Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Saturday, November 12, 2005

55. Isla del Sol and Hotel Carlosfornia (Copacabana, Bolivia)

I arrived back in Copacabana from Machu Picchu, and bumped into the same bunch of Irish travellers I'd first met in Potosí, and then again in La Paz. A couple of us decided to take a tour of Isla del Sol (Sun Island) the next day.

Isla del Sol sits in the middle of Lake Titcaca, and the Incas believed it to be the birthplace of the Inca Adam & Eve, who they called Manco Kapac & Mama Ockllo. The island also has a number of archaelogical sites dating from a pre-Inca people.

Isla del Sol - 08 - Terraces
Agricultural terraces on Isla del Sol

So at 8:30am the next morning we set off on a very slow boat which took an hour and a half to drop us off at the northern end of the island. We spent the day walking to the southern end, where our boat picked us up at 4:30pm and took us back to Copacabana. Throughout the day we passed a couple of the archaeological sites which were mildly interesting, but the main reason the trek was worth it was the amazing views of Lake Titicaca. Never have I seen such sparkling water. Check it:

Isla del Sol - 02 - Sparkling
The sparkling water of Lake Titicaca

Isla del Sol - 11 - Montañas
Snow-capped mountains on the Bolivian side

Isla del Sol - 12 - Trail pano
The walking trail

Isla del Sol - 15 - Women ploughing
Women hoe the terraces for replanting of crops

It's possible to spend the night in the hostels on Isla del Sol, and I'm sure it would have been worth it, but I was running out of time. And it was Friday night, so I caught a 3 hour bus ride back to La Paz and met up with Gabriel the Argentinian for one last night of partying.

I'd originally planned to head north, to Rurrenbaque, to visit the Amazon jungle. But it's at least a 15 hour bus ride on dirt roads, (and I'd had enough of buses after Machu Picchu) or a US$50 flight which I hadn't organised, so I decided to give it a miss and head back to Argentina.

So, what was pulling me back to Argentina? Well, my Argentine girlfriend, who'd wanted me to start a business rather than spend all of my savings travelling, had found me something. A friend of hers owns a bunch of properties, hotels mainly, but didn't have time to manage all of them. So he needed someone to open and run a hotel he owned in Villa Carlos Paz (which we'd visited and enjoyed in blog entry #45. Down on the farm). I'd have to put some money in on refurbishments to get it visitor-worthy, but then it would be mine to run. It sounded like a good deal, and something I'd enjoy more than teaching English, so I had to return to sort out the paperwork and assess the state of the hotel, etc. Time was running out as the high season starts in December and we were already approaching November. With this in mind I'd down the flying visit to Machu Picchu, left Copacabana early, and didn't go to Rurrenbaque, and didn't visit the animal reserve with Gabriel.

So from La Paz I caught a bus to Oruru, where I was told the train might be running or might not, since there were roadblocks in protest over something or other in place. Luckily the train left as scheduled at 7pm. In fact it left so on schedule that I almost missed it! 17 hours later I'd arrived at the Bolivia/Argentina border wrecked. I'd travelled in first class, but the dinner I'd ordered on the train had given me a slight dose of food poisoning. From the border I caught a 3 hour bus ride to Jujuy (blog entry #47. Into Bolivia), slept the night there, then caught another bus the next day to Termas (blog entry #45. Down on the farm), and the next morning from there to Villa Carlos Paz, where I'd arranged to rendezvous with my girlfriend and her friend Gaby the owner, that day. Well, I'd arrived but they hadn't. Gaby hadn't met her at the bus station as planned, and she hadn't been able to get hold of him. I told her to come and meet me in Carlos Paz anyway, as we'd been apart six weeks and I wanted to see her. So she caught a night bus and we met up the next morning. That day we went and checked out the hotel, and to our surprise there was a manager there, although it was closed. He didn't know who Gaby was and told us the owner was a lawyer and real estate agent, and that the hotel was for sale, not for rent. So we went and visited the owner of another hotel, who Gaby had said was his cousin. Well, the owner of that hotel didn't know him either. Finally we went and visited the lawyer/real estate agent, and she told us that she owned 50% of the hotel along with another two guys, and that it was for sale. She showed me the electricity bill for the hotel, with her name on it.

Well, it seemed we'd been scammed or lied to at the very least. I'd cut short my Bolivian holiday and travelled all that way back (hurriedly) for nothing. At least I hadn't put any money into it. Meanwhile Gaby, the "owner" still hadn't returned my girlfriend's calls or emails. We then went and visited Pablo, the guy we'd stayed with the first time, and received an ear-bashing from his landlady, as Pablo and his girlfriend had moved out leaving the place wrecked and a few months rent owing. A day of all bad news!

Hotel Comodoro
The hotel

Depressed, we headed back to BA, where I've been ever since, sorting out a few things like an insurance claim for my stolen camera (another story...), and shopping for a new one. I'd like to get another of the same model, the Pentax Optio S I'd had for 2 years. It served me well, 3.1 megapixels is plenty, 3x zoom, and a tiny take-anywhere body.

We finally heard from Gaby a week later - he'd been in jail all week! Some clients of his had sued him over another property deal he'd done. Surprisingly, he maintained he was the owner of the hotel. He told us that the lawyer/real estate agent was lying, and that he was the real owner. I asked him why no one had heard of him and he said he always does business that way, with a fake name or with a partner of his posing as the owner, because he owes too many people money. I told him what I thought, that he was a hijo de puta for getting us involved in his shady deals.

After Gaby had left, my girlfriend told me he could be telling the truth - the same thing happened to him a bunch of holiday cabins he owned on the coast. He'd left them closed for the winter and someone had moved in pretending to be the owner, had rented out the cabins to tenants, and was on site posing as the owner/manager. He'd done a runner when Gaby showed up, but not before stripping the empty cabins of everything. TVs, furniture, fittings, the kitchen, everything. Still, I didn't think the lawyer/real estate agent in Carlos Paz was lying, and my girlfriend then told me that just last year her brother had gone house shopping and an agent had shown him a property which the agent said he owned. Her brother got talking to the neighbours who put him in touch with the real owner, and guess what, the property wasn't even for sale. All this has made me realise that doing business in Argentina is not for the faint-hearted. It's certainly not for me. They say that Argentina is one of the most corrupt countries in the world (actually they've improved lately, to 97th position) and now I've seen a bit of it.

I'm not sure where I'll go next. I think now that I'm here I'll visit the south of Argentina, with it's lakes, mountains and glaciers. Should be some good photos.


  • Bloody hell, man. Wouldn't be for me either. It's easy to forget how straightforward and honest everything is in NZ.

    By Blogger afraid, at 12:54 AM  

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