Arequipa to La Paz

14 – 16 Jan 5

Packing always makes me happy, and I’m glad to be getting somewhere again. As much as I like Arequipa, it’s good to leave. My bus is easy to catch, and the ride to Puno is relatively short. I have a window seat, which is nice, but I don’t get any sleep. I’m glad to be awake, since it’s a lovely ride through some very gorgeous mountains, once we get out of the clouds.

When we arrive in Puno I grab a taxi, but it’s not quite a taxi. In this little town, the taxis aren’t cars – they are either three wheeled bikes or motorcycles. I get a bicycle, which is kind of fun. You’re sitting in the front, where there are two wheels, and when you pull in front of another vehicle (a very common occurrence), you feel a little more exposed than in back of a ton of steel. I gave a decent tip on a cheap ride because he did a whole lot more work than most taxi drivers do. I could feel him slowing down towards the end, and it wasn’t that far – maybe 2 or 3 kilometers. I’d picked a hotel out of my Rough Guide and had the driver drop me off there. The hotel however, was horrible. It was a 70’s era cinderblock (or the Peruvian equivalent) and I was hoping for better. Down the street was another hotel, and it appeared to be much nicer, and it was. However, it was $39 a night, which is crazy expensive for Peru, but I decided to stay. It was getting late, I was carrying my stuff, didn’t know where another hotel was and needed to book a bus for the next day. The hotel was very nice – good bed, nice shower with all the hot water I could use, and probably the largest towel I’ve ever used. I made a point to get $39 worth of hot water out of my stay. The only negative, other than the price, was finding small “Best Western” soaps in the shower. Yup – it was a Best Western owned hotel.

Having secured a room, I set out to look around the city. There wasn’t much. Aside from a small pedestrian walk close to my hotel, it was a dirty, grey town (but the cars were courteous – a first in Peru.) Next to my hotel was a booking agent for Tour Peru, and they offered busses to La Paz, with an hour stop in Copacabana, Bolivia. I asked the lady running the place if I could spend the night in Copacabana (the total ride to La Paz is 8 hours on a bus – ugh) and she said “Sure.” I paid my money (approximately $7.50/US) and went to get some food. Later, after a hot shower later, I slept very well.

The next morning I was up early – the bus left at 8 a.m., and I was to be picked up at my hotel before that. There was a buffet breakfast, which meant yogurt and some sort of puffed cereal, fruit and juice. The only bowl I saw on the table I used for my yogurt looked suspiciously like an ashtray. Once I had a bite of the yogurt, I started thinking – “Is this an Ashtray?” It might _not_ have been an ashtray, but once I got the thought in my head, I was lost. It ruined breakfast for me, but I did manage to not throw up. I hate cigarettes, and I can’t think of anything more disgusting.

So the lady shows up with my ticket, and I get on the bus. And it’s a glorious bus – the best that I’ve ever been on, plus no one is sitting beside me. It’s mostly full of tourist, at least upstairs (yup – two levels – very nice up top, and more cramped down below.) I manage to sleep for about an hour of the 4 hour ride. Eventually we get to the Bolivian border, and crossing is relatively easy. About this time, I notice a group of the stereotypical “Ugly Americans.” They were from Alaska, which usually makes you a little cooler (no pun intended, but it’s not a bad one), but not in this case. They were loud, and critical of other countries (“I loved India, but watching all those children work ruined it for me.” and “All the beggars make Lima a pretty unpleasant place.” ) I wanted to ask “Doesn’t it bother you that you live in the richest country in the world, but 25% of children don’t have healthcare?” or “the number of billionaires, and the amount of wealth they control has grown at an unprecedented rate, while the number of children without school lunches has shrunk?” But then I’d just get a vein pulsing in my forehead, and I don’t imagine that’s a good thing. The Australian guy they were talking to was understanding, and trying to steer them to another point of view without being rude (and did a good job of it), but they still kept up the Ugly American bit. Damn them!!

Entering Bolivia, probably the most noticeable difference is that the women folk wear different hats. The hats in Peru were more of an 50’s era fedora, where in Bolivia they tend to wear more of a round bowler hat, but further up on their heads (as if the hat was too small.) I’m still trying to get a picture on the sly.

While killing time at the border crossing, I notice that my ticket is marked “Puno – La Paz” with a date of 15 Jan. This has me a little confused, but also hopeful, since there isn’t much to do in Copacabana. I go to the Tour Peru office, show the guy my ticket and ask “Can I get on the bus to La Paz today?” Without looking at my ticket, he says “the bus to La Paz is full.” OK, so it looks like I’m spending the night in Copacabana. I grab a hotel near the busses (there isn’t a bus station), and it’s cheap – $7.50, but very basic (but with hot water.)

