La Paz Bolivia
Arrival in La Paz was one of the easiest of anywhere we have been.We were on a smaller plane and walked off onto the Tarmac and into the baggage claim area. Our bags arrived in five minutes and we went outside to waiting marked taxis.
Cab ride into the centre was a fixed rate of 60 BOL. On the way we saw hundreds of riot police. Not a comforting feeling really.
It took about half an hour to get to town and then about 45 minutes to go a few blocks to the hotel. Complete gridlock.
We met a couple from Australia who just arrived and said that their bus had to circle the city for ages before being able to come to the airport area. They then took a cab and videoed what was going on and showed me. The sex trade workers in the El Alto area are experiencing violence from the residents there, so they are striking, making it all but impossible for traffic to go through.
On the video I saw tear gas canisters, small bombs, yelling etc and then this lovely looking older woman starting throwing large rocks at the cab they were in and smashed the window.
These two were really shook up about it, understandably. It appears that the strikes are a common occurrence here, as I found out when I googled it.
We went for a walk down to the main square, or pigeon park you could call it. There were thousands of pigeons and people would stand with food in their hands to feed the birds so they would land on them. There were many photos taken of people with six or more pigeons on arms, shoulders and heads.
We sat and people watched for over an hour and a half and then went into a small modern art museum nearby, admission was free.
I am having a terrible time breathing. I almost collapsed at one point. It is mostly due to all the diesel fumes as La Paz is very busy. The population is around 4 million and there are so many small busses and cars on the road. The altitude is also at 14,000 feet so the combination of the two is not working well for me.
We decided not to stay in La Paz and arranged for a bus to pick us up in the morning and go to Copacabana, on Lake Titicaca.
We purchased tickets on line and will arrive in Copacabana at 11AM, overnight and then leave at 6:30PM the next day to Puno. Puno for two nights and then the bus to Cuzco. It is a nice tourist bus with reclining seats and the total for all three legs is only $34 each.
The scenery on the way to Copacabana is beautiful past rolling hills and countryside.
The girls in front of us reclined their seats and we were feeling a little cramped, until we looked out the window and saw an 18 passenger van with twenty people and lots of packages in it.
Copacabana is around the same altitude as La Paz but there is very little traffic so the air is much cleaner. We took a cab the short distance to our hotel because it was up a hill and rolling suitcases don't do too well on cobblestones.
The Hotel Cupula is just perfect. We have a lovely room overlooking the bay and the grounds are full of flowers and hammocks. You can tell that the people who run it have a lot of pride in their work. The building is Moorish in style, all white and rounded tops. There are a great many different styles of buildings in Copacabana, some very unique and interesting buildings.
A walk down to the town and along the boardwalk shows many paddle boats and kayaks for rent. It is low season so not many people are out on the water.
Copacabana is definitely a tourist town, and probably in the high season the tourists would outnumber the 6,000 residents I would think. It is again a backpacker haven and we are clearly at least 30 years older than any other tourist we have seen in town. Rastafarian hippies are everywhere as well as lots of young people making their way around South America, just like we are.
I would much rather be in a town where the average age of the tourist is 25 rather than 85 however.
The local shopkeepers and people on the street are not very friendly I found. They seem fed up with tourists even though it looks like the town's main source of income.
The people in hotels and restaurants are nice however.
We did not do much in Copacabana. We just relaxed, walked around and enjoyed the clean air. It was lovely during the day but really cooled off at night and early in the morning. There are tours to the outlying islands and that is why most people come here. I had done it 6 years ago and didn't care to go again and Doug was just fine with that as well.
Day 59. PUNO, Peru
Our bus to Puno left at 6:30PM so we paid for a late check out of the room. The cost of the hotel was only $33 a night. Once again, we are the oldest on the bus by far. We had to sign in and put our names, nationality and age. I looked up the list and the youngest was 18 and the oldest (other than us) was 33.
This was a double decker bus with the nice seats downstairs. I asked if we could sit downstairs and she said yes which was great.
Half an hour out of Copacabana we stopped at customs control, checked out of Bolivia and then walked up the road to check into Peru. We were able to exchange our BOLs for Peruvian Soles there as well.
The trip took about three hours and just before we arrived in Puno a man got on the bus and was chatting us up, and eventually told us that he was selling tour tickets. We bought two tickets from him to go to the floating reed island (Uros) tomorrow for 35 Soles each.
Upon arrival in Puno we found a cab right away and for 7 Soles he took us to our hotel, Casona Plaza which is just off the main square and very nice. The cost is $41 per night including breakfast.
They kindly kept the restaurant open for us and we had a small dinner before bed.
I did not have a good morning, couldn't breathe. We are at 14,000 feet or more and I don't have the signs of altitude sickness, just really short of breath. I can't seem to walk more than a half a block without stopping to rest.
I asked reception if I could go on oxygen for a half and hour and that really seemed to help. Most hotels in Puno and in Cusco will have oxygen available as it is a common occurrence for people to be short of breath when they first arrive.
We walked the short couple of blocks to the main square to look around and find an ATM. We can only take out 400 soles, or around $160 a day here which again is a pain.
It is international women's day and many of the women are walking around dressed in their traditional outfits. I spoke to one woman in Spanish who was from the island of Amanti and she had embroidered her blouse and shawl. It was just beautiful.
I don't remember these from six years ago, but there are hundreds of small taxis, like Asian Tuk Tuks on the streets as well as the bicycle tuk tuks.
At noon we were picked up by a van with 12 others and taken to the pier where our boat waited for us. We sat inside on route while the guide told us about Lake Titicaca and the reed islands we were on our way to visit. There are many islands in the lake, some are real islands but a lot are floating islands made of reeds.
