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I love Bolivia

So last you heard I was in Puno, Peru cycling along with Sarah & Richard the couple from England.

Puno however, for me, wasn't the best of places. The English couple decided that they really wanted to go it alone, which was the right decision for them and for me - sometimes everyone can be a nice person but the goals and speeds are just different. I visited the floating islands of Uros which were very close to just being a big floating tourist trap. I really only went becasue it was part of the day package to Isle Taquile. I had read about Isle Taquile in a tale of traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia and the idea of the island intrigued me, but when I finally go there myself, maybe 30 years after this man went on his journey, it too was quite touristy. There was a "festival" going on when we got there but there didn't seem to be any locals watching it which made me a little wary as to whome the festival was for - us or them. The only really saving grace to the whole trip out on Lake Titicaca (which has been a background dream of mine for years evern since I saw Michael Palin suffering from sorroche while out on the lake) was that the tour company, Allways Tours, gave a little cultural lecture at each location. That infomation helped us to attempt to understand how these cultures had been and how they were changing in the world today. Fortunately, though I had read to take my own food, because they did the tourist trap thing and tried to get you to order a higher priced lunch on the island which, from the looks of it (and the comments), wasn't nearly up to snuff.

So that was Puno. Oh wait, Puno was also where I grossly embarassed myself by accusing the hotel staff of stealing 60 soles and my document pouch. What a mistake that was. Early in the morning before the trip on the lake I had hidden it away and apparently forgot that I did so when I returned. I wrote an apology in Spanish and eveything, but that doesn't make the accusation go away and the embarassment lessen. Next time I will either check my stuff into the caja fuerte (which is often just a drawer at the front desk) or just be more careful.

The ride along Lake Titicaca was pretty amazing and the best thing was seeing the Bolivian mountains in the distance while leaving the town of Juli. The churches in this town were supposed to be great so I lugged my bike up the hill off of the Panamerican and checked them out, but lo and behold, two were closed, one was only ok, and I just didn't have the energy to deal with the fourth. But seeing the mountains in the distance with the lake in the forefront was just amazing. My pictures don't do it justice. The next town, Pomata, did however have a very impressive church. It is made out of the local red sandstone and is completely carved inside and outside. The outside has lots of little gargoyles (can I just say there are two very loud competing radios being played here right now) and the inside has a lot of ornate rosettas and the like. Everything is carved. Pretty impressive.

The Bolivian border was a breeze and the guard even gave me a nod when I asked to photograpy the monument at the border. All the guide books say that you are not supposed to take any picutres, but I asked so it was ok. The Peruvian side was a breeze, just an exit stamp which they all have to put on the same page over other stamps that are there. However, at the Bolivian side there were some issues, although not serious ones. The nice boder cops really liked my bike and asked the dreaded question "How much did it cost?" I really hate that question because all that is going through people's head is "How much could I get for this if I had it" At least that is what I think they are thinking, but who really knows and I'm not going to ask them why. They also only gave me a 30 day visa, but based on my revised travel plans (busing and training not cycling) 30 days was sufficient. There was an American guy there making trouble at the border right before I got there with my papers and he was making things worse for himself by telling the Man Behind the Desk that "You are not a nice person" and "I need consulate help" and "Does anyone here speak English" I tried to feel sorry for him, but I just couldn't with the attitude he was taking on.

Anyway, I got to Copacabana and was fortunate enough to get a room at La Cupula, a hotel I had been hearing about for ages. I didn't get one of the primo rooms as those of us traveling sola rarely get, but I got a nice room and it had HEATING!!! and the bathroom, while shared, had a hot shower. The best part about the place was the restaurant. It was a pleasure to head over there for dinner of fresh fish (I had fish both nights) and a beer. Although the evenings always started out sola, I was always joined by groups of people. The first night by a group of Australians and the second by an English sola woman traveler. I also met an very nice Argentinean guy named Luigi who had taken some amazing photographs in Bolivia, specifically, Isla del Sol and Maragua. It was a pleasant evening of good food and interesting company. I like that about traveling - there are so many types of people traveling and you inevitably find people with whom you have things in common with - and they are never who you expect.

Isla del Sol, which is traditionally visited from Copacabana, is another 3 hour boat ride on Lago Titicaca. I have to say that I enjoyed this visit far more than the visit to Isle Taquile mostly becuase you had the opportunity to walk the length of entire island. This activity takes about 3 hours and you have lots of time by yourself to just kick back, exercise, and breath some fresh air for once. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I wish that I had made the decision to stay overnight (which is always an option on these tours - you can always spent the night somewhere or customize your trip to do stuff that isn't advertised). I returned to Copacabana pleasantly tired, looking forward to a fish dinner at La Cupula and reviatalized ready to hit the town, La Paz.

La Paz - what a crazy, crazy city. The bus ride from Copacabana was my first in awhile and things went smoothly in a Bolivian fashion. I was to take the 2pm bus and then changed it to the 10am bus as I had nothing else to do in Copacabana except read and drink beer (which wasn't a good idea at 9 in the morning) so I checked out of my hotel and headed down to the bus street. While I was waiting for the following bus with my HUGE bag stuffed with panniers and the bike, the driver of the bus who, of course, was on top of the bus, called for my bike. Surprised, I looked up and figured why not. There was room on the 9am bus (which was leaving at more like 10am) so I went for it and after the bike was tied (securly!) to the very top of the bus and my luggage was stashed next to the driver I headed to the back of the bus to a pleaseant seat with a slit cushion, but fortunately no one else next to me for a short while. We headed out of Copacabana towards La Paz on a very nice three hour journey. I have to say that I am glad that I did not ride the journey. The first day would have been pretty but very difficult due to a big hill of 4000m complete with water crossing where one ferry took the buses (that was weird) and another for 1B took the passangers. The next day on bike would have been not very fun due to the increased population and the existance of El Alto. It was a lot more comforting to go through that area in a bus rather than on bike, alone. I don't think it would have been a problem, but better safe than sorry.

Arriving to La Paz is an amazing sight. If the weather is right you see this incredible mountain range, the Royal Range, in the distance and then look down from El Alto into this massive basin of humanity. There are buildings on sheer cliffs, buildings everywhere The drivers are crazy and the streets are like San Francisco only steeper. There are no discernable traffic laws and cars and trucks are always coming within inches of each other. If you can drive there, you can drive everywhere. I got into my hotel (which I actually made a reservation for) and took an investigatory walk around my immediate neighborhood. It turns out that I was right near the famed "witch's market" (Ouruo has a much better, much less touristic one, I think) and while I didn't go through it at that point, I did discover the place to buy morning bread.

Cities in South America provide travelers access to the comforts of home as there are always some sort of bar or restaurant that caters to foreigners and are usually run by ex-pat foreigners themselves. Cities are a time to regroup and a time to learn about what is going on in the world outside of traveling. I spent my evenings at Oliver's Travels "the 5th most popular bar in La Paz" eating fish and chips which were a welcome break from rice, rice, rice, potatos, potatos, and tiny pieces of unidentifiable meats. La Paz also has microbrewed beer which Peru cannot, for all it's tourism, boast. Let's hear it for Bolivia!!

The good dirt on Bolivia will come next: A bike ride down "The World's Most Dangerous Road", Nayjama restaurant in Ourou, the Salar de Uyuni, and wonderful, warm Sucre.

Comments

keep it rocking nif. can't wait to see some of your pictures. hope the travels continue to be safe and adventure filled.

best

Niffer, you are indefatigable (how's that for a 10-cent word?). Thanks for the fabulous updates from the road, and for letting me live vicariously....

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