Nearly literally spent all day in airports. We were at the airport in Cusco by 6:30 AM for our 8 AM flight, then flew to Lima where we had something like a fifteen hour layover. Earlier in the week Mark and I had talked about getting a taxi to the beach for the day, but given his current state, we scrapped that idea. I walked around Lima just outside of the airport by myself for a couple of hours. Getting some air (exhaust-filled) and some significantly cheaper food than what the airport was offering. Read a couple of magazines from cover to cover and played two-man euchre with Mark over and over again. Surprisingly the time actually went fairly quickly. Around 9 PM we grabbed our boarding passes from the Continental ticket counter. Around 11 we went through customs and passed through to the interanational terminal. Tomorrow we’ll be home. I can’t wait.
Our bus was stopped at a police check point somewhere around 2 AM where all the Peruvians got off the bus and a couple of girls asked Weaver to hold a pair of shoes for them when they exited the bus. They seemed a little panicked and Weaver refuesed to hold the shoes. Probably for the best given what could’ve been hidden inside or any number of other equally good reasons.
At 4:45 AM we arrived back in Cusco. I was up for the day, Mark and Weaver still wanted to sleep more, so we returned to Wasichay where they very nicely let us crash for the morning without charge. We only had a two-bed room, which worked out fine. Mark and Weaver slept for about three hours while I showered and watched soccer and Sportscenter on TV.
Mark actually ended up sleeping all day as he was still feeling absolutely awful from whatever he picked up in Bolivia, so it was kind of a slow-paced day for everyone. Weaver and I walked all over the city. I picked up a few final souveniers, trying to avoid having to change out any Peruvian money on the last day. We ate breakfast at a little hole in the wall for $1.50 total for the two of us, walked more, then had lunch at Los Abanicos again. Again excellent.
In the afternoon I washed some of my terrible-smelling clothes and hung them outside of our hostal window, then read for a couple of hours. Mark kept sleeping, occasionally waking just long enough to destroy our bathroom. Weaver and I had dinner near the Plaza and talked a lot of baseball. We had planned to find a pub to watch some college basketball after dinner, but both were so full from dinnner that we ended up just calling it an early night.
Last night in Peru.
It took me a while to fall asleep last night. Dogs were barking, loud music was thumping from somewhere down the street and what sounded like M80s kept booming every fifteen minutes or so. Woke up to rain again this morning.
We started the day at a leisurely pace. I took a long shower then wandered down to our continental breakfast at about nine. Bread with jelly and Coca tea didn’t fill me up at all though and Weaver wanted to play cards so we headed back to the restaurant where we’d had dinner the previous night and all played Rummy while I ate steak and eggs.
After a couple of hours Mark and I headed back to the hotel (after being unable to find Weaver who disappeared to make a phone call). We sat on the hotel steps in the sun, mostly quietly, occasionally joking.
Eventually Weaver showed up and we grabbed our packs from the hotel and headed back out for lunch as Weaver and Mark were now hungry. Still full from my steak and eggs, I walked around Copacabana while they ate, changed a few dollars, bought a bottle of wine for Mary and a can of Pringles for the day’s bus ride then went back to the restaurant where the other two were just finishing eating.
We found our Pan Americano bus bound for Puno, Peru and were on our way. After a ten minute ride we stopped at the Bolivia/Peru border and cleared immigration where, while waiting in line, I happily overheard this conversation between two Britons:
B1 “I hate waiting in queues.”
B2 “How very un-British of you.”
I thought that was fairly witty and smiled when the girl looked around for affirmation of her cleverness.
Two more hours and we were in Peru. Figuring that it would be the only time in my life that I’d ever be in the area, I spent the ride really trying to soak up and remember the scenery as it zipped by. Watching the water. Watching the boats. Watching the mountains behind the water. Watching a man drop his pants to take a crap on the shore of the lake.
In Puno, we took a five minute cab ride to a boat launch on Lake Titicaca, then a twenty-five minute ride out to the floating reed islands made by indigenous people of the area. Our boat guide was really good, obviously passionate about the islands and, in heavily accented English, really putting a lot of effort into getting his point across. I just wasn’t into the outing though. I had underdressed for the cold and was tired from sitting all day. The islands were pretty neat though spongy and bobbing slightly. I also liked the bird that kept walking around the island, squawking and plucking fish from wooden bowls spread about. Back on the mainland our guide thanked us for visiting and wished us well on our future travels.
We returned to the bus station, ate a cheap chicken dinner (Mark didn’t eat, opting instead to sleep with his forehead on the table), then took an eight hour bus ride from Puno to Cusco, stopping frequently for inspection at police checkpoints or to pick up and drop of passengers.
