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Freedom in Isla del Sol

Dancing at dawn on Isla del Sol. Photo: Xav Neg

Dancing at dawn on Isla del Sol. Photo: Xav Neg

Deciding to abandon Peru and head briefly into Bolivian territory in the final part of his journey, Mark Strijbosch is totally mesmerised by an island in the middle of the highest lake in the world. Reaching it was just a boat ride and an insane climb away.

Coming from a little paradise of an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, the lure to island life is difficult to resist. We love endless horizons where imagination and dreams are born. Boats and long, sunny days are embedded in our DNA so when I gazed upon a map and saw an island called Isla del Sol, I would have had to be tied down not to go there.

Don’t look down! A very dangerous, and needless solo climb.Don’t look down! A very dangerous, and needless solo climb.

Convincing my friends was extremely easy, as by this time we were fed up of the tourist route and more of the same people sharing similar stories of Machu Picchu. We yearned for some alone time, off the grid, so we decided in an instant to abandon Peru and head briefly into Bolivian territory, on an island in the middle of the highest lake in the world – Lake Titicaca.

As an island man, boats excite me and travelling in them to me does not feel like travelling. I never tire of the waves and love the rocking feeling they provide, so a two-hour extension of a 12-hour bus ride was never going to put me off. On the contrary, when I catch a boat I feel I’ve left the stress of being landlocked behind and to me that is total relaxation.

The bus ride ended in Copacabana, a colourful spot of land connecting us to the island by ferry. Once there, we had one mission – to make it to the most deserted beach on foot.

We started the three-hour trek using the coast as our guideline. We climbed up and down the windy hills until we were at a dead end. We could see the pretty, little, abandoned beach framed by waterfalls, but knew we would not be able to access it. This whet our appetite and we were faced with two choices: trek around the cliff face inland, adding another two hours to our jaded legs, or climb up the steep cliff face.

Bolivian territory.Bolivian territory.

But we had no rope, no clips and no idea. Xavi, the best and most experienced climber, warned us off the idea, but before Simone could say “Yes”, I, the most inexperienced climber of the group, began the ascent. My theory was simple: If I can do it, anyone can.

The bus ride ended in Copacabana. Once there, we had one mission: to make it to the most deserted beach on foot

Reaching trickier levels high at the top, all went well for the two of us, but Xavi needed some encouragement. We teased, he threatened. The sequence carried on until he made his first steps upwards. The trick, they say, is not to look down. Xavi did, and his camera lens cap took a tumble three storeys down. That was gone and so were his fears. I felt like a proud parent when he finally high-fived us at the top.

Not only did we save time but we each conquered a little fear. Mine was the fear of watching others climb, Xavi’s was the fear of responsibility as the most experienced climber, while Simone rushed up, fearing she would finish in second place.

The beach was now within reach and worth every bit of sweat. Simone and I rushed into the cold water like children splashing in a fountain.

Suddenly, the feeling of total freedom engulfed us. We were alone on an island we had never heard of. Freedom is something all of us debate but no one really finds. There, at that moment, I felt free. Just one boat ride and an insane climb, and all is possible.

Spurred on by the energy the island gave us, we also helped a Bolivian farmer carry her goods up the hill from the beach. Women here carry around magnificent patterned cloths in purple and yellow hues. They use them as bags, carrying kilos of produce. She made it look easy but it wasn’t. Three men could not carry what she did repetitively but her crooked smile showed us that she appreciated our help.

The thin mountain air makes life for us difficult, as the lake is sitting at 3,810 metres above sea level. The days are long and the nights are cold but thick layers of alpaca wool kept those joints warm for the extra trekking that awaited us the following day.

Reaching this land and staying her for just four nights made me think that next time I head to these lands, I would skip all the tourist routes, start off here and probably remain for the duration of the holiday.

What started off with epic surf carried on to the dizzying heights of Santatay, to zip lining across mountains and free climbing a cliff face. Peru and Bolivia did just what I wanted them to do –provide me with fun-filled adventures. There was only one way to end it: more surf in Miraflores.

We touched a bit of everything in these areas – from historical cities like Arequipa, to the amazing food in Cusco, separated by long, enduring bus rides. We swam at over 3,000 metres and peaked a mountain at 4,650 metres.

I still gaze at my map and think, “How was this possible?” Three guys, three bacpacks, no guide... and complete freedom.

Copacabana – as colourful as the song is.Copacabana – as colourful as the song is.

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