Tue 21 Mar 06

Sleep was fitful and chilly. Chunks of sleep frequently interrupted by the glare of a pair of large headlights barreling directly toward our bus in the night.

We arrive in Puno at dawn, off-load our baggage, and pay .50 soles each to use a filthy bus station bathroom. Weaver talks to a ticket agent and returns saying he’s booked our tickets for outings for the next three days of our trip. I am a bit miffed by this as I hate feeling locked into any sort of itinerary. I don’t like the feeling that if I weren’t enjoying my time at Lake Titicaca or if something more interesting presented itself that I’d be sacrificing already spent money. I keep mulling over the option of spending some time on the coast, surfing and sightseeing. It’s tough when I’m the only one who has an interest in this though and logistically it would be a difficult trip to organize by myself without the benefit of Spanish fluency. If they spoke English here I’d probably be headed back to Lima right now. It’s all very frustrating not to have that control. I voice my concerns about the lack of flexibility in the schedule to Weaver and seem to hurt his feelings a little. He sits quietly for a while then says that if I really only want to stay one day in Bolivia that he’ll look into it. At this point though, our tickets are not refundable and I didn’t feel like pushing the subject, so I drop it.

From Puno we catch a bus headed to Copacabana, Bolivia. The bus smells like warm dog crap. Warm dog crap that has somehow sublimated and is now saturating the air like a fine mist. The onboard toilet is broken (which probably explains the smell). The bus is uncomfortably hot and the road spectacularly bumpy. My less than empty bladder is jostled for hours. Not pleasant at all.

Our bus spokesman speaks broken English which I find somewhat comforting as I do every time I bump into an English speaker. His name is Andres. He apologizes for the condition of the road and explains our itinerary for the ride including details for going through Bolivian immigration.

After a two and half hour ride the bus stops near the Bolivian border and picks up a food vendor selling deep-fried foods. The bus now smells like deep-fried warm dog crap.

Our passage through customs at the Peru/Bolivia border goes smoothly. A brief wait in line, another stamp in the passport. After another 8 km on the bus, we reach Copacabana, nestled beautifully in the hills on the coast of Lake Titicaca. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with the views of the lake on the bus ride in (looked a lot like Lake Michigan with a few mountains in the background), the total package of the city really is something special and the lake appears more magical when viewed from sloping brick streets with colorful boats bob near the shore.

Later Mark mentions that of all the places we’ve been to, this is the one he’d most like to live in. I agree. It reminds me of when I used to play SimCity 2000 on my computer when I was a kid. Before you started up the game you had the option of terraforming the land where your city would start simulating. I would always try to come up the idyllic land area for my future city and invariably it would be a coastal spot surrounded by hills, with slender peninsulas and archipelagos off the coast. This is what Copacabana is.

Oh, and it’s cheap! Weaver tells me this where Peruvians go when they go on vacation because they get more bang for their buck. And here I was already thinking that Peru was an incredible bargain. My first meal in Bolivia is a three-course lunch for 10 bolivianos (roughly $1.20 US). Incredible. The food is delicious and filling. I’m confident that we will have a running joke about our Bolivian purchasing power for the rest of the trip.

After lunch we all hike up a peak that I scoped out earlier in the day. I’m hiking in sandals today because I’m sick of trying to wash dirty socks. The trail is wide and paved with stone though so I encounter few problems save a turned ankle or two. Near the peak, the trails turns into natural rock that reminds me a bit of Joshua Tree National Park.

At the top is a pavilion with a line of crosses and altars that, as best I can figure, seem to be expressions of gratitude to the virgin of the lake. There are fresh flowers placed at the base of each of most of these and ash and melted wax nearby. Also garbage and broken bottles.

The view here is beautiful and expansive. Copacabana looks much less third-worldy from above. The lake is shimmering and you can understand why this might be chosen as a place of worship. We all sit and enjoy the view for at least half an hour while a number of other tourists mill about, then hike back down and wander around a small market near Copacabana’s main plaza. We haggle a little without much success before stumbling onto a shop whose keeper is very friendly and seems to be offering excellent prices on everything.

Weaver talks to the shop keeper about soccer and later tells us that the guy was saying that we were his first customers of the day. We all buy a few things and our purchases seem to make his day. This makes me happy.

We crash in our hotel ($5 each per night) for a while before splitting two pizzas at a restaurant a couple of blocks away. Mark and I then try to call home from an international telephone at an Internet café. The instructions seem straight forward but the call doesn’t go through. I’m bummed. I miss home and in all honesty wouldn’t mind hopping on a flight back immediately. I miss talking to Mary and miss petting my dogs. Adventures are all well and good, but I also love being home, surrounded by familiarity and love.

I am able to check email though. Mary’s written that Trammell got in a fight at the park and had his ear shredded a bit. My heart seems to puff inside my chest a little when I read this and I feel awful. I want to be at home comforting my little buddy. Why do you always have to get hurt when I’m gone?

I go to bed thinking about home and how I’ll never take a trip this long again (even though deep down I know I will).

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