Piece of advice: never take directions from a gay Austrian. If only I'd followed it. After spending this morning once again chilling on Moondance beach, today I tagged along with my friend Robert, who wanted to show me the next beach along on the island, where he claimed there was nice swimming and a great restaurant. Only problem was, Robert thought he could take a "shortcut" up the hillside, and onto the main track that leads to this beach. And as anyone (named Murphy) can tell you, a shortcut is the longest possible distance between two points. Several steep cliffs, spiky ferns, bulging ant-nests, enveloping spiderwebs, and thick bush-clumps later, the truth of this rule was quite thoroughly proven. Although our intensive bush-bashing did eventually pay off: at long last, we finally found the road that we were looking for. Nice views along the way, too.
If the morning trek to Erice was hell on ice, then this afternoon's cruise down the Sicilian west coast was heaven with icea tea. Really, after lunch it couldn't have got more pleasant. From Paceco, I cut over to the quiet coast road that runs parallel to the main highway (and the autostrada), and cruised through what is apparently known as "The Salt Road". Signs on the road claimed that this stretch of road had been nominated for some "European prize in outstanding culture and environment" — I wouldn't go that far; but yes, it is a scenic area. And with a gentle coastal breeze, abundant sunshine, and light casual traffic to keep me company, I couldn't have asked for a better way to brighten up a tough day.
Our three-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni began with lots of salt this morning, and it continued at lunchtime with lots of cacti (that's plural for cactus!). We visited "Isla Incahuasi" (lit: "Inca House Island", with "huasi" being "house" in Quechua), an island in the middle of the salt flats, which is completely covered in cacti. The Incas planted them there during their heyday, to mark the island as a place to take shelter and to set up camp, when making the journey across the salt. And in the wet season (Nov-Apr), when the entire salt flat gets flooded with about 50cm of water, this place really is an island.
We finished our morning's hike to the northern end of Isla Del Sol, just in time to reach the town near the northern ruins, 15 minutes after the last public boat back south took off. We got there at 2pm, and the boat had left at 1:45pm. Bit of a bummer: especially since various locals had assured us that the boat didn't leave until 2pm. But hey, I guess you can't exactly trust the locals' word around here. Anyway, we had to share the cost of a private boat back instead.
We did a good thorough hike of Isla Del Sol this morning, from south to north, and we saw the ancient ruins and rock carvings at the northern end of the island. It started out being just myself, Chris, Pascale, and Tony; but we ended up being joined by Ralph, two Kiwis, and two Americans along the way.
Took about two hours to ride the long but pleasant ferry from Copacabana to Isla Del Sol ("Island of the Sun") this afternoon. Once we reached the island, we were given a guided tour — after, of course, repeatedly insisting "no queremos un guia" (lit: "we don't want a guide") — of the nearby southern ruins. Nothing spectacular, but a nice, relaxed introduction to the island.
While in Taquile this morning, I went shopping in the handicraft centre there, and picked myself up some beautiful local hats. Taquile is very famous for its woollen hats, which are hand-knitted exclusively by the men of the island, and which are of excellent design and quality. I liked them so much, I decided to buy three! The other two will have to become presents for some people. Quite stylish, and quite protective when it comes to that harsh altiplano sunlight.
After last night's roaring party on Amantaní, this morning we the crew said our farewells to Amantaní and to our one-night-stand families there, and headed for the next island on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca: Taquile. On this famous island, we completed the arduous hike from lakeside to village, we relaxed in the sleepy town, and we checked out the local craftsmanship offerings.
The people of Amantaní really are a great bunch. Each night, they throw a party for their gringo guests, complete with live music, traditional folk dancing, and family-size beverages. After dinner with our island family tonight, we were taken across the island (in the pitch dark) to the local hall, and partook in one of these nightly celebrations. If they really do this every night, then I have no idea how they keep it up: 'cause they sure do put on a good show.
After lunch with our host families, those of us from the morning's boat ride that were staying on Amantaní went on a hike to the top of the island, to observe the spectacular views afforded from the climb, and to watch the sun set over the top of the world. Lake Titicaca is closer to the sky than any other lake in the world, so it's quite a sight to behold.