We came to one of these floating islands and disembarked to sit in the hot hot sun while the guide and the local president of the island explained how the islands were built from the reeds. The homes are also made from the reeds, which grow in abundance in the lake. They even eat them and we were each given one to try. I just pretended to eat it.
This island has six families that live here full time. The children are taken by reed boats to school every day and there they learn to speak English and Spanish. The local dialect here is Aymara.
Each group of us were taken inside one of the huts, which were very pleasant inside. It was scorching hot outside, but rather cool inside. The hut is very small and only a bed and a few blankets plus hooks along the walls to hang clothes. They have solar power and two light bulbs hung in the middle and they had a small tv. I asked how many channels they got and they replied 6, but Dad likes to watch sports most of the time.
Then the embroidery came out, wall hangings and pillow covers. They were very beautiful but you couldn't help feeling like a fish in a barrel in their home while they show you this beautiful work. Of course we did buy one pillow cover for 50 soles ($20) which is a lot but the work that goes into it is amazing.
From there a few of us went on the reed boat to the next island while a man and woman rowed us. It looked like very hard work and we felt guilty just laying back while they seemed to be struggling. The kids came along for the ride too.
The next island had a restaurant and gift shop which I did not go into. I had been here six years ago and it was a different experience from this one. It is very touristy and you feel like you are being set up to buy things, but it is also a great experience to be able to see how they have lived for over 900 years on these islands. There are a lot of islands that people live on where tourists are not allowed to go to, only those who choose to share the experience do, and it is a source of income for them as well.
On the way back we asked to be dropped off at the bus depot as we needed to get our seat assignment for our bus tomorrow. I am so glad we did because in Copacabana the woman took my voucher and gave me a piece of paper in return. When I handed it to the fellow in Puno today he said there was no leg from Puno to Cusco. It took more than half an hour to sort out, but in the end he said we had paid.
I then found out that the 8AM bus were were booked on did not have a bathroom. 8 hours with out a bathroom was not an inviting thought. He changed us to the 11:30AM bus instead, so we were so glad we made this stop on the way back to the hotel.
Day 61. Puno to Cusco
The bus left on time and we had upstairs seats with a platform in front of us, so plenty of leg room. I had brought lots of books and things to do on the 8 hour journey but the scenery was so beautiful we just looked out the window the entire time until it got dark.
Green rolling hills with farmland and the snow capped Andes behind. Half way into the journey four women got on with buckets and baskets, one with a baby bundled on her back and oldest one with a huge bundle in a blanket. She threw it down on the platform in front of us, opened it up and peeled back the brown paper inside. It was a huge piece of cooked meat of some kind.
From one of the baskets she withdrew a huge butcher knife and started cutting and hacking away at the meat, putting pieces into a plastic bag and then a potato from somewhere went in too. The other women were going up and down the aisles taking orders and delivering the goods. The bus has taken of again now and the women worked for the next half hour of so until the next stop. I assume they would hop another bus and make their way back again. It was great entertainment
Especially because she was right beside this 30 something European ( German I think) couple who were so serious and impeccably dressed and seemed really uptight.
The older woman had her butt right in his space the entire time and they would lean over him to pass things. Very entertaining. He didn't say anything but did not look pleased.
The bus station in Cusco is huge and there were probably hundreds of big tourists buses like ours. We needed to move from the bus with our luggage to get to the taxi area and it was just jammed with people.
A cab to the Plaza de Armas was supposed to be 5 soles but we were quoted 10 which was fine.
Our hotel is La casa de selenque and is right off the plaza. Cost for one night with breakfast is $70CAD. The rooms is spacious and clean and you can't beat the location.
I was here 6 years ago and can't believe the difference. There is a Starbucks beside our hotel, KFC on the square and high end shops. The square was packed with people, Saturday night, and it was exciting to be back here.
Sticker shock. I don't remember it being this expensive, but maybe it was just because Bolivia was so inexpensive. We got to the point in Northern Argentina and Bolivia that I didn't even look at the prices any more, they were so inexpensive.
We ate on the plaza tonight, each having a bowl of soup, salad and leamonaid and it came in at 80 soles. With a tip that is $35 and it wasn't very good either. I guess we need to look more closely at prices and realize that Cusco is expensive now.
How lucky are we? We woke to find that there is a parade today for Carnival, and right in front of our hotel in the Plaza de Armas.
First we did go to Starbucks for a real cup of coffee and it was wonderful. It's been a long time since we have had a good cup of coffee, as a matter of fact I have just not even bothered for a long time.
The parade lasted a few hours and had many dancers, singers and musicians in their native dress from the different areas. This was a much more polished parade than the one we saw in Sucre, but we still enjoyed both.
The plaza was packed with both locals and tourists. There are many tourists here, and a lot of young backpackers. Once again there are many people with waterguns, balloons and the foam spray cans. Everyone seemed to get in on the act here, and so many of the young tourists were having such a great time spraying the locals, who returned the favor. No one was off limits and everyone just took it in great spirit.
We were talking to some of the people in the parade and they took pictures of us in their hats and gave Doug on of their guitars for the pose.
The day was beautiful and warm and at 5PM the skies opened up and it just poured. How wonderful that it held off and the parade did not get rained out.
the little goat (kid) is only four days old.
My breathing is so much better here. I can make it up a couple of flights of stairs without problems now. Such a relief.
We will be heading to lower altitudes now. We purchased train tickets on PeruRail to Machu Picchu but this time of year the train does not leave from Cusco, so we need to take a bus to Ollyantambo first. A visit to a travel agent to arrange all the other details and we are off tomorrow morning to the Sacred Valley.
We had two wonderful meals today and really enjoyed our time in Cusco so far.