Passing through Peru to breathless Bolivia

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We flew into Lima and although we could get on an earlier flight to Cusco, the check-in lady warned us that we might not make it, and we wouldn't have if the flight wasn’t delayed. But we were very grateful to get on this flight as it gave us and extra hour and a half in Cusco, which we needed as we had a lot to organise.

The flight was quite the adventure. It was quite a turbulent ride and coming into land was like nothing we’ve experienced before. Kami-kaze pilot springs to mind. We sped very close to the mountains before doing a tight turn to come from the other side and zooming down to land. We were beginning to think the pilot would never brake and we would be off the runway as soon as we landed. Turns out all landings in Cusco are like this, which did not impress the lady beside Liz who clung to her husband for dear life. The air stewards were probably the most disorganised we have ever seen. No one told us to turn off our ipods, as the plane took off they were racing to their seats. Once in the air they didn’t time themselves well, we were at the back of the plane so were served last. Liz hadn’t finished her drink or muffin when they came around to take the rubbish and made us put our tray tables away, so Liz had to hold her cup while eating her muffin and trying not to spill them all over herself.

Cusco is a very pretty town, cobbled streets, pretty gardens, old churches, fountains etc. It would be a nice place to stay, but we didn’t have time for that. Once in Cusco we organised trains, shuttles, accommodation and tickets for Machu Picchu. Alex went to exchange our money and kept being told the money exchange was just one more block, one more block. Alex was not impressed as the altitude made the walk at least 10x harder. We ended up taking a train at 9pm getting us in around 11. By the time we found our hostel and fell into bed it was just before midnight and we had to be up again at 5am. We love getting next to no sleep.

Thursday, it was Lizzie’s birthday woop woop but it was raining, nooooooo. We had left all our wet weather gear at the train station about 2 hours away as you aren’t allowed more than 5kg on the train to Machu Picchu, so we wandered down in the rain to the bus stop and bought some brightly coloured ponchos. Thankfully it didn’t rain for too long but the clouds did keep rolling in. Up at Machu Picchu, we would see a great shot but by the time we got our camera’s out the cloud had rolled over. Basically it was a waiting game to get pictures of the area in between cloud bursts. Machu Picchu was pretty cool, amazing that those structures are so intact. Though we did see a number of renovations going on which made us wonder, hmm how intact are they. That evening, back in Cusco, we partied it up at McDonalds, woop woop Birthday dinner at McDonalds, Lizzie’s living the dream. Alex bought her a McFlurry, I mean a Twix ice-cream birthday cake with matches for candles. Turns out matches don’t make the best candles as they don’t last long enough to all be lit and blown out –this is no indication of Liz’s age! Alex also gave her pretty earrings and a packet of peanut butter m&m’s yum yum.

That night we continued the celebration by getting on an overnight bus to La Paz at 10.30pm. We missed out on getting the 180 degree reclining seats and had to settle for we think about 120 degrees. Not bad. We quickly fell asleep, although Alex woke up at 4am with really bad altitude sickness, she loves it. Liz was relieved Alex didn’t spew or faint on her. We arrived at the Peru/Bolivia border around 8am and were told to get off the bus for immigration. We didn’t actually know that this is what he said as we have discovered Peru and Bolivia have a severe lack of English speaking people, even in tourist offices and bus stations we have communicated by gestures and pointing. Of all the countries we have covered these have the least amount of English spoken. Luckily we had read online about the border crossing and how you walk to the Peru station then across to Bolivia for stamps there but then we weren’t sure what comes after that. The lines were huge on both sides and we kept our eye on the only non-South American that was on our bus, a man in a blue jacket. Unfortunately, while we were in the Peru office he disappeared. We made our way to the Bolivian side got our stamps and decided that the bus probably picks us up on this side, rather than us walking back to Peru. Logical we thought. We walked 2 minutes up the road to where we saw buses but got to the end without spotting ours. We turned around deciding it must be back in Peru. As we neared the Bolivian office we saw what looked like our bus driving down the road. We tried to flag it down to no avail and ended up banging on the door. Thankfully it stopped and we were able to hop on, in broken English/Spanish gesturing we got the gist that we took too long and they weren’t going to wait any longer. What the?!? We wonder what they planned on doing with our packs and gear. We were relieved to get on and spot blue jacket guy, who had taken his jacket off, very sneaky of him, not cool. Phew, we were back on our way to La Paz. When we neared La Paz, the traffic was so bad it seemed like the driver was worried about not being able to get to the terminal and was thinking of dropping us off in that point. That’s what we thought anyway. A flurry of Spanish from all the other passengers greeted him and back and forth this went until he relented and the bus started moving again. We were relived as by the time we got to the actual bus station it would have been a very expensive taxi ride.