Today I’m 27. I don’t make a big deal out of this though. In fact Mark and Weaver don’t even know it’s my birthday and I’m fine with that. I know that’s a little strange, but for some reason I’d rather not make a big deal about it. I’ve been on a few other trips with friends over my birthday this is the way I always play it.
I wake up still thinking about ways to either get home or get to Lima early, but finally scrap the idea as silly. At 8:30 we board a green and white boat with a bunch of other visitors and sit back for a two-hour ride to a nearby island.
The weather is overcast and I’m a little sullen. Partly the weather and partly my desire to be somewhere else. I love my wife and I love my dogs and right now I want to see them and not be feeling slightly queasy on a boat in Bolivia. I climb a ladder, walk out into the fresh air on the boat’s roof and I eat an apple that I bought from a vendor on the beach. Wind in my hair, mist on my face. The queasiness passes. The sullenness mostly passes. The views really are beautiful. I tell Mark that the islands remind me of pictures I’ve seen of the Channel Islands near Ventura, CA and I decide that someday I want to take Mary to see the Channel Islands.
The overcast skies turn to rainy skies as we glide through a narrow channel between islands. I return to my seat below deck. The roof of the boat leaks though and I seem to have the wettest possible location. Water is dripping down my back, dripping on my pack, dripping on my face. I try to cover my pack with a cheap plastic poncho, but it doesn’t help much. Eventually I take out my Frisbee and hold it under the worst drip, emptying it every few minutes near the dry feet of bemused nearby passengers.
We finally reach our destination on the north side of (the ironically named given the situation) Isla del Sol. We deboard in a light rain and grab a couple of sandwiches each from a vendor near the dock. It’s a three-hour hike from the north side to the south where we can either meet up with our boat or stay at a hostel. Given the weather and how cold we were on the boat the decision is made without much struggle to hike back to the boat and return to our warm shower in Copacabana.
We pay 10 bolivianos each for permission to hike the trail (and view the nearby pre-Incan ruins), then begin the trek upward. I’m again hiking in sandals, this time with a full pack. This is easier than I initially thought it would be, though probably not the smartest idea.
The trail here is busy with tourists. An Israeli girl walking near Mark and me steps in a mud puddle then strikes up a conversation about her 30 boliviano shoes. She’s gregarious, speaks liltingly accented English, and initially thinks that Mark is from Ireland due to his Irish Jig shirt (from a 5k race in Grand Rapids). Weaver strides ahead and joins in with a guided tour in front of us.
The cloud cover breaks as we reach our first high point of the hike and suddenly the coves below are alive with blues and greens. Pictures are snapped and I wish it were warm enough to swim. The rock on the island reminds me of Joshua Tree or maybe Moab. If this place were in the US it would be swarming.
We check out some ruins which make for good photography but aren’t anything spectacular (following Machu Picchu is a tough act), then start hiking up and down peaks toward the south end of the island. Weaver repeatedly bolts ahead and I’m not sure if he’s just being enthusiastic or trying to “win” the hike. I’d guess competitive is the closer answer as he seems awfully focused on the trail and not the scenery. Mark and I just shrug, joke about it a little, and enjoy our pace, appreciative of what we’re immersed in.
About an hour into the hike Mark obviously isn’t feeling well and when asked mentions that his stomach doesn’t feel too great. I feel badly for him as I’ve been in that situation. He keeps moving though and we make good time. After a couple of hours we reach we reach the south end and after a little confusion locate a very steep trail down to the harbor. I slip and slide in my sandals quite a bit.
At the harbor I eat the rest of my snacks that I had been hoping to save for the return trip (starving!) and stave off the army of little kids peddling smooth rocks and necklaces. Weaver jokes around with a few kids and they gravitate to him as most locals here do it seems when he speaks Spanish with them
I’m exhausted on the boat ride back to Copacabana and sleep for at least forty five minutes. Mark and I also half-seriously discuss finding a way back to Lima and changing our tickets for a day or two early. Mark still feels crummy and tells Weaver and me later that he thought he was either going to puke or pass out on the boat ride. I imagine that he was feeling a bit like I felt on the bus ride to Tombochay on our first day in Cusco.
Back in Copacabana we quickly eat dinner (five courses for 17 bolivianos, roughly $2 US) then crash for the night back at the hotel. The rain pours for about half an hour with huge lightening flashes and thunder crashes and then tapers off for the night. Tomorrow we head back to Peru.
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).