Travel: An umbrella short of a cocktail

Copacabana this may be, but unlike its Brazilian sister, the strongest drink on the shores of Lake Titicaca is coca tea.

Man, the Aymara people believe, is born of the earth, the earth gives us food and food gives us life. If you want a good life, you must give thanks to the Mother Earth, Pachamama.

It's a simple, no-nonsense belief that would secure many an environmentalist's campaign in the West. Yet for the deeply religious Aymaras, respect for the land has been part of the local culture for millennia. Looking after her is a duty from which no one shirks, as the Earth cannot be replaced.

You feel at one with Pachamama at the lake on top of the world: Lake Titicaca. At 3,856 metres, the brilliant sunshine here lends the world a piercing light which takes your breath away - although some may blame this on a lack of oxygen. For at least 2,000 years, the lake has been part of Andean religious life. Visitors are told that if an unfortunate fisherman is lost in the icy waters, the locals may do a cursory search, shrug their shoulders and simply offer him up as a sacrifice to Pachamama.

And there are plenty of opportunities to give thanks to Pachamama, particularly at Sun Island in the middle of the lake. Ceremonies here are conducted by a priest burning coca leaves, along with small icons each signifying good health, crops or perhaps relationships. Sun Island has strong religious associations, since it was here that the first Inca couple is believed to have lived.

According to legend, the creator god, Viracocha, sent his children, Manco Kapac and Mama Ocllo, to be the first couple of the Inca civilisation. The island has therefore been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. The most impressive ruins are towards the north of the island, but most visitors are first encouraged up the Inca steps to drink from the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Climbing at that altitude, you might feel that this was a good joke on the part of the early Incas.

Lake Titicaca is, in fact, two separate lakes divided by the Straits of Tiquina. Sun Island is in the larger Lake Chucuito and can easily be reached by boat or catamaran, usually from Copacabana. Although the name Copacabana may conjure up golden beaches in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, this one, Bolivians will have you know, is the original Copacabana. It is also another pilgrim destination thanks to the Virgin of Candalaria.

When the black, wooden Madonna was presented to the town at some time in the 16th century, miracles began to occur; ever since, Bolivians have been making lavish and expensive offerings of jewels and other valuables to her. This is just one of many examples of Christianity being embraced alongside the ancient religions.

The dazzling marble cathedral in which the Madonna presides is well worth a visit, if only to gasp at the expense while outside beggars sit at neatly spaced intervals. Also outside, there may well be a line of cars decked in banners, streamers and balloons, waiting to be blessed by the local priest. It's a sort of spiritual insurance policy and, judging by the roads in Bolivia, maybe that's not a bad idea.

Ninety-five per cent of the Bolivian population is said to be Roman Catholic, yet an undisclosed number also practise local traditional customs which are so much engrained into the culture that the Church probably has no option but to ignore them. It's not only the indigenous population who uphold these ancient beliefs. Young, professional mestizos (those with mixed Spanish blood) can also be seen making offerings to Pachamama. "I am building an extension to my house," one guide told us. "So I must go to the witches' market to buy a llama foetus." The unborn llama, he explained, is considered an essential offering to Pachamama if you want health and prosperity in your home.

If you happen upon the witches' market in La Paz at dusk, you might be forgiven for thinking that these 10-inch desiccated foetuses are simply cheap, plastic reproductions. Come back in daylight to see that these are no mass-produced trinkets, but the real thing.

If you visit the market towards the end of January, you may see people buying offerings for Ekeko. He is the smiling Aymara, god of abundance and good fortune. You want a car? Then you need to buy a miniature toy version for your (usually plaster of Paris) Ekeko statue. Perhaps you need a new refrigerator or television - everything can be bought in miniature at the market. These offerings are not cheap, but once you have collected them, the idea is that you then go to the local Aymara priest who will bless your Ekeko. Within a year, it's believed that the real thing (car, refrigerator, television) will be yours. How much of this stems from fervent religious belief, and how much simply from tradition, is unclear.

What is quite apparent, meanwhile, is the increasing number of Western tourists making their way into Bolivia. So what do local people make of them? Well, they don't go down well when it come to cameras being flashed around. Locals are less than happy about being photographed and if you catch someone's eye through your lens, expect a frown sooner than a smile.

Yet people aren't unfriendly, and contrary to what many travellers expect, Bolivia is generally a safe country, especially when compared with Peru. "Do you know why our crime rates are so low?" joked one local resident. "All our criminals are in the government." There seems no embarrassment about telling visitors that Bolivia is a country very rich in natural wealth but with a very corrupt system. Yet the people seem to accept the resulting poverty with resigned stoicism. Tourism is an ideal opportunity to improve the economy. However, locals may feel that one invasion was quite enough.

There are no direct flights from Britain to the Bolivian capital, La Paz. Nicola Barranger paid just over pounds 600 on the Brazilian airline Varig, via Sao Paulo, booked through the Manchester office of Journey Latin America (0161-832 1441). The off-season fare to La Paz via Sao Paolo with Varig is pounds 723 plus taxes. To reach Copacabana and Lake Titicaca, there are frequent buses

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones