It's a hard life... When you're a donkey

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Aug 24, 2012

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Flag of Bolivia  , Cusco,
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our hostel in la Paz was called Loki, and is part of a chain of hostels throughout South America. Possibly the biggest hostel we've stayed at, with well over a hundred guests all milling round in various colourful aplaca knitwear, it was definitely a "party" hostel. Unfortunately, we were about as far from in the party mood as you can possibly get, both feeling the effects of four days with minimal sleep, extreme cold and crazy altitude, we just wanted to sleep! However, when we arrived at the hostel at 6.30am with the bus getting in two hours earlier than expected (there is seriously no point having timetables in S.America), they were unable to give us our room until 1pm when some others had checked out and the room had been cleaned. Luckily the hostel had a big social area with beanbags and charger points, but reading the Mail Online eventually got boring and at around 8.30 we decided to make the most of the free breakfast and go out for a walk round the city. Having not had a proper shower since Tupiza, we definitely resembled gringo tramps as we pushed our way through the morning rush hour crowds. The city was mad busy, with traffic almost rivalling Hanoi coming from every direction and everyone from traditionally clothed market stall sellers to businessmen getting their shoes shined lining the pavements. We decided to walk up to the San Francisco plaza, where according to Robbie there was a lot of cheap alpaca goods on sale, and having pretty much eroded our socks and gloves by wearing them four days straight on the tour, we wanted to have a browse for new things. The shops were up a massive hill, with the altitude and constant stream of beeping cars making it a bit of an effort to climb. By the time we got to the top, my head was pounding, and I could feel the start of a cold coming on. With Snellers not feeling 100% either, we picked up jumpers for him and Darcy and headed back down the hill, intending on returning in the next couple of days when hopefully life would be a bit easier! Back at the hostel it was still only 10.30, but after berating the reception woman every half hour, we eventually managed to get into a room by 12. The bunks were huge and comfy, and within minutes of dumping our stuff we were asleep. After an hour or so nap, feeling no better than before, we went to the bar to watch the Italy v Ireland game, unsurprisingly finding it packed with people, dressed in Loki Euro 2012 tshirts. We had the most amazing lunch in the bar for 2 pounds, and spent the rest of the afternoon chilling in the hostel, getting the most well received shower the whole trip, and, in my case, catching up on some blog writing. we had originally planned on cycling the Death Road the following day and sightseeing the day after, but we decided to see how we felt tomorrow and possibly do the bikes the day after.
10 hours sleep later and feeling marginally less dead, we got up in time for the England game, and had a couple of drinks in the bar watching the match with several other English people. After the match, with the day almost gone, we ate in the bar and chilled out there waiting for the Tuesday night pub quiz. It was definitely a shame to spend a full day inside in such an amazing capital city, but if someone had told us how much the salt tour takes it out of you we would have given ourselves a few days after it to recover.. as it was we only had three days to spend in La Paz and unfortunately by the time we felt human enough to go out and do stuff, it was already our final day in the city. However, from what we saw there didn't seem that much to do in the actual city, other than the famous nightlife, a lot of the activities seemed to be just outside the city like the cycling and a lot of mountain climbing, trekking etc. Anyway as the pub quiz still hadn't begun by half nine, we gave up on winning some prizes and went to bed, Snellers with a headache and me just sick and tired of typing blogs!
We awoke pretty early next morning due to our early night, and had decided to give the cycling tour a miss, due a lot to the fact we wouldn't enjoy it as much full of colds, and also that, as I'm sure everyone will agree, my bike skills probably don't extend to negotiating tight dirt track corners with 100m drops on either side. It would probably have ended up another terrifying horse riding incident, and Snellgrove would have had to stay back with me and ended up not enjoying it himself. Anyway, I was quite happy with the decision, and it also meant we could get to Copacabana the day we had planned to, and save 200USD as well.
So, on our last day in La Paz we actually left the hostel, heading first of all to the Mirador Laikakota, which was a big hill in the centre of town which offered 360 degree views of the city. Getting to see La Paz like this was really impressive, it's not every day you see such a huge city nestled in the Andes mountains - skyscrapers with a backdrop of snowy peaks. The city is the highest capital in the world, and seeing it like this put that into perspective. The topmost houses seemed to cling to the side of the mountains, clustered together kind of giving them the appearance of a Brazilian favela (although I don't think they were shanty towns). We also spotted the football stadium, which Snellers informs me is where argentina were beat 5-1 by Bolivia due to the altitude, and lots and lots of sports pitches hosting five and six aside games. Obviously football is as big in Bolivia as in every other south American country we've visited! When we had taken enough pictures, we went back down and returned to the San Francisco plaza, where we found what we weren't able to find the other day, the indoor marketplace with row after row of stalls selling alpaca and llama produce. We stocked up on hats, wooly socks and a few souvenirs, before going back to the hostel to collect our bags and get ready to get the bus to Copacabana to visit the highest lake in the word, lake Titicaca.
