Southern Cross – In sickness & ...

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2011

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Friday, April 15, 2011

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.”
Mark Twain

The two times I've been really ill on this trip have both been whilst in Cusco (altho' the 2nd time was my own fault - avoid buffets) so it was with some relief and not a little hope that we finally left Cusco for Puno.

The journey was a 7hr bus journey although I was grateful it was a posh double-decker coach with a loo on board. Drugged up to the eyeballs I slept and dozed most of the way catching the bleak and snow-capped scenery only intermittently.

We arrived in Puno mid afternoon. There doesn’t seem much to Puno other than it being the gateway to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia. Part of this 3-day trip involved an overnight stay with a local Amantani family on the lake. I wasn’t up for this so I stayed in Puno whilst Claire went off with the rest of the group for another taste of poor-ism. 

The following morning, feeling marginally better, I caught one of the boats out to the floating islands on Lake Titicaca where I met up with the group. From what the group said the home-stay wasn’t as grim as they had feared it would be but trying to find a photo of Claire with a genuine smile on her face whilst dressed up as a local in four skirts and a hat was a challenge.

Anyway the weather was fine and the waters calm, reflecting all those rays back onto exposed skin. It’s difficult to really know what to say about Lake Titicaca – on one hand it’s an environment where time appears to have stood largely still and the people of the lake still build their small settlements on floating reed beds, with small houses, raised fireplaces and largely barter for foodstuffs they can’t provide for themselves, which is pretty much everything except for fish and fowl.

But on the other hand it’s nowadays a major tourist stop off. Each little settlement welcomes the tourist boats, shows them how the floating villages are constructed and invites people to look around the huts which are equipped with solar panels to power lights and TVs. All the villagers are dressed in traditional costume – for the duration of the tourist visits at least. Naturally there are opportunities to purchase local handicrafts. And then for 5 Soles (about 1.20) you can board a 'traditional’ island people boat complete with puma heads (made of reeds, not the real things) and two stocky little fellas will row your group around for about 10 minutes allowing you to take pictures and get sun-burnt. I’m guessing it’s about as far from traditional real island life as you can get but if it brings in the dollars and the soles then good for them, we’ve all gotta make money somehow.

The next day was our last in Peru and we boarded our ‘local’ bus (packed with tourists) to Bolivia and La Paz. We left our hotel at 7am and headed for the boarder at the SW end of Lake Tititcaca where we finally said goodbye to Peru.

We passed thru’ the border controls without issue and reboarded our bus to Copacabana – sounds glamorous, but trust me on this it isn’t. It has stunning views of the Lake but that’s about it. The town was dusty and grubby. Those few buildings that had been painted were painted either in terracotta, mint-green or mustard. The Dulux salesman obviously only had limited success.  

After lunch (where we met up with Phil and Paul from the other GAP group that’s following our group) we jumped on the minibus that would take us to La Paz. There’s something about S. American bus drivers; they all seem to think that they are a reincarnation of the late Aryton Senna – totally ignoring that fact that if they had any real ability they wouldn’t be ferrying around a bunch of green-gilled tourists.

That said the countryside, when not blighted by a blot of a village, was beautiful. One day into our time in Bolivia I was beginning to form an opinion that Bolivia, in places, is a truly stunning country but with ‘buts’ which will come apparent in a later blog.
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