After a great final night in Cusco spent with everybody from the Salkantay trek I was feeling slightly tired and a little fragile. I woke up and headed straight for the bus terminal to buy a ticket to Copacabana a small Bolivian town sitting right on the edge of lake Titicaca, where a lot of the woman still seem to wear traditional dress. I found myself questioning whether or not they were all overweight or if their skirts were just not very flattering, maybe it’s a little of both.
The rest of the day was spent in limbo, waiting until 10.30pm to take the night bus across the border from Peru to Bolivia. On the bus, I fell asleep within an hour, despite the less than ample leg room. Buses in South America are not made for people over 5ft.6, in fact nothing in South America is. I’m so used to hitting my head off low doorways, low buses and low everything that I’m surprised when it doesn’t happen. I still slightly resent being called ‘torpe’ (Spanish for clumsy) however, and I always give a begrudging smile, whilst thinking…”fuck you midget”.
As daylight came I began drifting in out of a light sleep, the cold crept up my legs and I eventually had to cover myself in all the jumpers I had and alpaca knitwear I had collected in Peru. Finally at 7am we were all rattled out of our attempts at sleeping when the driver shouted that we had to get off the bus and cross the border to Bolivia by foot. After border control in Peru, we all dragged ourselves sleepily over to the Bolivian side.
It was then that I had my first taste of corruption. Border police asked me, an English guy and two Colombians I had been traveling with to follow them into the office. They asked each of us where we were from and on realising me and the English guy were not Colombian, they let us go. I question how qualified they are if they can mistake me for Colombian.
Anyway, after twenty minutes in the office, it turns out the Colombians had to bribe the officers in order to get past. The officers stopped them simply because they are Colombian and requested they provide a legal document that is actually not a requirement.
Back on the bus, with two justifiably angry Colombians we only had twenty minutes until we would reach Copacabana.
From there we took a boat across Lake Titicaca to Isla del Sol. For me, after being in Popayan for two months, it was a welcome sight to see the (semi) open water. The lake is immense and it’s difficult to remember that it’s not in fact the sea. The blue waters stretched to the horizon and beyond, and from our side; there was no end in sight.
Living conditions on the Island are extremely basic, and inhabiting the island was quite a strange mix of Argentinian tourists (or hippys rather), locals in traditional dress, donkeys and pigs all living side by side. The island itself was beautiful…nobody can complain about white sandy beaches. However a reminder of the altitude came when the burning sun hid behind the infrequent clouds. The cold in these moments actually made me shiver.
After spending some time on the beach and walking around the island (admittedly I didn’t spend too long there), the next day I took the boat back to Copacabana and hopped straight on a bus for La Paz.
I drifted off once or twice and on waking, I honestly thought I was back in Scotland. The landscape was scarily similar…minus one or two alpacas of course. We drove through the barren plains of El Alto where it looks like it rains all day and every day. It was difficult to comprehend such a place; it was sparse fields with small mud houses spread around. I didn’t know whether I should think it’s incredible, or an example of Bolivian poverty. In fact, I think it’s an incredible example of Bolivian poverty.
As we finally entered La Paz (3660m high) I caught site of a scrap metal Che Guevara (who was executed in Bolivia) and some Bolivian protesters on a half built skyscraper. I was dizzy and confused with La Paz and all the different sights I had seen on the outskirts of the city and on entering the city itself. Maybe the dizziness and confusion was caused by the altitude.
Five minutes later however all my previous anxieties were blown away by the beautiful descent into the city centre around which lies in the valley below. This sight, along with the altitude, will literally take your breath away.
MORE PHOTOS TO FOLLOW….