I start walking around this little town, and got some pictures of the waterfront. I don’t think any of the pictures are as vivid as they could be, but it was kind of a charming place, at least at first. I don’t do much, as I’m starting to feel a little under the weather. First I thought it might have been the bus ride, then I thought it might have something to do with the altitude – Puno, Lake Titicaca, and Copacabana are at 12696 above sea level. I grab lunch at a very basic beach front restaurant, and it is cheap, cheap, cheap. The total cost of the meal, with a soda, was 32 Bolivars, or $4/US. After lunch, I head back to the Tour Peru office (which was closed earlier) and ask about getting on the bus tomorrow. He looks at the ticket and says “The ticket is for today.” Yeah – I know that – but you told me I couldn’t get on the bus today because it was full. I wanted to go today, and now you’re telling me I’m going to have to spend more money to get to La Paz? I’m pretty annoyed, and kind of yelling. He speaks enough english (even though I don’t think he’ll admit it) to understand me. Eventually he says that I can get on the bus tomorrow, no problem. Of course, I don’t quite trust him, but what choice do I have?

While having very good, very cheap lunch, I noticed a few hippies around. OK – just one or two hippies. That won’t hurt anybody would it? After talking to the guy at the Tour Peru and walking another circuit of the city, I notice this village is rife with hippies. That my friends, is a big problem. You see, I hate hippies. I can’t say I hate hippies more than Hitler, but I sure do hate them. With their stupid hippie hats, and stupid hippie clothes, selling stupid macrame jewelry they probably created while stoned. Yeah – let’s stone the hippies I say, but not that kind of stoning. One stupid hippie was even wearing a skirt. Not a kilt, which I’ll admit can be pretty manly (but that might just be the Seattlite in me talking). Nope – a full wraparound number. And since he was a dirty, stinky, stupid hippie, it wasn’t anything nice like chiffon or silk, or (being Bolivia) Alpaca. What next hippie? A diaper made of burlap? You would think the Rough guide would mention hippies in their guide – just like they should mention the mafia in Italy, the Klan in Alabama (or Florida) or Muslim extremist in the Middle East. I would have hitchhiked out of town to get away from them if it wasn’t for that being so damned hippie like.

I am still feeling bad (and worse after all the damned Patchouli oil), so I go to my hotel and grab a long nap (for me, anyway.) Outside my window is someone selling CD’s. But, what he’s doing is playing short snippets of songs, over and over. He never played one song for more than 15 seconds. It wasn’t like a DJ, just random selections of music. It was god awful annoying, but I managed to sleep through it. When I wake up, it’s about 3 p.m. and I’ve got a lot of hippies to kill – wait I mean time to kill. Lot’s of time to kill. The bus doesn’t leave until 1 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday the 16th) so I decide to do what I love to do – take pictures. I get a lot of shots, but regretfully no great pictures – it might have something to do with my not feeling well. And all the stupid hippies.

There were a couple of interesting things to this little town. First, it’s close to Isa del Sol and Isa de La Luma (Island of the Sun and Island of the Moon.) These are supposed to be where the sun and moon were created, and also where the Inca dynasty was created. Those islands, however are hard to get to for a short day like I have. Closer to the city was a very large hill that overlooks the city, with a shrine on top. Closer to present times, and more interestingly, was the Copacabana Cathedral. It houses the Virgen de Copacabana, and the more famous town in Brazil is named after this. I thought that was very interesting.

While wandering around the city and climbing the hill, I came across a few other interesting things. At the foot (or maybe the lower part of) the hill, I noticed that people, along with traditionally dressed native priest were offering various sacrifices (mainly beer sprayed out of a shaken bottle, which surprised me, as in I had to run to keep from getting sprayed, and candles) to Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth. It was pretty interesting to hear the chants, and see what I could of the rituals without staring. The hike up the hill was pretty difficult, but I made it. It was about a half hour climb to the top. At the Cathedral, I chanced upon the priest blessing cars of those that brought them. All over the city were cars covered with flowers – it was an interesting sight. Does this mean Jesus died for our Sedans?

After the climb, I went back to my hotel and took a shower. I grabbed a bite to eat ($3 for stuffed trout, fresh from the lake, and a beer), then headed to an internet cafe for a while (the other thing I do really well.) The internet in this remote town was expensive, and slow, so I wasn’t online for very long. It was about this time that I noticed I was in a different time zone – I’d lost an hour. Damned hippies probably took it. Back to my hotel, work on my photos, and sleep came easily.

