Everyone approaches their birthdays differently and, while I’m not someone who needs others to remember my birthday, there are a few things that I appreciate about the mine. One of the staples is my parents calling to sing me “Happy Birthday”. Another is that since my birthday falls around Memorial Day, I’ve been throwing a cookout every year since my 25th birthday on Memorial Day weekend. This isn’t really a birthday party in the normal sense, but rather as a way to celebrate the beginning of summer and is a gift to myself to get a bunch of friends together and an excuse to fire up the grill. Being in Copacabana, Bolivia this year for my birthday felt a little strange trying to figure out how to celebrate in a way that felt familiar to me.
We started out the day by taking a boat to the Isla del Sol, an island a few miles from Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. This island has been continually inhabited since 2200 BC and contains many Inca ruins from the 15th century. This island is important in the Inca religion as this is where it was believed the sun god was born. Today, there are about 800 families that subsist on farming, fishing, and tourism. There are several ways people explore this island. Some people spend a night or two, either staying in hostels or camping on the northern beach. A day tour can either consist of a guided tour of the northern and southern tips of the island shuttling by boat or, as we decided to do, a hike from the north to the south.
We were dropped off at Ch’allapampa and after buying some local sandwiches for the day, we headed out on the trail. One downside of not sticking with the tour is that you have to figure your own way and, like two other couples, we picked the wrong side of the coin and went the wrong way. We had only gone 100 feet when one of the couples was coming back after going to a dead end and let us know we needed to get on the other path. The second couple was right behind us with a guide book trying to determine the path as well and we all turned around and headed in the right direction. As we headed in the right direction, we started to chat and found quickly that we would all enjoy this hike together. One couple was from Australia and the other from New Zealand. Thus began my birthday with friends with awesome accents.
The walk across Isla del Sol actually started with us heading North. We walked along this beach, where we saw a group of campers finishing up a yoga class on the beach.
From the beach we headed up to beautiful lookouts over several coves and towards the Roca Sangrada (Sacred Rock) and the Titi Qala, a crag the Incas believe the first Inca emerged from. Just past this, there are ruins of Chinkana.
From there, we headed South along the middle of the island. We spent much our trek chatting with our new friends and enjoying the amazing views. The path goes along the ridge of the island, so there are views of the lake on both sides and lots of flora and fauna to enjoy. These were a couple of my favorites.
After reaching Yumani, the southern town on the island, Danielle and I enjoyed a quick pizza and some more Inca relics, a fountain and stairs. We invited our new friends to a birthday dinner later in the evening and headed back to Copacabana. We met at the reception of our hotel – amazingly we were all staying at the same place – and headed to the main strip for dinner. The evening was a continuation of a great day with great conversations about our respective journeys through South America and the differences between American, Aussie and Kiwi cultures, like that iced coffee is a foreign concept to most non-New Englanders. We also learned many vocabulary words like netball, goons, Jordie Shore, and peddle pops. I enjoyed a great dinner of Alpaca and to top of the night off, had my first piece of apple pie in months.
I am thankful that even being so far away from home that I had a birthday that involved friends, many birthday wishes, and best of all a call from my parents singing Happy Birthday.