Pacenas on Strike – Mountainbeering in Bolivia

A repeat Mountainbeering contributor, Sarah decides that a beer and a mountain are a lovely way to spend some time in Bolivia. You can read about more of her adventures at Sarah’s Panda Blog:

During the course of my adventures in Bolivia, I ended up spending a week in a small village on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Our village of 28 people sat on the pristine blue water of the lake, with terraced mountains surrounding the fields of the villagers.

Despite its beauty, however, I was quite ready to leave when the time came. After more than a week of only potatoes, rice, bread, and tea, with the occasional guinea pig thrown in for flavor, I was very ready to get out and eat some scurvy-preventing food, and maybe even partake of a cold cerveza. So, at 6:30 am one morning, I was sitting on a doorstep, waiting for the micro to Copacabana. From there, I could hop on any number of buses that left for La Paz every half an hour…or so I was told.

Waiting and searching for the bus to Copacabana

Never trust what you hear in Bolivia! First, I waited two hours for the micro to Copacabana—when it arrived, it appeared that someone had tried to strap their house to the top of the bus—possibly the source of the delay. Finally, when I arrived in Copacabana, there were no buses to La Paz. Every tour agency, taxi driver, or tourist information center said simply that there were no buses today! ¡Mañana, si! But not today. My beginner Spanish was unable to understand why.

As it turned out, my way was blocked by country-wide transportation strikes and roadblocks. With relief, I found one company selling tickets for a 1:30 bus, so I left my stuff with them and toured the town. At 1:30 of course, they said come back at 5:30. At first, I was at a loss. How to spend the entire afternoon? I was lonely for company and had already seen the few tourist attractions in the town. And then…a mountainbeering eureka moment. Of course! Beer could keep me company! So, I set off happily to find a beer and a mountain.

Choices of beer companions are very limited in Copacabana: only one beer is commonly sold—the inoffensive Paceña from La Paz. This toilet paper stand kindly provided me with the beer for my adventure.

Beer and TP... sometimes the two go together.

When I asked the storekeeper if there were any cold bottles, she sounded offended and said sternly, “These are cold! Feel!” Indeed, though never refrigerated, they were not boiling hot. Success! Now all I needed was a mountain.

Copacabana is conveniently nestled between two steep hills. I had climbed one in the morning, so I set out for Mount Calvario, a holy pilgrimage site for Catholics throughout Bolivia.

Mount Calvario (right) hosts the most number of crucifixes of any mountain I have ever climbed.

The hike was a short, 30 minute jaunt up a well-traveled path.  At 12,000 feet, I was breathing heavily, but my beer didn’t seem to mind the altitude—he had a grand old time. Indeed, opening a Paceña at low altitude would be disastrous with the extreme pressure difference.

The view of the lake was spectacular from the top, but I did not like the idea of drinking my hard-earned, warm cerveza at a pilgrimage site filled with people and various religious objects. I had another couple of hours before my bus, so I set out back along the road to Sicuani, wandered through fields of flowers, sheep, and llamas, and up steep Incan terracing, before following llama tracks up the mountainside. At the top, it was just me, my beer, and some cacti, and a beautiful view.

I managed to get back to Copacabana before sundown, but the bus did not make it to La Paz that night. Though a mob of frustrated tourists loaded up and set off, we made it only about a half an hour out of town before encountering a roadblock of cars, trucks, and many Paceños enjoying cervezas of their own. But I did not mind. Even though I got nowhere close to where I intended to go, I counted the day as a success!


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