The next morning was my sisters (Hi Holly) birthday. I wanted to call her, but I was running somewhat short on cash on hand, and international phone calls were very, very expensive. There weren’t any ATMs in town, and the banks didn’t open until Monday. There was a place in town that had a traditional English breakfast and good coffee for, again $3/US.) I headed back to the internet cafe, check the score of the Steelers/Jets game and send a short e-mail to my sister, wishing her a happy birthday. The day is gray and overcast, so I end up walking around, trying to stay dry and eventually 1 p.m. comes.

I show up at the office, and am told to get on a bus by the Tour Peru guy. The bus is OK – not as nice as my last bus, but not bad either. Eventually thought, Mr. Tour Peru come by again and he’s being followed, and yelled at, by a Brazilian guy. Apparently our luxurious tour bus has become a small collectivo (mini bus) crammed with people, and our luggage is strapped to the roof. Bastards. I guess it’s a wash though – I got a great ride to Copacabana, but a crappy ride to La Paz. It was cramped, I’m sitting in back between two largish Argentinean guys, and the ride was horrible. I didn’t notice this, but the Brazilian guy said that the driver has a bad leg (which I did see), so he shifted without using the clutch – all the time. And since this wasn’t a tour, just some guy driving a bus, he wanted to fill his vehicle up, so he kept stopping for people until he did, and dropping them off where they wanted to be. I’d paid for a nice bus ride, and I’d gotten the worst possible ride, and I’d paid too much for it. The going rate was about $2.40/US – I paid $7.50 for the whole trip. “Come to Peru for a Screw.”

At one point we had to cross the Lake, which was pretty interesting. Everyone got off, paid for the crossing – 1.5 Bolivars, or about $.1875, got on a boat and crossed the lake. It was pretty interesting, I’ve got to say. The bus we were on crossed separately. Our group started talking while this was going on – there were two germans, the brazilian guy and his family, two Argentinean (who spoke no english), an American girl and me. Once we crossed the lake, the road was pretty straight, which was a blessing, and it didn’t take too much longer.

Coming into La Paz was a pretty interesting experience. On Friday (this was Sunday) the road into La Paz from the north, which is the road we were on, was blocked. I was a little worried about that. While driving in, there were large groups of people performing some choreographed dance in the street, wearing traditional clothes. I didn’t get a picture, but I hope this lets me remember it later. The view of La Paz as we came in was pretty spectacular. The city, at 11482 ft, sits more or less in a bowl, with Mount Illimani in the background. We arrived just after a rain storm (so I was told) and that allowed us to see the mountain. Normally the pollution is too thick to see it (because it sits in a bowl, just like L.A.) When we got out of the bus, the Germans and Emily, the American girl and I decided to share a taxi to a hotel. We initially went to a hotel that was a bit shabby, but cheap. Nobody really liked it, so we walked about five blocks, with full packs, to another hotel. This hotel wasn’t very nice either, but everybody was tired of walking. I was feeling like crap, so I just wanted to put my stuff down. Again, the room was $7.50, and that included one of those electrical shower heads that can get you hot water, just not much of it.

Emily turns out to be a really cool girl. She is traveling for a couple of weeks (6? – very European), taking time off from her job working with fish on the Colorado River (i.e. the Grand Canyon.) We end up with rooms next to each other (the Germans are sharing a room), and decided to grab a bite to eat. I was feeling miserable, and probably shouldn’t have gone (and didn’t want too), but one of my new years resolutions is to be more outgoing. Can’t do that siting alone in my room. I’m glad I did – it was a good time, and she was truly interesting.

Walking to the main drag from our hotel, the first thing I notice is that there are a ton of beggars. We find nice looking restaurant and grab a seat in the window. We have a couple of beers and order a nice big steak. The German guys walk buy, see us, and come in for dinner too. It was a nice time, and cheap – the total for the two of us was less than $20 each, with tip (it was an upscale restaurant, with a very efficient waiter.)

The German guys were pretty interesting. They mentioned earlier their camera was stolen, and I assumed it was at some point in the distant past. Turns out it was on the Cusco – Copacabana leg of the trip earlier in the day, while they were asleep. Someone opened their pack and took it out. Pretty gutsy move on some thief’s part. They were in great spirits for having been robbed earlier. Also, they were kind of weird towards each other. They kept a scrapbook together of their trip (very Martha Stewart), but I’m pretty sure they weren’t gay – they were checking out Emily when she got on the bus, and were chatting her up when crossing the river. I guess that’s Europeans for you. Very nice guys – they spent a lot of time laughing.

By the time dinner was over, I was full on sick – coughing up lots of ugly stuff and a very scratchy throat. I felt bad for Emily, because I’m pretty sure she could hear my coughing through the wall separating us. Of course, I felt worse for myself. I’m a big baby when I’m sick.

HERE are the pictures. Enjoy.

Greg