Broken Window on Isla del Sol

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

Rock climbing- Fremont Canyon, Wyoming

I stutter-stepped, hesitated momentarily, planted my left foot and 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- square on and shattering it into more pieces than I wanted to count. The game stopped and we all stood, frozen in place as we tried to determine a next move. Our goal keeper’s mother had already been outside for a bit, scolding the kids about being careful and to not 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 had 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 had happened, I felt a sort of guilty relief as I realized that she wasn’t coming out. 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 simpler if I’d just been chewed out and banished somewhere, but since that hadn’t happened, I eventually began to think about the actual realities of replacing a broken window pane in a house– or hostal, as those kinds of house/restaurant/hotel combination places are known in Yumani, Bolivia, high up on the very spine of the Isla del Sol, not far from Copacabana and in the midst of Lake Titicaca. And, there was no doubt, the window needed to be replaced.

While the mother never came out, a man did.

He just said, “no problema”, glancing my way 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 to and then through the door.

I began speculating about where a replacement pane would even come from. Maybe, I thought, the people that owned the hostal had spare glass panes sitting around somewhere or maybe there was some sort of a store or something up there 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 were very likely. I had hiked all around the southern part of the Isla on previous excursions and remembered that there didn’t seem to be much very commercial anywhere on the island.

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, located a 90 minute boat rides away on the mainland) to the hostal, because that was simply what would probably end up happening.

Yumani is a small town which sits on the southern part of the Isla del Sol, right up on the very top of the island. Boats, which link the island with the outside world, arrive at a lakeshore dock, located several hundred feet down below. An historic rock staircase, known as the Inca Steps, heads up from the lake towards the town. 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 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 island is essentially a mostly barren mountain sticking 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 island, no vehicles are allowed anywhere, meaning everything is done on foot, or occasionally via donkey.

While there is certainly a downside to not have vehicles zipping around- the lack of noise, hustle and bustle creates both a tranquil and peaceful environment. When 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, an inexplicable and intriguing sort of inter-connectedness seems to exist.

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. I’d been hoping to leave, with the situation having been taken care of in a permanent way. But, it appeared that wasn’t going to be the case and so, resigned myself to the probability of having to leave and never really 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 how sorry I was that the window issue was not yet resolved, but soon began thinking about the upcoming logistics for the journey on back to La Paz. I walked a few hundred yards to the west along the main road, which meandered along the ridge top, and then made an abrupt left turn and began quickly descending toward the lake on what was essentially more of a trail. Shortly after making the turn, I began to hear a tune being whistled, from somewhere off in the distance down below. It was almost startling the way its crispness and lightness contrasted with something, although I couldn’t pinpoint just what that was. There were no persistent or annoying town sounds to compare it to, but I somehow got it into my mind that it was a sound I was meant to hear. It was almost like some sort of a wake-up call and continued growing louder, the further I walked. I found myself smiling every time the refrain was reached and repeated. After hearing just a few minutes of the melody, I began to hum it under my breath and began to anxiously await the pause that invariably led into the refrain.

It just kept getting louder as I walked and so I knew I was getting progressively closer to the source. And then suddenly, it was there. I rounded another corner and was passed by a rough looking younger man, whistling away for all it was worth. He nodded as he passed, 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 things were good 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.