Bolivia to Peru

We spent a nice few days on Isla Del Sol, the apparent birthplace of several Inca leaders (as well as the sun!). We walked the island in one very long day, taking in 20 kms and six hours. Needless to say, we were pretty knackered by the end. However, it is good practice for Machu Pichu, yet to come.

View the photos from Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

From there we headed by bus to Puno, which is via the isthmus that connects Copacabana in Bolivia to Peru. Interestingly, there is no Bolivian land route to Copacabana! After one night in Puno, in the loudest hostel ever (Hostal Europa), and one meal that included “cuy”. Cuy is basically guinea pig and was devoured by a girl called Karen who we met on Isla Del Sol. Quite disturbing I think to have something you are eating still kind of looking back at you. Anyway, I digress!

From Puno Tim and I had decided to get the train to Cusco. It takes about four hours longer than the bus and costs double, but both being a fan of trains (the civilized way to travel no less) we departed early in the morning. The train journey is fantastic for the scenery the train route takes you though. The valley gets narrower and narrower finally culminating in cliff-like drops to the gorge with the river, brown and heavy from the rain the night before. Unfortunately, the train is only for tourists, mainly due to the price, the “backpacker” class costing 14 US dollars. The first class which includes a plush bar and Orient Express style restaurant car costs 90 US, but was on promotion for 50 US. We were tempted and probably should have as the food (which I think is included in 1st) cost us a total of 50 US dollars between us. However, it was worth the money as a one off, and I highly recommend it.

View the photos of Puno and Cusco, Peru.

Arriving in Cusco that evening, we used our sixth senses to avoid getting into an unofficial taxi that when we went to get in it, was joined by two of the driver’s “friends”. It looked like a mugging set up so we back tracked quickly and made sure we only got into a licensed taxi. Although this may seem obvious, it is pretty hard to tell which taxis are which, plus whenever you step off public transport in Latin America you get bugged and hassled constantly until you give in to someone or get reduced to shouting back abuse, which nobody really wants to do.

We checked into a hostel called “The Royal Frankenstein”, which was a little odd, but served us well for one night. An good example of the inventiveness of the locals was that a guy standing outside the hotel when the taxi pulled up (it was obvious where the hotel was) invited us in and we then spoke to a young lady who showed us which rooms were available. She then told us that she didn’t know who he was, but he had asked for 5 soles (about 1 pound) as commission for bringing us to her hotel! Anyway, I drew the short straw and got the crapper of the two beds. As a result I got up early the next day and wondered around looking for other options. We are now staying half way up the hill in Cusco, with a great view, and breakfast for the same price. Only downers are that we have to get a taxi back for security reasons plus the shower is either hot or cold, and not based on any selection of your own!

We have booked our xmas lunch in the town for xmas evening which is costing us 30 bucks but includes a bottle of wine each plus turkey which has got to be pretty hard to get hold of in Peru. Kind of similar to xmas trees which are replaced here by the creation of nativity scenes. The xmas market was today and took over the entire main square. Little nativity huts, moss and and other things to decorate the nativity scene are sold in abundance. It had been the first day when we haven’t been constantly hassled by street sellers who (mostly are children) sell postcards, sweets, cigarettes, paintings and others that sell Inca Trail tours and try to get you into their restaurants. I think that they are all so busy with their own xmas planning that we tourists get a welcome break.

Well, I guess Happy Christmas is in order to all my friends and family. I will be thinking of you. Although it rained yesterday afternoon, it is again hot enough to burn today. I hear it is pretty grim back in the UK and a white Christmas is on the cards so I won’t rub it in anymore!

Lots of love to you all!

At the Copa, Copacabana…

Tim and I have become expert Coca leaf chewers now. We are quite getting into it, even though you end up with a big fat lump sticking out of the side of your face! Seriously though, Bolivia has been an amazing expereicne so far. We don’t have much longer now as we are now in Copacabana, on the edge of Lake Titicaca. We will go to Isla Del Sol in the middle of the lake tomorrow and then head to Puno in Peru the day after.

I today had a nightmare uploading my camera photos. The computer I used had a virus that corrupted most of the photos I had taken. Although most of the photos from Sucre and Potosi were ok, nearly all of the four days we spent in the Salar De Uyuni trip were deleted or corrupted. I was so disappointed, nearly going back the three hours to La Paz, where I had downloaded the photos to the hotel computer last night, but though better of it. The real pity was that the photos I had taken were amazing. Not that I am a great photographer, but that the landscape was such an amzing experience and that it is highly unlikely that I would ever get to do it again. On the bright side, Kerstin, Tim and Linda have photos that I might be able to copy. Also Wouter who is Linda’s travel partner (both who are Dutch) who we made the trip with is a documentary film maker and has been filming the whole trip. So not only might I have a copy of the film afterwards but also be able to take some stills from his video camera! I guess there is always a silver lining to every cloud!

