Loving Lake Titicaca

Trip Start Mar 17, 2008
Trip End Jun 08, 2008

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

..... so the strains of the Salkantay trek and the brilliance of Machu Picchu behind us we had a day chilling in Cusco, which involved quite a lot of sleeping and minimal walking. Any road with an incline was deemed out of bounds!!

From there we headed to Puno, described as a pretty town on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The journey from Cusco took about 6 hours, and was fairly painless. We arrived just as the sun was setting and our hotel was well located behind the cathedral and Plaza de Armas. To be honest Puno was a bit of a non-event for us, we didnīt agree that it was pretty, and after a disappointing meal, decent nightīs sleep, dreadful breakfast and superb lunch we were pleased to board the bus to take us across the border into Bolivia.

The driver seemed to enjoy himself too, spending quite a lot of time driving on the uneven verges, driving over the top of chickens, enduring near misses with a donkey, and overtaking coaches, collectivos, and military vehicles only when we were approaching a blind bend. This was not National Express!!

Despite the warnings of dodgy Bolivian police confiscating "fake" dollars we had no problems at the border, although one guy was refused entry because the Peruvian stamp in his passport wasnīt clear enough! He had to sprint back into Peru, get another stamp and sprint back into Bolivia to get stamped there. Quite a journey!!

We arrived in Copacabana in darkness but had taken a couple of great sunset pictures at the border. Our hotel was excellent, very helpful, amazing view of Lake Titicaca, and centrally located. We enjoyed the local speciality for dinner, Trout from the Lake, it was outstanding, and great value at one pound fifty pence!!

After dinner we followed what can only be described as "noise" and found ourselves in the middle of the dress rehearsal for the 3rd May, Festival of the Cross celebrations. I say dress rehearsal - basically this was one long party that lasted from Friday night, and is yet to finish as I write this on Sunday at lunchtime!! Competing brass bands, colourful clothing and costumes, street dancing during the processions, live bands in the main square, incessant beer consumption and locals swaying in the streets are all a part of this massive celebration. These people seriously know how to party!! Fireworks and fire crackers seemed to go off all through the night on Friday, and as we were queuing in the bank for cash on Saturday morning the guy in front wreaked of booze. We suspected he was yet to visit his bed!

On the subject of cash, we had arrived in Bolivia with about 10 pounds worth of local currency. Problem is there are no cashpoints in Copacabana, so after spending about 7 pounds on dinner we realised we had no way of paying for our boat tickets to Isla del Sol. Here we were with only 2 days in our packed schedule and seemingly stumped because the bank didnīt open until 8.30am and the last boat to Isla del Sol (the whole reason for being here) left at, yep thatīs right, 8.30am. We had about 5 dollars and 70 Peruvian soles on us which would not go far, and no one was willing to let us make a cash advance on Visa or Mastercard at the multitude of money exchange places. Things were suddenly not going too well.

Left with no option but to be first in the queue for the bank, we consulted our Lonely Planet guide and discovered that we could get a cab to Yumpapatu about 17km away (the guide recommends trekking, but that was the last thing on our minds!!), and from there get a private boat to Isla del Sol. With this in mind we slept rather more soundly, and after a great breakfast, and successfully securing cash in the bank - the most secure bank in the world I might add with armed soldiers on the door - we grabed a cab and enjoyed the picturesque drive to Yampapatu. We successfully located a man and a boat, and set off in our own cruiser for Isla del Sol..... We tried not to think about the large wet patches on the floor of the boat!

Chugging along with the sun glinting on the surface of the lake like millions of diamonds, we could quite easily have lapsed into a trance. Well in fact that`s what our "captain" did as he headed for the smaller, more remote, and much more distant Isla de la Luna instead of Isla del Sol; we suspect he was dreaming about what to spend the money on that he was making out of us! GB had to check where he was going and a sharp left hand turn (is that port or starboard) ensued as we got back on course. Dropped off safely in Cha`llapampa, el baņo visited, snacks purchased, we set off and followed the coastal path to Yumani - lots of dips and climbs which still hurt even after two weeks at altitude, passing through tiny and mostly deserted villages (maybe everyone was in Copacabana partying...). The trek took us about 3 hours, and it seemed so strange to be walking along a ridge 200m above a lake that is virtually two and a half miles up in the air above sea level. We enjoyed some stumming scenery en route, which you can see from the photos.

In Yumani we enjoyed a well earned rest, a nice lunch overlooking the lake (spot the "this is the life" photo of Pablo), and then wandered slowly down to the harbour to catch a public boat back to Copacabana. We were back in time for sunset - check out the (many) photos taken from our hotel room window with beers and chilled music - it was very special. We headed into town for a cheeky pizza (and to check the football scores - come on Fulham), and then had another early night. Altitude is so draining.

This morning we woke up, marvelled one last time at the view from the window, had breakfast and then wandered through town, past the bustling market, the armed guard on the door at the bank, and up to the cathedral. There we witnessed the twice-weekly ritual of blessing automobiles. This consists of an elderly lady walking around cars, buses and lorries wafting scented burning stones around and in the vehicles, whilst the owners adorn them with fresh flowers and scatter petals on the bonnet, pour beer or sparkling wine over the bumpers and then let off a set of fire crackers in front of the vehicle. It was amazing and there were dozens of vehicles there. We then headed into the cathedral and then to the candle chapel where we found thousands of burning candles, and "graffiti" all over the walls, made from melted soft wax - quite a spectacle.

From there it was down to the waterfront and Trucha (Trout) al limon and Trucha a la plancha (grill), fresh, tasty and a bargain at three pounds fifty for both of us!! No time to waste it was back to the hotel, collect our bags and all aboard the tourist bus to La Paz - the highestr capital city in the world at 3660m. Some stunning scenery en route (allegedly - I was asleep), my slumber was broken only for the lake crossing at Tiquina where passengers take a motor boat whilst vehicles cross on what is best described as a giant floating pallet - very odd sight. Luckily it didn`t sink and we arrived safely in La Paz late afternoon - watch out for our next blog, "A very close shave in La Paz".....

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