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

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?