Copacabana, Bolivia, South America
07.01.2011 - 09.01.2011 25 °C
A short hop over the border from Peru to Bolivia, arriving at the place with the rather catchy name, just cannot get that damn song out of my head, the original Copacabana. A small but culturally significant hilly town on the Bolivian shore of Lake Titicaca. Well let’s see, what was my lasting memory of my time here? Now let me think... Maybe it was the beautiful sunset views over Lake Titicaca from my hostel? Maybe the back to basics ‘charm’ of Copacabana, not much in the way of paths or roads, internet or hot showers, read as ‘a bit rough around the edges’. Hmmmm nah maybe the incredible day of uphill trekking at 4000 metre altitude across the the mystical Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) where Incan legend suggests to be the birthplace of the sun and the moon. Breath taking views (literally) down steep hillsides patterned with farm terraces, tumbling into the glittering deep blue lake, occasionally stumbling upon indigenous villages and the odd donkey here and there. Special feeling here for sure, but no, the overriding memory from the Copa Copacabana just has to be the Ch’alla car blessing ceremonies. I just happened to be here at the right time at the right place and what a welcome to Bolivia!
The passion and frivolities surrounding the Bolivian tradition of Ch’alla really captivated me. At first, I couldn’t quite work out what in the hell was going on that first day in Bolivia outside of the Copacabana cathedral. Why in the heck are there so many cars waiting outside the basilica covered in flowers and other weird nik naks? Why is there now a priest throwing holy water over the said cars all the time whispering a blessing? What was going on here? Then something even more peculiar went down. What I assumed to be the owners of each car would spray beer and champagne all over, on the roof, under the bonnet, over the wheels, even inside the car! Seriously, I thought that Bolivia was supposed to be a poor country but here they were throwing away champagne, yes champagne, in this unusual ritual. After smothering the car with alcohol, they would then set off firecrackers right next to the car (frightened the jeheebies out of me at first!) before having a family photo taken next to their newly blessed, safe to drive home now, vehicle.
I didn’t realise before coming here, the cultural and religious significance of Copacabana to this country. I thought it was just a tourist stopping off point for Lake Titicaca but it is much much more than this. The basilica houses the famous ‘virgin de la Candelaria’, a statue of the virgin Mary believed to work miracles, apparently saving many a sailors life when in trouble on Lake Titicaca. Copacabana cathedral is hence an important pilgrimage site and at weekends the location for the ch’alla festivities. The atmosphere around the cathedral was colourful and upbeat. Oh the magic joys of travelling, stumbling unexpectedly upon such unique fun and culturally insightful occasions. Love Bolivia already! I sat there by the side of the road outside the basilica and observed the celebrations for a good couple of hours. To be perfectly honest, having seen the state of the roads, or lack of, in this country, I too would take every opportunity to bring luck and good fortune to my travels in Bolivia!
I awake on the morning of my birthday, the day I need to leave to take a bus to the capital city La Paz, and I just fancied going to see some more Ch’alla action. Luckily, they were still going on, so had a fantastic start to my birthday getting immersed and uplifted in the fun. Oh and just a little bit covered in champagne!