At the bus station we made friends with blue jacket man (we had forgiven him for taking it off) who turned out to be from Germany but spoke some Spanish so he was able to organise our taxi for us. We got to Laura’s school (after driving round in circles as the Taxi driver had no idea where it was and only after he stopped to ask the 6th person did he find out) only to discover she had gone to the bus station to meet us, doh! But we were happily reunited soon enough (for those who don’t know, Laura is an American who came to NZ for a teaching placement at Bethlehem College last year). We met her kids and fellow teachers before heading to her place. Her house is awesome, just like any nice American/NZ home, it was so nice to have some normalcy again after a few crazy days. After a good sleep in, Laura had planned a trip to Coroico for the weekend. Getting to Coroico involved driving along the Death road in a minivan, woop woop. Our driver took the path of least resistance, he didn’t believe in driving around corners and tried to make it as straight as possible. The sign said Coroico was 83kms away but it was much shorter with all the corners he cut. Did we mention this van did not have seatbelts. The seat that Alex and I sat on, was not locked in correctly and moved back and forth depending on the incline of the road. It was like we never left Disneyland ;-). It was quite a significant drop in altitude between La Paz and Coroico. You know you’re up high when you have to drive down to the clouds to get to your destination. The town of Coroico was nothing to write home about but we stayed up a hill at a hotel which had a magnificent view across the mountains. The area we were in was beautiful, jungle plants abounding. We played pool in the morning as it was raining L but the sun came out and we sunbathed by their outdoor pool until it was time to go.

Monday was a relaxing day before Laura came home and cooked us delicious Chili. We ate very well while staying at Laura’s, her and her flatmates are good cooks! Tuesday, we decided to do a day trip to Copacabana by Lake Titicaca. Our plan was a bit of a fail, we left the apartment at 9am, locked the door, only to discover we couldn’t get our the locked front gate. We were trapped between the house and the road, climbing the fence was not an option as it had huge spikes on top. Thus we sat in the driveway and had a Sudoku competition until the maid arrived at about 10am. Turns out to unlock the gate you just press a button in the foyer of the apartment, to us it looked like a door bell/light switch, oh well. So off to the bus station we went, only to discover we had missed the bus and the next one didn’t leave till 2.30 which was too late. Instead we walked into town and explored the markets, had some local food, they have these things like Cornish Pasties, but inside is not only curry mince but chicken and egg also, bizarre but delicious! We were a little worried about getting locked out till the girls came home at 4.30 so headed back to see if the maid was still there to let us in. Thankfully she was and we had an uneventful afternoon. That evening we headed out with the flat to a yummy Sushi restaurant (traditional Bolivian sushi ;-p) their service left a bit to be desired after arriving at 5pm and having our movie starting at 6.10pm, our dinner finally arrived at 6pm, yikes talk about scoffing it down! Bolivia has the best movie theatres ever. At 6.15, Laura and us ditched the other flatties and raced to the theatre to watch the new James Bond film. Boy were we in for a treat. This theatre has the most amazing chairs, basically each person had a plush lounger each, which with the push of a button the footrest came out and you could recline right back to a lying down position. All for the price of 4 NZ$. They also had waiters who served food and wine during the movie. Oh the James Bond movie was a goody by the way.

Wednesday, we said a sad farewell to Laura and her flatties. It was so awesome getting to hang out with her again, she looked after us so incredibly well. Hopefully it won’t be long before she’s back in NZ! We caught our 4.30 bus out of La Paz back to Cusco. What a different border crossing experience we had this time. This time, the majority of the people on the bus were foreigners and the bus left on time, crazy. At the border there was no giant queue, we were dropped right outside the Bolivian immigration office, quickly walked to the Peru side and our bus then picked us up right outside the Peru office, very nice. We then however waited there for a good 1 hours, no missing the bus this time. After driving for 15mins we then had another stop for a good hour. Multiple times the bus stopped for police inspections, clearly the Peruvians are not as trusting as the Bolivians. We made it back to Cusco at 4.30am zzzz we then waited in the uncomfortable plastic chairs of the bus station till about 6.30am when we were made to move by the crazy cleaning lady and thus we headed into town to wait till it was time to head to the airport for our 3.30 flight to Lima.

Two things we will not miss from Peru is their 'Inca Cola’, a fizzy drink which tastes like bubblegum and their ‘orange juice’ which tastes like overly sweet raro.
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