On the shores of Lake Titicaca, research and some tourism whilst acclimatising

Flt Lt Mark Howley measuring NGAL and BNP at Lake Titicaca (Photo - Flt Lt Dave Hall)

Flt Lt Mark Howley measuring NGAL and BNP at Lake Titicaca

28 May 12.  The day began with business as usual, data collection, echo-cardiographs and giving blood, now to someone who was not present it may sound mundane and boring but for us the “guinea pigs” in keeping with the theme from yesterdays evening meal – it was a moment of splendour and insinuation of glory – the process required us to lie on a double bed made of the finest Bolivian linen and have the experts attend to us like concubines to a king. Even better was the giving of blood bit, done on the balcony overlooking Lake Titicaca (take a moment to picture that tranquil image it right now while breathing deeply through your nose, hold it for 8 seconds and then slowly breath out chanting the mantra chaaarrr nuuuummm) brilliant!

A rather surprised orthopaedic surgeon realises he does have a heart! Lee MacConnachie echos Lt Col Mike McErlain (Photo Flt Lt David Hall)

A rather surprised orthopaedic surgeon realises he does have a heart! Lee MacConnachie echos Lt Col Mike McErlain

Before I get to the highlight of the day, a boat ride along Lake Titicaca to the Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) I ought to point out the importance of Copacabana, where we overnighted, not to be confused with its famous namesake in Brazil but named in honour of the shrine (Virgen de Copacabana) in Bolivia. Copacabana is a pleasant little town which overlooks the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca. According to Bill Brysons Rough guide to Bolivia the town is the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in the country, being home to Bolivia’s most revered image, the virgen de copacabana. A few of us visited this image which is located in a small chapel upstairs in the cathedral. Just like the Monalisa one makes the journey towards it with overwhelming anticipation with thoughts and images of the soul being superseded by something supernatural, however the reality is quite something else. The Virgen de Copacabana herself is a slight image, with a brown Andean face, dressed in lavish robes embroidered with gold and silver thread and crowned with a golden halo.

After the data collection, which went on until 12:00hrs we had a traditional Almeurzo (set lunch) in one of the restaurants, with good hypnotic Bolivian music in the background to aid good digestion. I particularly enjoyed this moment, Bolivian food served by beautiful Bolivian waitresses in traditional Bolivian clothing with Bolivian music in the background, the real Bolivian experience (sorry Dajana). The last restaurant, I am sorry to say, we had to wait over 2 hours for our evening meal and though the food was good, the music was not palatable, we had to endure the Bee Gees greatest hits whilst having our food, to me this was like a member of the audience singing along at an opera or eating a sandwich whilst swimming.

Evening view of La Paz with Illimani in the background (Photo Flt Lt Dave Hall)

Evening view of La Paz with Illimani in the background

Coming back to our afternoon, like I said following lunch we set off to the Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) which lies 12km northwest of Copacabana. Again quoting Bill Bryson “ Now a quiet rural backwater, in the sixteenth century the island was one of the most important religious sites in the Andean world, revered as the place where the sun and the moon were created and the Inca dynasty was born, and covered in a complex of shrines and temples that attract thousands of pilgrims. There are three main settlements on the Island which stretches 21km long and 8 km wide, Yumani, Challa and Challapampa, all on the east coast.

We managed to visit Yumani and it was surreal to see how the natives live a successful traditional lifestyle based on fishing, herding Llama and cultivating the Inca terraces that contour the Island’s steep slopes. This experience gave me the realisation that globalisation does not bring salvation. The few natives we met on the visit appeared content with their lives without broadband internet, Vivienne Westwood’s black label summer collection outfits or botox injection, the few things we westerners cannot live without. Just out of interest, did you know that in 2011 Medical Practitioners in the UK prescribed over 40 million prescriptions of antidepressants? The Bolivians might have it sussed, that simplicity is the key to wellbeing.

We arrived back to Copacabana from Isla del Sol at around 17:00hrs to gather our belongings and set off back to Lapaz but before parted with our guide Juan Carlos who helped the experience in Copacabana worthwhile by fumigating his vast wisdom of the penincula.

Brian Mushonga

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