I was very sad putting Kerstin on the plane to Buenoes Aires yesterday. We had a bit of a scare because when she went to check-in, the desk clerk for AeroSur told her that because she hadn’t confirmed her flight they had given her seats to someone else. In fact they seemed to have over-booked the flight by almost double. The flight was supposed to take off at 7am and by that time still most people hadn’t checked in. Anyway, we were lucky and persevered by standing next to the lady at the first class desk, pestering her, till at last she must have bumped someone else off. I did the “this wouldn’t happen on British Airways”, and “what kind of company is this”, very loudly in English to make a scene. I’m not sure if it helped or maybe the lady just saw how concerned Kerstin was about getting her connecting flight, but evetually she was able to get on the flight and get safely to Buenos Aires.

I have been missing her ever since she left and look forward to seeing her when i get back in April. I am so glad that I have Tim here for company otherwise I would have felt totally lost without her. I guess we’ll have to watch this space and see how the Anglo-German relations work out!

Last night Tim and I watched some of the Boliva vs Boca Juniors game. It was the second leg of the match that we watched in Sucre where Boliva won and the town went bonkers. Bolivia have a disappointing history, having never won a war, and never won a major football match. Notably, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina have all poached the best land from Bolivia, and Chile continues to deny Bolivia a sea border, a fact surprising to note when Bolivia do have a navy. We in fact saw their “navy” today which consists of several rusting small fast torpedo boats on the lake here. Anyway the result of the football match was that Boca won much to the disappointment of the Bolivians. They had unfortunately not taken enough of their home advantage in the first match where they play at the highest altitude of any major football team in the world! We were quite sad for them, because it is nice to see the Bolivians drunk. They tend to go on until they fall over, a sight we saw in a small village during our Salar De Uyuni trip.

Have managed to meet a Scottish guy called Andy who I met in Antigua, Guatemala. He was doing the Salar De Uyuni trip at the same time as us, and had some interesting information for us about the Inca Trail trek which Tim and I are going to do shortly. We had thought that the cheapest price we were likely to pay was 250 US dollars, and have to book a month in advance, since we had been told that they only allow 400 people on the trail up to Machu Pichu at one time. However we now know that we can get the trek for as little as 140 US dollars and book with only three days notice. I have suggested to Tim that it might be nice to have his birthday on the 2nd of January at the top of Machu Pichu. We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, sorry that you won’t get to see the beautiful salt flats, hot geysers and steam baths, bright green lakes, pink flamingoes and spitting llamas! I hopefully may get some copies though. Watch this space. In fact I suggest you try the trip out for yourself. Aside from the odd flat tyre (we had two), one of which turned nasty after the 4×4 fell off the jack and nearly squashed our driver who was underneath, plus the very bad hostels (the Salt Hotel being the exception), with no hot water and toilets that you flush by pouring water down the toilet manually, the landscape makes up for everything. It is probably the most vast and big landscape you will ever see. Dusty sandy deserts, vast bright white salt flats, volcanoes towering over ancient lakes that glimer with reds and greens, agitated by mineral rich country they are formed over the entire landscape dazzle your senses. We can all highly recommend our driver Louis, who through constantly chewing coca leaves managed to stay awake and wake us up at 5am every morning. Although the cars were a little old and ragged, the Olivio Tours in Uyuni were pretty good. Ask for Louis and you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you ask him about our collective singing. We soon got bored of the single tape he had for the tape player and decided to sing all of the songs we could remember, mostly badly! Take him a bag of coca leaves and he’ll appreciate the gesture!

View the photos of the Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia.

La Paz was enjoyed too by all of us, especially since we managed to get the Hotel Gloria to drop their prices from 30 dollars to 15. It was so nice to have a toilet that worked, a comfy bed and best of all a shower that was powerful and hot. Most of the showers in hostels and hotels in Latin America are the type that has a dodgy wired heater at the point where the water comes out, generally in the form of a tepid dribble! Although most of the time in La Paz was spent catching up on sleep and relaxing, we did manage to get some great food, visit the Coca Museum and wondering around the witches market. It was interesting to note that there are only several countries in the world that are legally allowed to produce cocaine (I assume for medical use), and second in that list in terms of volume is the UK. The USA is first with 350kg and the UK followed close behind. Interestingly, considering how skilled Bolivia is in making it and how they could desperately do with the cash, it is surprising that they are not allowed to. As they do point out though, chewing coca leaves has been practiced for millenia here, and once banned by Spanish, then re-allowed once they discovered how much hard the indigenous people worked in the mines, and it was only the white man’s involvement that makes coca into the drug that is the “scurge of the west”. They point out that is their addiction, their requirement that causes the problem, and not the other way around. I think they are right. The fight is in the wrong place. With the USA consuming 50% of cocaine produced in the world every year (and growing), maybe it is time to look at why people in the west have to overwhelming desire to change their state of mind, and escape reality.

Well I’ll leave the entry on that note and head off for a beer. Thankfully Bolivia produces same very good beer, as has most of the countries we have visited so far. Notably the best logo has to be the Imperial beer from Costa Rica, of which I felt obliged to buy the rather cool t-shirt!

I hope everyone is well and still enjoying my diary entries and photos. Nest entry shall probably be from Peru. I guess most people are currently out buying christmas presents and preparing for the week of festivities. Not much of that over here though. It’s hard to even notice that xmas is on the way. It is actually quite a nice change, the lack of commercialism being great, but I will be missing my family and friends. Love to all of you. I shall be drinking Peruvian beer in Cusco and maybe might get to have some turkey!