a few hours northwest of la paz lies copacabana, a small bolivian village located on the shore of lago titicaca, one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. the eponymous copacabana (from which the famous brazillian beach derives its name) is a tranquil spot which is similar to other small stops on the backpacker circuit (such as, for example, san pedro de atacama) in the sense that much of it seems to exist almost exclusively to cater to tourists. given a bird's eye view of this home to 6000 residents, one would never expect it to boast such a large number of travel agencies and exotic restaurants, but when one peruses copacabana's main streets, one is unlikely to find much else, except of course for small shops selling kitchy baubles and alpaca garments.
the undisputed highlight of copacabana is the resplendent lago titicaca and the archaeologically important islands of isla del sol and isla de la luna, home to ancient ruins and spectacular views, but coming in at a close second is the impressive whitewashed basilica of our lady of copacabana (the patron saint of bolivia) which dominates the central plaza. this church, which was buit over an indigenous temple, is a sacred destination for bolivians all over the country, many of whom make the pilgrimage to visit the ornate virgin of copacabana. also nice was the small hill overlooking the city, which, although draining to climb in that altitude, provides a nice view of copacabana and lago titicaca, and also features some interesting monuments.
after a few days relaxing (and, in my case, convalescing) in copacabana without much incident, we took a night bus to cusco. in typical bolivian fashion, the ride was, shall we say, rather unorganized. to start with, it seems that bolivian buses are either unable or unwilling to leave the country, as the first leg of our journey amounted to little more than a cab ride to the customs point, where our bags were tossed to the curb and we were told to cross the border by foot after haggling with the bolivian immigration officers for a bit. 100 meters across the border we spent a few friendly moments with peruvian customs officers before resuming our positions on the curb waiting for the arrival of the small bus that would take us to puno. when it arrived, we scrambled in to find seats and settle down for a bit of sleep. our speed-demon driver had different ideas, however, and in the process of weaving maniacally through the oncoming traffic of the two-lane road, managed to rear-end a motorcycle-like taxi contraption, sending it careening off the road into a 2 meter ditch. 200 meters later our bus stopped, and while the concerned drivers hopped out to check the damage inflicted on the bus, a few tourists ran back in the dark to check the health of the motorcycle's passengers. reluctantly, the bus turned back to lend assistance as well, and luckily, nobody had been injured. after giving the startled victims a ride back to town, our bus once again resumed its race to puno, where we arrived to find a few anxious trip coordinators waiting to inform us that our final bus had already left for cusco without us. so quick as you like we throw our bags into taxis and 'tally ho, follow that bus.' with a bit of luck and some more speedracer antics, we overtook the bus, jumped in, piled on the blankets, and snuggled down for a long night's journey.
while i'm at it, i'll relate another bolivian bus anecdote, this one having taken place in sucre. the night of our departure from that city, we arrive at the bus station with precious little time to spare, owing to the fact that our dinner had inexplicably consumed one and a half hours (bolivian table service, while not unpleasant, is not always rapid). we run through the crowded station looking for our bus company, copacabana llc, or somesuch. luckily, we find a copacabana bus just pulling out, with doors still open and a placard reading potosi, our intended destination. just as we reach the bus, the driver gives us an unpleasant look and closes the doors in our face. this unagreeable gesture was met with shouts of desperation, and a few members of our party jumped in front of the bus to inform the driver of our presence. well, he wanted nothing to do with us, and in so trying to avoid us, ended up backing into another bus a few meters away. whoops. now our bus had to pull over to the curb to check the damages, and we took this opportunity to bribe a baggage attendant to load our bags on the bus, pay the duties lady our departure taxes, and jump on the bus with triumphant relief. this relief slowly transformed to disbelief as we made our way down the aisle of the crowded bus and came to the realization that not a single seat was empty. bummer. turns out there are five or six bus companies servicing the sucre terminal whose names consist of some variation of the word copacabana. at this point the bus was back on its way again, with the five of us standing awkwardly in the aisle. finally, after a bit of arguing, the driver agreed to stop for just long enough for us to jump off and collect our luggage, which we dragged back to the station, there to purchase more tickets to potosi, this time from a company not named after copacabana.
all this is to say that if, after a few days of stomach troubles, you convince yourself that you can handle an easy bolivian nightbus (and this bus, after all, does have a bathroom, right mr travel agent? sure sure, of course it does... or at least it did at one point), perhaps you should reconsider.