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From Copacabana to Cuzco, Kyle Miller’s South American Expedition Continues
Posted on July 29, 2011

First Ascent snowboarder Kyle Miller is traveling some of South America’s harshest terrains with Sweetgrass Productions as part of its upcoming film, Solitaire, due for release this September. Having just filmed in and around the volcanoes of Sajama, Kyle is now reporting from Lake Titicaca, Copacabana, and Cuzco.

By Kyle Miller

The taxi arrived at Hotel Bolivia around noon. This has been my place of sanctuary for the past three weeks between trips, and while I was familiar with the area, it was time to experience something new. It’s amazing the looks you get as you travel through a train station with enough bags to clothe a small army and a few snowboards added to the mix. I had always heard about Lake Titicaca, and with it being just two hours away, I decided I would stand on the shores of this massive lake, the highest navigable lake in the world.

Once on the bus, it seemed that with every mile the scenery got greener and more lush as we passed numerous small villages along the way. It wasn’t long before we saw our first glimpse of the lake: a deep shade of blue that seemed foreign to the desert-like slopes alongside. Our destination was Copacabana, a small Bolivian town on the shores of the lake and a historical hot spot for the once-thriving Incas where, according to religion, the birthplace of the sun and the moon was on small islands offshore.

We arrived in Copacabana right as the sun was setting over Lake Titicaca and were surprised to find empty streets with just the occasional panhandler to break the silence, as he tried to peddle handmade bracelets to the unsuspecting tourist. After watching the bright shades of pink settle behind the lake, we were off to get food and to taste what type of local delicacies the town had to offer, finding numerous options of fish and llama before calling it a night. That night I checked my email to find that my spot locator beacon had accidentally gone off and sent the 911 emergency signal to my mother and friends. After a few emails and phone calls to confirm that I was OK, I was off to bed.

The next morning we bought tickets to travel to Isla del Sol that, according to Inca religion, is the birthplace of the sun. But after a one-hour delay, we were sad to hear that the boat was cancelled because of high winds. This put a damper on our plans and instead of staying another night in the quiet town of Copacabana we would head towards the next town on my adventure, the once-great Inca empire and now bustling city of Cuzco, Peru. Before catching the 12-hour bus ride we hiked to a cemetery on top of a small mountain situated on the shores of the lake and looked across the endless waters, now silent and still as the winds had died down.

Once on the bus, we drove for 15 minutes before reaching the Peru border and were taken off the bus to get immigration stamps from both Bolivia and Peru. We were fortunate, as the border had been closed for weeks, and we were one of the first groups allowed access to Peru. (While excited, I found it chilling that the people stamping our passports were more entertained with a television blaring the movie, Psycho.) A stamp and some quick paperwork was all it took to enter a country I had heard about for so long, and just like that I was back on the bus heading for Cuzco.

I arrived at the Cuzco bus station at 5 a.m. under a small drizzle. From the moment we got off the bus it was buy-this-buy-that. After some bargaining and heckling, I was off to the Cuzco town square with not a single soul in sight. It was still dark, and the stairway was slick from the rain as I carried my snowboard and climbing gear up the steep steps, making it to the hostel just as light started to break. While everyone was just waking up, it was my time to go to sleep.

I woke up at noon and started walking around town. Cuzco, Peru, was a stark contrast from La Paz, Bolivia, with a McDonald’s, huge churches, and enough street vendors to make your head dizzy. The town square held two stunning churches with hordes of people outside. I had accidentally made my way to Cuzco on the biggest day for the Catholics of South America. I walked around the streets for a few hours, marveling in the amazing stonework created by the Incas before heading to the festival to see what all the fuss was about.

After entering the main church that was once a Inca temple (then destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish), I learned that there were 12 statues that represented saints of the Catholic religion that were all held in the single church. On this day, the statues would be transported to 12 separate churches in the Cuzco area. The whole city was there, as groups of people and bands marched the streets, holding the heavy statues and celebrating with cervezas and numerous local cuisines. That afternoon I walked the streets, checking out the ancient Inca stonework and blown away by how perfectly everything was laid out. At one point I walked past what was once the Temple of the Sun, now just the foundation since it had been built with gold and the Spaniards melted it down and transported it back to Spain brick by brick.

That night I set up a trip to Aguas Caliente, which lies deep in the Peruvian rainforest at the base of Macchu Pichu, before heading out on the town and working on my not-so-good salsa skills around town.

Author: - Friday, July 29th, 2011
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