at a time. They are pushed by a long staff and float to the other side using a normal outboard engine. There are lots of these barges and each takes 2 cars at its turn.
The last stretch to Copacabana is over good surfaced winding road over the mountains to the town which lies on the shores of the lake. We stopped near the town center and walked up the steep narrow street to the large cathedral. It has a large walled forecourt and was therefore peacefully quiet. The high altar was magnificently decorated in silver with various statues. Pity no photo were allowed. The town was slowly filling up with people coming for the festival. The streets were therefore full with stalls selling all kind of sweets as well as flowers for the pilgrims. Since it is a mayor tourist town there are many hostels, restaurants and travel agents as well as a fair amount of tourists (the backpacking type).
We booked ourselves on a boat tour for the next day to the Island of the Sun (Isla del Sol) and the Island of the Moon (Isla del Luna). Both should have Inca ruins. The boat tour leaves at 8:30am so we looked for a campspot along the beach close to the jetty. Already tents and cars were dotted along the boulevard but we still managed to find a place not too far away. In the night it started to rain and we were glad to be in the camper and not in one of the small leaking tents which the festival goers have. The boat tour started in the drizzly cold rain but, before reaching the Island of the Moon, it had cleared away and was dry. The remains of the Inca Nunnery where virgins were kept are small and not impressive. Moreover several tourist boats dock at the same time so it was also crowded. After an hour on site the boat continues to the Island of the Sun. And yes, the sun came out and we had a lovely climb up the stairs towards the top of this island. Several clusters of hostels on the hills. Again there were not much ruins to be seen. The majority are on the North side of the island which currently is blocked off by the locals due to a conflict.
Back in Copacabana we first walked up the steep hill to admire some unusual structures. This appeared to be Hotel Las Olas. The (German) Owner/designer was there and proudly showed us around. The eccentric designs of the individual villas reminded of the work of Gaudi in Barcelona. These large villas only cost between $40 and $70 per night. It was too late for us to reserve one. Instead we enjoyed another sunset together with the many (camping) neighbors around our camper.
At around 19:00 just after sunset, the procession started. We walked again up to the cathedral. It was noticeable that the commercial noise slowly ebbed away the closer you got to the cathedral. There we were just in time to see the start of the procession. Three statues were carried along the street followed by a large crowd of pilgrims and other by passers. We joined the group for a few blocks. In this way we had our own “Passion” since we missed it this year in Holland. On the way back to the camper we had our first fish meal of this trip in one of the many temporary tent restaurants set up along the beach front.