Copacabana, which is the little town that gives the more famous Copacabana beach in Brazil its name, was four hours away by bus. We wondered how we were going to find the right bus once dropped off at the "cemetario", where the dodgier buses leave from, but needn't have worried as as soon as we were dropped off in the taxi there were men wandering around bellowing "Copacabana" and pointing to various rusty tin cans on wheels. Paying our 2 pounds each and getting on board, it was clear this was nothing to be much of a comfy ride, for starters the guy in front of me had already reclined his seat to pretty much an 180 degree angle despite the engine not even being turned on yet, and the people surrounding us were far too close for comfort due to the Bolivian tendency to cram a lot of people and their bags of bread rolls onto public transport. The road out of la Paz was not much better than the road in, and we spent a good hour being bounced around in and out of potholes before finally reaching some actual Tarmac. Being the first day bus we had got in ages it was good to look out the window at some of the Bolivian countryside, which consisted mainly of fields, rubble and lots of donkeys. It was about halfway through the journey that I realised I had left my glasses somewhere in La Paz, which wasn't ideal, will have to buy a cheap plastic pair in the US! After around 3 hours we stopped off in a little town on the shore of a lake, which unfortunately wasn't Copacabana as we thought, but where we had to follow everyone off the bus and onto a little motor boat to the other side while the bus was ferried over on a very dodgy looking raft made of old planks of wood and rope.
We had definitely picked the right time bus to get, as while we were chugging across the lake in the boat the sun was just setting over the lake, which was beautiful. At the other side, we had to wait around half an hour for the bus raft to navigate its way across, looking more and more like it was going to sink with every meter. Back on the bus, the drive continued, taking about an hour more meaning we arrived in the town in pitch darkness. Even so, it looked an interesting place, with cobbled streets, nice buildings and a massive white cathedral in the centre. We didn't have a hostel booked, as the normally reliable had let us down by not listing any hostels in the town, despite us passing at least three on the bus into town, so we got off the bus and took the first flyer we were handed by an old (or possibly young) Bolivian woman and got a taxi straight there- Hostel Sonia. And we were pleasantly surprised, as the hostel had wifi, a double room with en suite for 4 pounds each and a decent enough breaka. Once we had put everything up in the room, we ventured out to find some food, preferably trout after Robbie had recommended it so highly. On our walk down to the lakefront down a long cobbled street lined with shops still open tempting us with yet more llama goods, we came across a hostel offering boat tickets to the island, Isla del Sol, and after having trouble ordering them from our own hostel receptionist and his minimal english, decided to buy tickets there and save a job tomorrow. The guy also tried to offer us some 5.30a.m wake up for a festival on top of a hill, which we politely declined. We wandered on, finding a restaurant I had read good things about on tripadvisor earlier on, and headed in. We both ordered the trout stuffed with bacon and spinach (this is how adventurous I'm getting!! Impressed?) and in fairness it was delicious, however my paranoia about choking to death on a bone meant that after Snellers had finished eating I was still searching through my dish for rogue bones, finishing some 45 mins later (Snellers: i can't believe I've just watched someone eat a trout for 45 minutes). He said that that was the first and last time he is eating fish with me haha. So my effort to be adventurous may have backfired slightly! Anyway, the meal was lovely and so cheap, and we then headed back to the hostel to watch the Copa Libertadores semi final in our room, Snellers now being an avid Corinthians fan since Gustavo's influence at Karumbe!
The next day, with our boat to the island not until 1.30, we spent the morning having a wander round the town in daylight, seeing the cathedral in all it's glory as well as plenty more market stalls. We realised the festival was the winter solstice, and the people obviously go all out for it as all the cars and motorbikes had bunches of flowers selotaped to them and there was confetti all over the roads! Still probably not worth getting up at 5.30 for though! We booked our bus to Cusco for the following evening after our island trip, splashing out and going for full cama (sleeper) rather than semi and relieved to learn it was a Peruvian bus that would be taking us across the border rather than a Bolivian one. With that sorted, we trekked back up the hill to the hostel to collect our bags and head down to the boats. In reception, we were fortunate enough to bump into the Slovenian couple from the salt flat tour, what are the chances?! We left quickly before they could bore us any more than they already had.
