Friday, December 19, 2008

Adios Peru - Hola Bolivia

Today was another early, early day (and I thought we were on vacation???). Stephe's phone alarm went off at 350am, and although I could blissfully turn around and ignore the world for another ten minutes, the snooze function unfortunately did kick in and the second time around there was no escaping it.

Off to the shower I went (the taller shower Stephe should use next time, unless he choses to squat again), leaving feeling wonderfully refreshed and awake.

We finished packing up and were ready to go, only to realize that it was already 425am and it was awefuly quiet and dark in the rest of the house. We were supposed to leave at 430am.

I knocked on Gustavo's and Magda's doors, and low & behold, both had slept in! No worries, no worries, we will make it on time, there is no traffic in the morning, plus the airlines are never on time... hmm, as much as I know Latin America's notorious liberal interpretation of "on time", I highly doubted the airline operated under those standards.

No sense in getting upset, as Magdita and Gustavo were dressed in no time (what did take time was the freshly squeezed orange juice and the freshly brewed coffee I could not talk Magda out of preparing: no reputable Latino Lady will skimp on offering the best food and/or beverages to guests, and the morning just cannot be started without a good cup of coffee).

In the end the early refreshment was lovely and served with a smile, and albeit being pretty much the last ones checking in, we did get on the plane and left Lima on time.

After a short stop in Cuzco we arrived at the "Aeropuerto Internacional Inca Manco Cápac" in Juliaca, where we were greeted by a local music band playing beautiful Andean music at the baggage claim.

Stephe started to bounce right away to the rythm, proving that he is just a natural and will be dancing the caporales in no time. (You know I expect nothing less, babe!)

Once we shouldered all our packs (backpacks, daypack & camera pack) we stepped outside into a light rain and boarded a bus that took us to Puno (I feel compelled to mention that Stephe's backpack weighs around 17kg, while I am schlepping probably around 25kg ! This is due to my current Santa Claus role in the family, as I am carrying various presents for my grandma, my uncle, my aunt and my cousins in Cochabamba).

Puno is a city in Southeastern Peru, located at the shore of Lake Titicaca. Although we did not get to spend much time in Puno, it is worthwhile mentioning that Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru, as it is rich in culture and art, especially around the time of the celebration of the "Virgen de la Candelaria" (the town's patron saint) the city is full of colourfully dressed dancers and revellers.

We, unfortunately did not get to see any any of that, as the "Fiesta" starts January 24th and ends on February the 18th.

What we did get to do was to eat a ho-hum lunch (to be honest, I was a little disappointed; the Titicaca is of course famous for its flavourful, fresh trout, but the trout we had for lunch was only so so). At least Stephe got to try for the first time the dangerously bright yellow Inka Cola - the Peruvian "glow in the dark" answer to Coca Cola. . . just kidding. About the glow in the dark part only, because other than that, Inka Cola does give Coke a good run for the money in Peru.

After feeding our hungry bellies, we ventured off to the train station, supposedly to book our US$20 "backpacker" train tickets from Puno to Cuzco (when returning in January) as per our Footprint guidebook. The train station looked lovely, although a little deserted, but soon we found a staff member who, unfortunately, wasn't very helpful, as he informed us that Peru Rail no longer offers the backpacker deal. Now there is only "first class" at US$143 per person.

Bummer. We'll see how poor we are after Bolivia, as the beautiful train ride with great service might still be worth the money. After all, you only live once and who knows when we'll be back.

After food and info, we stocked up with water and crackers and then took one of the funnest rides everyone should experience at least once in their life time: the tricitaxi.

Basically it is a tricycle that looks somewhat like (and sort of works like) a reversed riksha: two tires at the front end (with the bench for passengers on top) and one tire in the back, above which the driver sits in his saddle and madly peddals away. Considering the hefty size of some of the people and/or the load these drivers move (smiling! not visibly S.O.B!) at a considerable speed through the crazy potholes with street sprinkled inbetween... AND taking into acount the altitude of 3860m... good Lord, those guys must have a lung capacity of about 10L and a resting heart rate of about 40bpm!!! (For all the non-medical folks out there: S.O.B = short of breath (and NOT sonnofa..) Normal average lung capacity is 6L, normal average resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute).

Since we had a few of the aforementioned "extra pounds" on us, it was a bit of a scary (Stephe), extremely hilarious and exhilerating (V) ride. (Guess which one of us is the "crazy-rides-fanatic-at-the-fare"? *lol*)

Unfortunaly it only lasted a few minutes, after which our (still smiling) driver dropped us off safe and sound at the bus terminal, where we got onto our next fabulous ride.

