La Paz to Puno (Bolivia and Peru)
16.06.2011 - 18.06.2011 14 °C
Please do not let the stories that you have heard about Bolivia put you off from visiting La Paz, just VISIT, there is so much to see and it is such a vibrant city. I didn´t feel unsafe at all during my stay there, I obviously didn´t wonder down quiet streets at night by myself, and the Bolivians were really helpful. La Paz has many pretty plazas, the Plaza Pedro D Murillo bordered by the grand Cathedral and Palacio Legislativo, only slightly ruined by the hundreds of flying rats that it is home to. I understand that pigeons are hard to get rid off but I do not understand why people would encourage them, buy them food or in the case of one crazy lady cover herself in bird feed so she looks like the man in Home Alone. They also hinder your ability to get away from the persistent masked shoe shine boys that don´t really take "No, Gracias" for an answer and think that you are interested when you are actually trying to keep your boots clean by not squashing any birds. There are also some good diverse museums, the Museo de Coca providing a great insight into the use of the coca leaf, historically to the present day cocaine trade. I didn´t realise that at first many condemned the chewing of coca until research showed that it increased a slaves endurance to work, put it to some good use. At the end of the day, once I pulled myself away from the many more craft stalls that had even more variety in the Witches Market, I headed to Miradar Laokakota for a great view of the city. Although the actual viewing point is closed until September I am quite sure that by climbing up the railing the view is just as good.
It was then time to put my skills on a bike to the test, I do not use a bike very often, and ride down The World´s Most Dangerous Road. After a 45 minute drive we were kitted out at the top with out stylish high-vis jackets, gloves and goggles. We were then given our mountain bikes, mine was called "Bart" and told to give them a try. The high quality suspension and breaks actually put me off balance at first however once we started to move downhill I was very appreciative of them. The first section is on tarmac, and although in some ways less dangerous you have to contend with far more Bolivian drivers that could make it easier for you. It was then on the gravel, contained by a steep cliff edge, and down the WMDR. You felt a lot more likely to fall off your bike on this longer section and knew that if you did you would be in a lot more danger. It took me a while to build up my confidence but once I had I really didn´t want to stop and would have liked a few more challenging corners. It was a little off putting being shown where people have died and I was impressed that with one van that fell 3/4 people survived, 2 of these children. It was also a little creepy that the 1st and 3rd cyclist to die on the route were both Iranian girls that died on the same day. At the end, once my arms were sufficiently achy to need a rest, shower and food we stopped at the Sante Verde wildlife sanctuary. They like to keep cage use to a minimum so you would wonder around and a spider money would jump on you, or a squirrel monkey would be playing by the pool. Feeling refreshed it was then the scariest part of the day, the bus ride back up the WMDR. There were a few points where I was quite worried and felt very out of control, the driver pulled up so close to the edge to show us where Jeremy Clarkson had tried to overtake in Top Gear that I couldn´t see any solid ground beneath the wheels. I guess it´s good to raise your heart rate every once in a while and I finished my day off in style. Visiting "Bits and Cream" I had one of those meals that makes you smile, loads of ice cream mixed with cookies, chocolate, sauces etc. They had to make it by torch light as there was a power cut as soon as I arrived but it went down so well.
I had wanted a relaxing journey to Cuzco the next day, a direct bus ticket had been booked, however due to issues at the border I could only go as far as Copacabana (Bolivia) and try and find my own way across. With time limited I needed to move north so arrived in Copacabana hopeful that there would be a bus waiting. No bus but there was a boat, they were blocking roads but not water, so it seemed that I could easily make my way to Cuzco. That was until we got to the border and were greeted by many defeated looking individuals who could not get their passport stamped. It seemed that we could not get a stamp out of Bolivia as we could not get one into Peru. It soon became clear why, at the border were many protesters throwing rocks (not stones), waving sticks and holding catapults. When it seemed that hope was lost however the police finally seemed to take control and move the protesters on. We now had stamps but the mob had moved in the direction of the boats so our guide had to lead us through peoples gardens and fields to find us a new spot where we could get on board. I felt like some kind of hideaway but we obviously didn´t do a very good job. The protesters were soon with us but this time the tour guides had slipped the police some cash to keep them further away. They were still not completely in control as they had to send the boat away again to calm the mob down but soon the boat met us on the shore line and we climbed aboard. It all seemed very straight forward from there, that was until darkness set over Lake Titicaca and our boat broke down in the middle of it. Actually broken down is the wrong word to use as it makes it sound inevitable, like the tour company couldn´t have predicted it. In actual fact the boat ran out of petrol so in order for us to get to shore we tried to attract another boat using torch light. This was obviously not amazingly effective and therefore the 3 hour boat trip took 5. Yet we did make it to land, easily purchase a night bus to Cuzco and I have arrived in time to experience a bit of Peru before my trek, but it was a truely stressful Bolivian /Peruvian experience!