This nearly became the story of how I was detained at the Bolivian border because I used pencil instead of pen on my entry forms (one very bored border guard abusing his bureaucratic power) but after a blunt telling-off; on this show-girl went to Copacabana. Dissapointingly, I found no Lola with flowers in her hair; just lots of pisco bars and touting tour agencies. Unperturbed, I bought a peanuts tickets for a peanuts boat to take me to the birthplace of the sun.
Alone apart from the rusting captain and his bowler-hatted, gold-toothed mother, we sped across Lake Titicaca; the captain with one foot on the tiller and smoking a steady stream of cigarettes next to the petrol engine. We arrived into the port of Yumani a choppy hour later and a sharp climb up the Inca steps took me to a ridge flanking the east side of the island. And not just any old island, the Isla del Sol, a place where many modern-day Amayrá and Quecha people believe is the birthplace of the sun and I had come armed with my factor-50 to investigate.
Picking a southern track with nothing but pre-Inca terraces and bone-dry shrubland surrounding, I hoped this would be the kind of place I could be invisible. Shadowed from the high altitude sun by a spiky tequila plant, I hid from the nomadic farmers and watched the afternoon sail across the coastline. Picking my moment and picking my spot, I unrolled my precious mat and bag for a night under the stars (knowing already the ground was too tough to support a single tent-peg).
As the sun started setting, the wind picked a stronger course and I rather regretted my exposed outlook. But, I suppose, the utterly awe-inspiring view was worth all the tooth-chattering. I’d like to say that I had a peaceful night, but on an island with a healthy puma population, I was a little too suspicious of every squeak to sleep very readily. I also completely misread the humidity and woke the next day to a dew-drenched sleeping bag (nothing that a suddenly blistering sun couldn’t solve.) And nothing that a luxury breakfast of bread and cheese couldn’t cheer up either. A hasty return to port provided a cornucopia of cafés to calm my caffeine needs and before the sun really found it’s streak it was time to bob along to the mainland once again.
A simple but by no means routine wild night. Being alone in a new country and unfamiliar terrain, I felt more nervous for this one night than I have in a long while. It was probably illegal, certainly a bit dangerous and reminded me that I still have a strong sense of comfort zone. But in this WiFi age where nothing good seems to stay hidden for long (and why should it?) it gets ever harder to get off that beaten track. So bravery to me may have meant dossing about in a farmer’s field, but I salute all those who really do find a way to go their own way. Sometimes it’s not about breaking the rules but making them for yourself.