I stutter-stepped, 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 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 goalkeeper’s mother had already been outside, scolding the kids about being careful to not break anything. And so, I was prepared for her wrath, although not clear about whether or not I’d be lumped in with the other soccer players since I was probably older than her.
But, she never came out. I girded and tensed my whole body in anticipation of whatever was going to come my way. But after a few minutes passed and nothing like that happened, I felt a sort of guilty relief as I realized that she wasn’t going to tear into me. After my initial surprise, I stood there, motionless and unable to come up with any rational reason 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 we were in. After all, we were at a hostal in Yumani, Bolivia, and on the crest of the Isla del Sol, which is 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 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, I realized that neither scenario was all that likely. On previous trips, I’d hiked all around the southern part of the Isla. I remembered that there wasn’t much of anything of a commercial nature anywhere on the island. And, I hadn’t noticed anything like that anywhere outside of the hostal. So, I began pondering the realities of fixing the window. It would be a simple process in much of the world. But in this case, they would probably have to bring the glass from Copacabana, which meant via a 90-minute boat ride from the mainland.
The boats arrive at a lakeshore dock located several hundred feet below Yumani. A well-known rock staircase, known as the Inca Steps, heads from there up to the small town. After ascending some 200 of the intricately carved and placed rocks, it reaches the lower parts of the village. Finally, dirt streets are followed through town to the island’s crest, which is where the hostal in question is located.
The island is several miles long and wide, and according to Inca and Aymara lore, it 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 rises 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, the island and hostal are 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 a delightful, peaceful environment. When that’s combined with amazing sunsets and views of the Peruvian Andes and the high peaks of the Cordillera Real, an intriguing inter-connectedness seems to exist.
A few days after the breaking of the window occurred, it 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 an empty spot in my gut. I’d been hoping to leave with the situation having been permanently resolved. But that didn’t seem to be the case, 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 quickly descended toward the lake. Soon after the turn, I began hearing a tune being whistled. It was coming from somewhere off in the distance and down below. It was almost startling how 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 and uncomplicated on the Isla del Sol.