on October 27, 2010
Once in Copacabana, I wanted a coffee, there was no point in rushing towards the lake. Nothing had really changed since my last visit, thus I headed directly to the 6 de Agosto Avenue, the main commercial street in town. It connects between the central plaza and the lake, and is perpendicular to the last. This is typical of Bolivia. Regardless the beauty of the surroundings, nobody cares about placing restaurants and shops so that they would enjoy the views. It is not related to the price of the land; here, most of the lakeshore is empty and available. They are just oblivious to aesthetic considerations. Emphasizing this point was a huge cement anchor blocking most of the lake views.Many restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and travel agencies filled the short street. South American backpackers were selling knickknacks on the narrow sidewalks. The restaurants placed their menus outside; I could study them before choosing an appropriate establishment. All of them offered the same eclectic, international, unattractive menu. There was no chance of finding local delicacies here. Café Bistrot was an exception. Located on a corner house at the upper side of the street it caught my attention due to its offering a vegetarian menu and for its slightly different look. It was located within a typical Bolivian bricks structure: bare bricks, thin windows framed with heavy looking iron bars. High Altitude Minimalism would be a good name for it.Once inside, the Bolivian touches were obvious. It was so colorful that it was suitable for a kindergarten. Low tables and tiny chairs emphasized the point. The walls were covered with art works – including the hide mask of a cowboy (named "Lino El Cuatrero") prepared by Henry Zanier. There was no chance I would recognize that, the fact was kindly pointed out by Fatima, the owner of the place.Avoiding the tables, I sat by the bar next to the kitchen area, so that I would be able to chat with Fatima. This proved being a correct step. She was an encyclopedia of local knowledge and eager to help. I asked for an espresso and accompanied it with a brownie and ice-cream. The prices here were significantly higher than in La Paz, but the brownie was obviously homemade and fresh. The coffee was Bolivian; a type I have reviewed extensively in the past.Soon I learned the coffee shop is here for the last ten years, the last eight in its actual location. Beyond food, it offers also a book exchange service and helps in the organization of tours in the lake area. The first Wi-Fi service in Copacabana was being installed at the time of my visit. On a more general tone, Fatima told me that Copacabana is losing its attractiveness: most travelers stop just for a few hours in their way between Puno and La Paz. The increased frequency of buses tempts them to arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon. The awesome amount of hotels and guesthouses is misleading: unless in the pilgrimage season (Easter), most of them are empty."The problem is that you do not emphasize the local culture; I didn’t come here to eat an Italian pizza," I said and was then interrupted by a Bolivian that entered to … deposit money. Only then I found a tiny bank services desk inside. Fatima apologized and went to the desk.Minutes later, I got an explanation. There are no ATMs in town. Moreover, the only bank – Prodem – is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Café Bistrot can give money during all days, making credit card transactions through Visa and MasterCard. This is important. In the last months, I was robbed twice through local ATMs. The machine acknowledged the transaction but issued no money. Luckily I was in La Paz and able to approach directly the national financial authority responsible for international transactions. I was told there it happens roughly twenty times a day (!). Eventually I was refunded, but on the second case there were problems and delays. The way to avoid that is approaching the desk at any bank and asking to withdraw money as a credit card transaction. It takes longer and you pay a small fee, but it solves a serious problem. I don’t want to even imagine what would have happened if the events would have taken place in other Bolivian cities. Café Bistrot can provide this useful service in Copacabana.Even then, not everything is smooth. Few establishments in Copacabana accept credit cards and then, the commission should be checked carefully. A nearby coffee shop accepts credit cards, but adds an 18% commission (!). Café Bistrot uses a 3% one.The coffee was drunk and the brownie was eaten. Then I got a detailed review of the items in exhibition, which beyond local art and items from Tiwanaku, included items like fossils from the lake, salt blocks from Uyuni, music instruments; a micro-cosmos of Bolivia disguised as a coffee shop.
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