Off to Puno - barely...

Trip Start May 13, 2009
Trip End May 31, 2009

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Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, May 17, 2009

We left La Paz yesterday morning for the first leg of our motorcycle trek.  After breaking the ice off the seats and wondering if we were actually doing the right thing, off we headed into the La Paz traffic.

I have to say, if you can drive a motorcycle in La Paz and live you can drive anywhere.  The rule of the road is "Whoever gets there first".. other than that, the rules don't apply.

It was a little chilly and we were heading out onto the Alti Plano so we geared up with 4 layers of clothing, including long johns.  It took us maybe an hour to reach the city limits 8 miles from the starting point due to the traffic, so the 4 layers, the altitude and the sun beating down on us at our cracking stop & go pace of 2 miles an hour had me sweating in my gloves, my helmet and my boots.

Once we got out of the city, it was much better and we were able to maintain a decent pace.  Susan was on the back with me on our BMW 1150, a little tight but the right bike for the conditions.

The roads are actually fairly good for the most part but in sections we encountered an array of potholes.  Giant speed bumps were an effective way of congesting the traffic even more and were used in some of the rural towns to slow everyone to a crawl.  Usually there was a yellow sign with a recognizable picture of a speed bump.  Just as we were approaching the Bolivia/Peru border crossing (doing maybe 140km/85mph) I noticed a different sign on the side of the road...something about "velocidad"  with about 10 other words around it which I didn't quite figure out.  Just as I was trying to work out what the words might actually mean... we go airborne from what could only be described as a small ski ramp in the middle of the road...not a speed bump as such but some sort of buckling of the road which had yet to be fixed.  As the road was straight we just landed safely and slowed down with Susan hitting me in the back of the head saying SLOW DOWN!!!

We pulled up to the Bolivia/Peru border with 7 bikes, a land cruiser and large trailer.  The border is actually on a bridge over a small river on the edge of Lake Titicaca, so there is an immigration point for leaving Bolivia and one for entering Peru across the bridge.  On the Bolivia side we all filed into the immigration office and most of us got through easily except for me and another guy in our group who had lost the little green piece of paper which they give you when you arrive - after the episode at the airport when we arrived, who knows where that could be - probably still at the airport.  Anyway, with my limited spanish I could tell this was going to be a big problem.  I picked up the fact that this was an official piece of paper wich was required by the government immigration for anyone leaving Bolivia.  We had visions of being stuck in Bolivia for a while.. and missing this piece of paper made it official that we were not getting across the boarder.   Just at the point when we were picturing ourselves on the TV show - Locked Up Abroad a very official looking senior immigration officer said something like "10 Bilivianos por passe" which roughly meant to me that we could bribe the officals to get across the border with Bolivian national currency - 10 Bolivianos is eqivalent to maybe $1.50 US.  Mike, my soon to be cell mate agreed that this was the likely course of action and pulled out a 20 Boliviano bill.  At this point, the stamps came out and all of the "No, No No" we had experience turned to "Si, Si, Si" and 3 minutes later we were off to the Peru crossing 200 yards over the bridge saying, that wasn't really a bribe, it was just an expedite fee.  I did notice the cash went straight in to the official's pocket for safe keeping.  I told Mike he should have asked for a receipt  :)
Over the bridge we hit another snag.  Getting people into Peru was easy...getting vehicles in is another matter.  Each bike, drivers license, VIN number etc, was gone over with a fine tooth comb, all while we were parked on the Peru side of the bridge, with nothing but a rope to stop you from entering - oh and a bunch of guys with AK-47's sitting enjoying the sun.
Fortunately we had some sandwiches available, but a couple of people were starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness and were on the oxygen, not looking well at all.
After what seemed like an eternity (4 hours) we were ready to go.  It seems that all of the information from the vehicles and drivers needed to be entered into the "system".  Between the internet snail pace and the fact that the office closes for siesta we would be lucky to make Puno by sundown.
Back on the road again, the sun slung lower in the sky and a chill was starting to arrive.  The drive from the border was filled with experiences... several of them "near death experiences" with drivers overtaking where and whenever they please, thinking a motorbike will move over for them if they come at you head on...  they are totally correct!!
For most of the drive you can see Lake Titicaca which is just huge.  Susan & I pulled over near a little village in the middle of nowhere for a break.  A few minutes later we heard some viking horn sounds, and then see a herd of sheep, goats and llamas headed our way with 3 boys herding them using the horns as signals to move left or right.  Naturally I grabbed for my camera and got some still and video shots.  The custom is to hand over a few coins or a couple of bills of the local currency if you take pictures, so as soon as the herd was safely passed, the boys were asking for deniero.  We had crossed the border and had a few Boliviano left over, so we handed out a couple of 20 Boliviano bills to the boys, who's mother or aunt or some relation was watching from the bus pickup a few yards away.  Anyway, within 3 minutes we noticed a few people coming towards us and then a few more asking for money or if we wanted to buy plates or other things....  it seems word traveld fast that there were two Americanos handing out cash at the bus stop, so it was time to leave.
We hit Puno just after sundown and made our way to the hotel.
Not 10 minutes later, Susan said, "I don't feel that great, I'm nauseas" and, "I'm really cold" and, "I really really don't feel well"... you guessed it, altitude sickness - out came the oxygen (several times), but it doen't seem to be doing much good.
Plenty of water, oxygen and rest.  The locals say it can take 3 days to feel sick, so I am wondering when it will hit me.  So far there are only 2 of our group of  9 who have not suffered the effects
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