A bus. A bus to Desaguadero (town on the Peruvian/Bolivian border). A bus with very (!) little leg room. A bus that was stuffed with people to the last seat. A bus, in which no one liked open windows. A bus, in which we sat cramped in the very last row between people, painfully far away from said windows. A bus, that was our cheapest option (15 Soles Peruanos (or about US$5) per person. A bus... ride that lasted almost three (endless) hours.

Need I say more?

The only highlight was Stephe's enthusiasm and fascination with the ever changing landscape: the lake Titicaca, the flat valleys, the small mountains and the rolling hills, the clay/mud huts...

V tried to (somehwat successfully) sleep through most of the ride.

Once in Desaguadero on the Peruvian side, the priorities where (in order of urgency): getting our bags safely off the bus, pee brake, drinking water, taking pictures, collecting all the needed stamps at various Peruvian offices (crossing the tiny dirt street numerous times going back and forth), walking over a little bridge to the Bolivian side, collecting all the needed stamps at various Bolivian offices (weaving our way through some hallways) and voila, we were in Bolivia!

BTW, everyone make sure you bring some toilet paper with you or else have some change handy, as you are charged 0.30Soles for, hmm, let's say four or five generous sheets of toilet paper at the toilet "facility" - dirty, dirty, dirrrty !! Don't touch anything and for haven's sake DO NOT EVER do anything else but "the stance". (I hope I need not explain any further.)

Also, remember to bring some US(!) dollars with you (the banks do not change Canadian $), as there is no bank machine in Desaguadero (at least there was none on the Bolivian side).

From Desaguadero (very poor, very dirty, nothing much else) we took a "cab" that collects four people (or more in the hatch) at a time, charges 20Bs (less than US$3) per person for the approximately 1 1/2 hour drive to La Paz. There are also busses that will take you for 10Bs, but they only leave at set times (which might mean a 45-60 Minute wait), take longer and could drop you off at El Alto, a suburb North of La Paz that is certainly no safe place for newcomers, especially if you are a foreigner. Make sure that whoever drives you goes all the way to the "cementerio" IN La Paz (cementary at the North end of the city, which is a busy area and from where you can easily grab a cab to your final destination).

Only true sour moment: As dear hubby was getting our backpacks out of the bus (which we initially thought we would take), the hatchback-style door fell on his head! Big ouch! I am proud of him not cursing up a storm (which was probably not so much due to him being a stoic superman, but more so the fact that a bunch of little children were curiously watching the tall gringo), although it did send him off with a massive headache (we are probably talking a good throbbing 8 out of 10 here). As we were pulling out of Desagaudero he was seriously contemplating how many brain cells he permanently lost with that hit. Being the thoughtful and caring wife I am, I tactfully declined a guess and offered a headmassage (for the develping goose egg and more importantly, the bruised male ego).

But back to the trip: Be prepared for a stop on the way, where Bolivian police officers (I believe they are highway patrol) ask you to leave the vehicle, cross the street to another officer that checks your passport for proper immigration stamps and then sends you back to your car, that might have moved forward another 200metres. Although this is normal procedure and only takes 2-3 Minutes, I would advise for you to take out any visible valuables with you out of the car (i.e. don't leave anything behind you on the seat that could easily be removed).

The entire road is paved, so a very comfortable ride at about 120km/h, and in our case particularly charming one, as our cabdriver played CDs with beautiful Andean music.

At the "cementario" we took another cab that drove us to our final destination: the house of Jemmy and Thomas, great friends of my family and the loveliest, warmest, "bestest" people ever (we are truly being spoiled with wonderful hosts on this trip).

The drive to their house was an adventure in itself. While I was lost in memories of my childhood/teenage years lived here, and Stephe was marvelling at the crazy, yet breathtaking topography and the even crazier traffic in La Paz, an evil evilness was noisilessly seeping into our cab: engine exhaust. Of the worst kind. At first we thought the pollution in the city was a little over the top, but by the end we realized that we were dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, as the exhaust of our cab was freely flowing into the passenger compartment through a whole in the floorboard.

We both had a raging headache and felt slightly nauseous and lightheaded by the time we arrived at the house after the 30 minute cab ride. Stephe's headache was compounded by the earlier whack on his nogging and altitude sickness (locally known as "Sorojchi"), so he was not a happy camper.

Once we were insde the house, it was blissfullness to the fullest: after all the hugging and welcoming by Jemmy & Thommy, we had a short nap and then a nice late snack and cup of "mate de coca" (coca tea: the perfect remedy for Sorojchi).

A wonderful chat with our hosts that lasted for a couple of hours was the perfect ending to our long, long day, and finally we were able to rest our sore bodies on the most comfortable of beds ever. I literally fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. . . in the beautiful City of "Nuestra Señora de La Paz".

And to think that a week ago we were still in Canada, running around, freezing our cute little butts off. . . let me finish off (my mega, überlong blog) with a beautiful quote from Mark Twain:

" Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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