Broken Window on Isla del Sol

An inadvertant broken window in Yumani, Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca.

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Rock climbing- Fremont Canyon, Wyoming

I stutter-stepped, planted my left foot, and then exploded past the 9-year-old defender to his right, and took the open shot. I hooked it hard and missed, at least the goal part. The ball did hit one of the dining room windows in the small combination Isla del Sol house and hotel and shattered it into more pieces than I wanted to count. The game stopped, and we all stood, frozen in place as we tried to determine the next move. Our goal keeper’s mother had already been outside, scolding the kids about being careful not to break anything. And so, I was prepared for her wrath, although I was not clear about whether or not I’d be lumped in with the other soccer players since I was actually older than her.

But, she never came out. I’d girded and tensed my whole body in preparation for whatever it was that was going to come my way, but after a few minutes passed and nothing like that had happened, I felt a sort of guilty relief as I realized that she wasn’t going to. After my initial surprise, I stood there, motionless and unable to come up with any rational reason for why I seemed to be getting away with it. It probably would’ve been less complicated had I just been chewed out and banished somewhere. But since that never happened, I eventually began to think about the actual realities of replacing a broken window pane out in a remote place like that. After all, we were at a hostal in Yumani, Bolivia on the crest of the Isla del Sol and out in the middle of Lake Titicaca.  Simply put, it wasn’t a particularly accessible location.

While the mother never came out, a man did. He just said, “no problema,” glancing in my direction as he walked over to the window. He covered the broken-out area with a piece of old cardboard, stepped back to look at his handiwork, and then turned and walked back through the doorway.

I began speculating about where a replacement pane would even come from. Maybe, I thought, the people who owned the hostal had spare glass panes sitting around somewhere or perhaps there was some sort of a store or something in Yumani that carried those sorts of things. I was initially hopeful, but after a brief instant of deep thought, realized that neither of those two scenarios was all that likely. I’d hiked all around the southern part of the Isla on previous excursions and remembered that there didn’t seem to be much of anything of a commercial nature anywhere on the island and had not seen anything like that anywhere outside of the block building.

So, I turned my thoughts to pondering just how involved and complicated it would be to get a simple square of glass from Copacabana or Yampupato (larger and more traditional towns, each located 90 minute boat rides away on the mainland) to the hostal, because I realized that was most likely what would end up happening.

Boats arrive at a lakeshore dock located several hundred feet down below the small town. A famous rock staircase, known as the Inca Steps, heads up from there. After ascending some 200 of the intricately carved and placed rocks, it reaches the lower parts of the village. And from there, dirt streets wind their way through the town on up until reaching the crest, which is where the hostal in question is located.

The island is several miles, both long and wide, and according to Inca and Aymara lore, is the birthplace of the Sun. It’s divided into South and North sides, with a smaller village, Challapampa, the center of commerce in the north. The whole place is essentially a mostly barren mountain that sticks up out of Lake Titicaca, with various high points at around 13,000 feet above sea level, and roughly 1000 feet above the lake. While there is a dirt road network covering the landmass, no vehicles are allowed anywhere, which means that everything is done on foot, or occasionally via donkey. Suffice it to say that it’s off the beaten path.

There’s certainly a downside to not have vehicles around for transporting people and goods- but the lack of noise and hustle and bustle creates an especially enjoyable peaceful environment. When that is combined with amazing views of sunsets and the Peruvian Andes off to the west, and the magnificent high peaks of the Cordillera Real to the east, a mysterious and intriguing sort of inter-connectedness seems to exist all over the island.

A few days after the breaking of the window occurred, it simply became time for us to leave. As I checked out, I looked over and took note of the cardboard still covering the windowless hole and felt a bit of a hollow spot in my gut. I’d been hoping to leave with the situation having been permanently resolved. But, at that point, it appeared it wasn’t going to be, and so I resigned myself to having to leave without knowing how it all worked out.

I picked up my pack and began the walk down to the dock to catch the early afternoon boat back to Copacabana. As I left, my initial thoughts were mostly about the window issue. I walked a few hundred yards to the west along the main road and then made an abrupt left turn from the ridge top and began quickly descending toward the lake. Shortly after making the turn, I heard a tune being whistled, from somewhere off in the distance and down below. It was almost startling in the way its crispness and lightness contrasted with the expected town noises, and I got it into my mind that it was somehow a sound that I was meant to hear.

Since it kept getting louder as I walked, I knew that I was getting progressively closer to its source. And then suddenly, there it was. I rounded a corner and was passed by a rough looking younger man, whistling away for all he was worth. He nodded as he walked by, but mostly seemed focused on something further up the road. He had a big smile on his face, a bounce in his step, was just whistling away as he walked and I saw that he was carrying a piece of glass under his arm, mostly wrapped in newspaper. And with that, a smile came to my own face, I put the window situation to rest and walked on down the trail, content that all was well on the Isla del Sol.

Climb VOM
Rock climber at the Valley of the Monks, Copper Canyon

Author: David Appleton

I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in the Texas Hill Country, spent some 30 years living in the smack dab middle of Colorado, and have spent a lifetime adventuring and leading others on adventures in many parts of the wild world.