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Hooked on Titicaca’s trout or Trout and Titicaca’s cars

Sol de Los Andes
Huatajata, Lake Titicaca, Copacabana
Cuisine: South American
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In La Paz, fresh fish is a luxury—the coast is a country away and, while there is a river, the Choqueyapu is now so filthy that even the microbes that live on faeces cannot survive in it.
 
Words: Jonathan Stibbs
Images: Susi Stibbs and Mikael Drackner
 
And yet, it is true that Amazonian river fish can be brought up from the lowlands and seafood is flown in from Peru or Chile (restaurant owners tip the wink to favoured customers when a flight is due).
 
There are even ceviche stalls serving the Peruvian marinated delicacy, which ought to be elbowing some of the world’s ubiquitous sushi bars aside. Sold from an electricity-free stand hours from the sea, however, it’s more Russian roulette than lunch.
 
A safer solution is to make a trip to the vast turquoise expanse of Lago Titicaca. Any suspicion Titicaca was named by a committee of helplessly sniggering schoolboys is confirmed on discovering its water then feeds into Lake Poopó.
 
Lago Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, is a welcome break from La Paz, as well as the unwitting home to trout. The trout were imported and are now farmed. While there are wild fish in the lake, they tend to be unappetizing and illusive.
 
Fishing can be a fruitless exercise anywhere; a frustrated guide here once lost patience with my endless incompetence. Unable to bear my failure any longer, we puttered over the nearest fish farm where he suggested dropping a line into the seething water. Whether he would have followed this up by proffering a barrel of fish and a shotgun, I don’t know.
 
“The lake” is only a three hour drive from the capital through the aptly if unimaginatively named Altiplano (high plain). We (my wife and two Swedish friends) were spending the night at Copacabana, a tourist town on a pretty peninsular.
 
Tiny boats provide the only access to the peninsula from La Paz; ours was manned by two boys, as well as a man. The other side of the strait, seemed to have been taken over almost entirely by children.
 
The road snakes along the peninsula’s backbone looking down to the lake on both sides and passing burning scrubland. Children were begging from the passing traffic, shepherding their animals, walking unaccompanied along the road—some carrying firewood—or sheltering from the sun.
 
Copacabana is famous, mention it in relation to food and Bolivians will automatically think of Pollos Copacabana—a sub-KFC chain that pollutes the air around its outlets. Strangely, while their malodorous presence is felt widely elsewhere, they have no franchise here. Instead, the “beach” is lined with stands selling trout and kingfish.
 
A queue of freshly washed cars were lined up outside the town’s Moorish Catholic cathedral. Once Sunday’s Mass was over, three young priests began blessing their automotive flock, while a lady shaman trailed behind attempting to flog her more earthly services.
 
Some of the cars were festooned with garlands of flowers and laden with petals. Bonnets were open to reveal crucifixes, icons, and good luck charms such as frogs.
 
Once the priest—my favourite sporting baseball cap, jeans, socks and sandals under his vestments—had flicked holy water with a plastic flower onto the car (in and out, as well as under the bonnet), the proud new padrino (godfather) and the owners; the party could begin. Firecrackers exploded onto the road and beer was sprayed all over the newly blessed vehicles.
 
Besides the trout at the stalls, food options in Copacabana include the legs of the world’s largest aquatic frog (they’re also liquidized as a “natural” Viagra). Tempting, clearly, but we were off to the restaurants at the lakeside village of Huatahajata.Words, Jonathan Stibbs. Images: Susi Stibbs and Mikael Drackner
 
Competition for customers is stiff in Huatajata. Passing cars run the gauntlet of men, women and children (even a gringo!), almost throwing themselves into the road to attract the attention of passers by. From the street, the restaurants in the strip are indistinguishable; closer up, it’s still difficult to tell them apart—they are all on stilts over the sparkling water and offer a seemingly identical menu of trout-based treats.
 
Purely by luck, we found ourselves in Sol de Los Andes (Sun of the Andes). Commendably, it’s run by the Voces Libres foundation for orphans and children working in Bolivia’s colonial-era mines or living on the streets of La Paz.
 
Inside, under the ceiling swathed in blue material, the tables were packed with Bolivian families. Outside, the lake spread across to Peru, while in-between ducks, boats and the occasional catamaran bobbed about.
 
We were greeted with a plate of what appeared to be grey stones. Further investigation revealed them to be a relation of the broad bean, to be peeled and vitalized with a dash of spicy llajua sauce.
 
I picked the trout a la Diabla. Like all the other dishes, the fried fish came with chips, rice and vegetables. Mine was covered in a “picante” onion-tomato sauce, so mild it left me in no fear of a chili cook-off at Beelzebub’s.
 
The fish was fabulously fresh, succulent and perfectly filleted, the chips perfect and the vegetables cold (but we weren’t there for the broccoli anyway). The trip back to La Paz through the Mars-like Altiplano was spectacular, as always. Even from our height of nearly 4,000 metres, the snowy Cordillera Real Mountains towered ahead.
 
To our right, sand storms spun, lightning flashed and dark clouds emptied rain. In places, the sun pierced through the darkness, while behind us wispy clouds floated in the dazzling blue.
2 Comments | Add a comment

COMMENTS

susan patricia
UK
1
beats Tunbridge Wells hands down
Maxime Chiquet
La Paz
2
The NGO: Voces Libres' web site : www.voixlibres.org

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