An unexpected journey

Trip Start May 08, 2013
Trip End Sep 30, 2013

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Thursday, June 13, 2013

An awful lot has happened since my last entry. I'll start at the beginning... We arrived in Puno as planned on Saturday 25th May and took a taxi to Marlon's House. The place was really nice but we were dismayed to find our allocated room on the 4th floor. Let's just say it isn't easy climbing 4 floors with 2 bags at 3825m above sea level. Out of breath doesn't begin to cover it. Add to that the fact that the kitchen is on the 2nd floor, but not accessible from our part of the building without first going to the ground floor. We got lots of exercise!

The next morning we headed back to the bus station (without our big bags) for the trip across the border to Copacabana in Bolivia, opting for the more private sofa cama seats downstairs. The border crossing went without incident; we were stamped out of Peru, walked a short distance to the Bolivian border post and stamped into Bolivia with a 30 day visa. Easy! In Copacabana we went to the Titicaca Tours office to buy tickets on a boat to Isla del Sol (Sun Island) leaving in about an hour. To kill a bit of time, we sat outside a hotel on the lakeshore with cold drinks and ordered a margarita pizza. The pizza looked great and the first few mouthfuls seemed nice, but by the end we came to the conclusion that it was actually not very nice at all. In fact, for the next few days(/weeks) we were completely unable to shake the aftertaste (and memory) of that horrible pizza. Eurgh.

The boat to the island was nice, if a little slow. 90 minutes later we disembarked at a little town called Yumani, or more accurately several hundred metres below the town. The town itself is bullt high up above the lake, and reached by hundreds upon hundreds of stone steps. Glad we left those backpacks behind in Puno! After trekking for about an hour and wandering round the (very quiet) town, we chose a place to stay called Inti Wasi. We had a little building of our own with an amazing view across the eastern side of Lake Titicaca to the mountains beyond. We paid 120 Bolivianos (£12) for the room and breakfast: a tad overpriced by local standards, but we did have a fantastic view from our window.

Isla del Sol isn't very developed, but there are a few places to eat and buy basic supplies. Since we didn't have access to a kitchen, we chose a small restaurant with panoramic views of the sunset. I ordered a cheese and ham toastie and chips, Jen ordered a mango juice. The juice came fairly quickly but was heavily diluted with water (tap or bottled, we don't know). The same can't be said for the food: we were still waiting almost an hour later. When they did turn up, the chips were only half cooked and the toastie was possibly the worst I've ever had. At least the view was good.

The next morning we walked back down to the port (easier going downhill!) to catch a boat to the north of the island (to a town called Challapampa). We had read that it was possible to hike the 11km from the north of the island back down to Yumani in the south in 3-4 hours in time for the boat back to Copacabana the same afternoon. The walk was difficult (mostly because of the high altitude, but in hindsight probably also because of the antibiotics we were taking), but picturesque and highly recommended. We had the path almost to ourselves the whole way. Just past halfway when we were flagging a little, we unexpectedly came across a little hut, and a local woman selling cold drinks, crisps and chocolate. Perked us right up! After arriving back in Yumani, we took the boat back to Copacabana. The 90 minutes seemed to take even longer this time (VERY slow boat). We booked into the Hostal Colonial del Lago. Not especially highly rated on Tripadvisor but we didn't have a problem with it (apart from perhaps the pathetic attempt at breakfast: 2 stale bread rolls - literally 2 on the buffet table, total - and a massive basket of cut-in-half, overripe bananas). The room was clean and the wifi was fast though. Not trusting restaurants anymore, we settled for a couple of bars of chocolate and had an early night.

Foregoing the aforementioned 'breakfast', the next morning we went to a highly-recommended breakfast cafe run by an Irish-Bolivian couple (El Condor & The Eagle Cafe). The food was fantastic, and they seemed to pay more than a passing regard to hygiene. Jen had scrambled egg on Irish soda toast and I had the toast with butter. We both had freshly-made orange/apple juice - entirely undiluted! Later that morning we went back again, so pleased to find somewhere with decent food after starving for the last couple of days. I had more toast/butter and we both ordered sandwiches to take away for later.

We were meant to leave Copacabana for Puno at 1.30pm, but our bus was cancelled due to a local strike and we had no option but to wait for a bus operated by a different company at 6.30pm. Sounds okay...but it meant we would have to navigate the border crossing in the dark, and in fact most of the 3 hour journey would be in darkness. The journey started off on a lighter note, with a local boy of about 9-10 giving a performance for us on the bus. He played some sort of whistle instrument, interspersed with short sections of singing. All respect to him for doing it, but it was hard to keep a straight face since he was so badly out of tune. The border crossing went smoothly enough, but the 2 hour trip from there to Puno was nerves racking. The driver stopped several times to pick up or drop off extra passengers along the way (scary if you know anything about bus robberies in South America), and we were stopped at a police checkpoint and the bus searched for drugs and guns. We did make it back to Puno safely, but there were times when I wasn't sure that we would. That was Tuesday night. On Friday night we were back home in Scotland. Here's why...

The second doctor we saw in Arequipa prescribed us both two medicines, to be taken one after the other. We also spoke to our GP in Glasgow who agreed that we needed those two medicines or appropriate alternatives. The first medicine (to be taken for 7 days) we found easily in Arequipa. The second medicine (and all possible alternatives) is not licensed for use in Peru. We had been in touch with both our insurance company (Insure & Go) and our GP for a few days. The message from our GP was clear: we needed to start the second medicine on Friday. IAG asked us to see another doctor in Puno (we did the next day, Wednesday) and told us they would try to find out if an alternative was available locally. The doctor in Puno couldn't find an alternative, and recommended that we return home for treatment. I want to take a minute to highlight how poorly we were treated by IAG at this time. They were supposed to pay the clinic in Puno directly, but completely messed up the paperwork so that we were asked to pay £250 in cash. Their local office never got back to me to say whether they could find an alternative medicine or not (we're still waiting!) and when presented with reports recommending that we return home for treatment, they "couldn't authorise that without our medical panel looking at it". Sorry if I sound angry, but I don't think they should mess about when it concerns someone's health. Whether or not their medical panel will authorise it, I've no idea. It's now 2 weeks later and I still haven't heard from them.

We made the only decision we could and booked flights back home on Thursday, arriving in Scotland on Friday night. It wasn't a nice choice to make, since we would miss out on trekking to Machu Picchu and other amazing things, but ultimately there wasn't anything else we could do. We flew from Juliaca (1 hour taxi ride from Puno, including some off-road sections due to local protests) to Edinburgh via Lima and Madrid. No personal video screens on board the long haul flight this time (need to modernise, Iberia) but I was asleep most of the flight anyway thanks to a couple of travel sickness pills [:-)]. Our flight to Edinburgh was delayed a couple of hours due to a fault with the floor (?!) but eventually we lifted off for home.

We are both feeling better after taking both sets of pills. Not 100% yet, but getting there. We will be seeing a doctor from the Infectious Diseases clinic in the next few weeks, and hopefully at some point after that, we can get back on the road. We're not sure where we will go yet; picking up a potentially-fatal disease within a week of arriving in Peru has dampened our enthusiasm for South America somewhat at this moment in time (never say never though). We will definitely go somewhere, perhaps more developed, as soon as we get the all-clear from the doctor.

To. Be. Continued.
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