Isla del Sol is the birthplace of the Incan sun god,and so an incredibly sacred place for the local people. It's a popular place for walkers due to the rocky pathways and gorgeous views, but we just went there to check out the incredible views of lake titicaca and the Incan influence, and experience the lifestyle on an island with no cars or roads. Just off Isla del Sol is the smaller, probably less touristy, isla de la Luna, where unfortunately we didn't have time to go. The boat to the island was like an Onchan Park motor boat with a roof rack for people to sit on -not the most comfortable 90mins and our bags got absolutely soaked, but we got really good views of the lake and all the islands. When we got off the boat on the south of the island we were immediately charged 5 bolivianos (about 40p) and followed the trail of other backpackers towards the steps that I had read about and was not looking forward to tackling. To get to the village, Yucamati, we were faced with a 30-45 minute hike up endless rocky steps which twisted and turned around houses and restaurants, all with huge backpacks on our front and back. Throw in the altitude and it was pretty much my idea of hell on earth. It was tough, and by the time we reached a decent looking hostel my legs felt like jelly! The hostel was a mediterranean looking building perched on the side of the hill, with a nice roof terrace overlooking the massive lake, snowy mountain ranges in the background, where the mountains were higher than the clouds! We paid 3 pounds for a double room, put our bags in and went to have a look around the village, which involved more stair climbing to reach the top and start back down the other side, which offered different but just as spectacular views of the lake and rest of the island. Walking around the village was like stepping back in time.. No cars, or proper roads, no people dressed in anything other than the traditional Bolivian dress, using very unhappy looking donkeys to carry things up and down the hills. It was completely silent other than the occasional donkey or sheep shouting, We've never experienced anything like it and probably never will - pure peace. Later that evening we went off in search of a restaurant that the kiwi couple we met in Puerto Iguazu had recommended to us, a small place among the trees with the perfect view of the sun setting over the lake. On the way we bumped into an Aussie girl off our boat, who ended up joining us on the search. It wasn't as difficult as reviews had made out, and before long we were walking through the eucalyptus trees towards what looked like a tiny brick shack on a hill. We were greeted by the owner, who immediately offered us a drink and we sat outside at the makeshift wooden tables drinking beer and red wine and waiting for the sun to set. We were joined around our tiny table by three Germans also off our boat. The sun set just as it was starting to get cold, and comments and other peoples photos just don't do it justice.. As it disappeared behind one of the islands hills, the entire lake was coloured red and orange, with just the silhouettes of the mountains of the mainland visible on the horizon. I took one too many photos, making the most of our newly purchased camera card, before we all went inside where it was (slightly) warmer. The restaurant had no electricity, so we ate by candlelight, and no toilet, so it was au naturale or nothing... Nice! The food took ages to arrive as it was cooked from scratch for 8 by one man, who claimed to be a gourmet chef, on his own, but the pizza we ordered was one of the best, despite having broccoli on it! The prices were quite expensive for Bolivian standards, but the food and the atmosphere made it worth it, really one of the nicest meals out we have had, good company too. Lucky we brought our head torch (nerds!), as the walk back through the trees was dark and full of obstacles. A donkey scared us to death by screeching at us as we passed!
After a relatively early night, although I kept waking us both up having coughing fits in the early hours (still full of a cold), we woke up early to go for the obligatory walk around the island. There is a track from north to south which is popular for people arriving at the north in the morning, with no bags, who then leave later that day from the south. Having only until 3, when our boat back to Copacabana was leaving, we just took a relatively short walk up to the boundary between north and south before heading back to the village, stopping on the way for an incredible homemade pizza (spot the non hikers!) overlooking the beautiful lake, which is where I am writing this part of the blog from as Snellers paces impatiently waiting for his lunch!
Then, we made our way down the horrible track back down to the boats, arriving back on Copacabana at 5, which meant we had an hour and a half to wait until our bus to Cusco. This is when we discovered that once again I have the reddest head in south America, obviously sitting in the sun at lunch has burnt my face, again!
The bus to Cusco was actually quite nice, due to us booking the VIP seats on the bottom deck, fed up of dodgy bus sleeping. On the bus Snellers got chatting to a guy from Philadelphia about everything from American football to 9.11 while I napped on and off. Our final border crossing was the easiest of the lot, so after all the horror stories we had heard about crossing south American borders, they have all gone without a hitch which is a relief ! The bus stopped in the Peruvian town of Puno, strangely having to go and get a new bus ticket printed, which should've took twenty minutes but the organisation in Peru was already coming across a shambles, as it took more than an hour of hanging around waiting to get back on the bus! pretty annoying at 12 at night. South Americans are just never in a rush for anything, everything takes twice as long to happen there which is endearing at first but can get quite irritating when it's the middle of the night and you just want to get somewhere. Back on the bus, we all went to sleep, woken up a few hours later around 5.30am in cusco, finally close to the place I've probably been looking forward to seeing most on the trip, Machu Picchu.

So now we are in another Loki hostel, again watching the football, with a day to spend around the city tomorrow before hopefully heading on a three day Machu Picchu trek on Monday. Only ten days left in south America, it's really flown!

Wilson and Snellers
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Snellers Senior on

Another really good one Wils. You look like a 1950's film star with the glasses and hood composing the blog on the terrace overlooking the lake!! Keep safe.


Another great blog Carlz. The sunset over the lake photo is amazing. Can't believe how varied your palette is now .. then again I spose if you were looking for burger and chips where you guys have been you would soon starve.. Take care guys. X

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