May 25, 2004

Welcome to Peru, we have no change

So what have we been up to since our last log entry. Well we have been to La Paz, capital of Bolivia, mountain biked down the "most dangerous" road in the world, visited the island where the Inca empire started, made it to Puno, Peru before a massive roadblock/protest at Llave, Peru, and finally gone from Puno to Arequipa from which we toured the Colca Canyon for 2 days. Click below to read more about this.

From Sucre we had a long and cold bus ride to La Paz via Pototsi. It was over night and around 2am the bus got really really cold for some reason, which made it pretty difficult to sleep. The approach to La Paz by bus is interesting. You first go through the suburb of El Alto where tons of people are moving to from the Bolivian boonies in hopes of a better life. El Alto is at just over 4000 meters and La Paz is at around 3500m in a valley bellow El Alto. As you come to the edge of the valley you get a spectacular view of La Paz before descending down a steep and forrested road to La Paz. It was unusual seeing trees because most of Bolivia is alpine.

Our bus stopped by the side of the road somewhere near one of La Paz's many bus terminals and we all got off. We got our bags and caught a cab to Hostel Happy Days, since it sounded, well, happy. It was OK, kind of expensive compared to what we were used to from the rest of Bolivia but we did have a nice view of the city from our room. Since we were so tired we only managed to change some money before sleeping for most of the day. Then it was out to dinner, which I don't remember so it couldn't have been that good. On the way back from dinner we walked by the movie theater and saw that Starsky and Hutch was playing in 10 minutes, and being fans of Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller movies we had to go see it. The movie was a refreshing dose of North American media, its hard to ween yourself off of that stuff.

The next day we did a little shopping in the street market near our hotel and bought a few goodies and then did some internet'ing and uploaded some pictures. After doing this I felt kind of sick and we went back to the hotel without dinner and by the time we made it back to the hotel I had some serious chills and felt like being sick but didn't. This worried me a bit because earlier in the day we had made reservations with gravity assisted tours for a mountain bike down the "most dangerous road" in the world. I didn't sleep so well but did feel a bit better in the morning, well enough to do the bike ride. The ride starts an hour by car outside of La Paz at La Cumbre, the summit of the road out of La Paz to the Yungas. This is at 4700m approximately and is a bit chilly, quite chilly when you are bombing down the still paved and seriously steep road. Luckily we stopped pretty frequently and I could warm up my ears before they froze off my head. After half an hour or so of all downhill you reach a drug checkpoint where they check for the chemicals used to make cocaine from coca paste (which they also check for). Not carrying any of said chemicals or past we cruise past the check point for the only uphill section of the trip. This section wasn't too bad but we were still up pretty high and I almost puked. Then it was all downhill to the turn off to the most dangerous road in the world, a goat path of a dirt road on the edge of a cliff with 600-900 meter drops off the wrong side, with traffic :) We had 22 people in our group and it wasn't always to pass people so I ended up going slower than I wanted to most of the time, but it was still a lot of fun and it got a lot warmer the further we went. In all we went about 60 Km and dropped from 4700m to 1100m. At the bottom we all had some complementary beer and were shuttled up to the town of Coroico where we stay for a couple of nights and enjoyed the warm weather and lush vegetation.

Then it was back to La Paz with the Gravity Assisted guys returning from that days trip. We made it about half way up the dangerous road and got stuck for two hours where a backhoe had broken down. If it was a car it could have just been rolled down the hill a bit to a wider section, but backhoes are a bit more complicated. It seems that without an engine running there is no way for them to lift their scoops off the ground since you can't get any hydraulic pressure without the engine. So we stood around for a couple of hours while a huge group of people tried to push the backhoe to rock it to the side so cars could get past. They did this for a long while then used my idea of jacking it up and pushing it off the jacks and eventually it was far enough over for our bus to attempt to get past. We all got off while it sneaked past the backhoe in the recently fallen darkness. Then back on the bus for the trip back to La Paz.

We ended up spending another couple of days in La Paz for various reasons and managed to upload all of our pictures in these days. Then it was off to Copacabana on the shores of lake Titicaca. We visited the Isla del Sol via a slow boat from Copacabana. This island is the site of one of the Inca creation myths, supposedly the original inca gods came out of the lake here. It was a nice island with a slow pace of life. We walked from the north end to the south end in about 2.5 hours. While waiting for the boat back to copacabana we were pestered by two little girls that really wanted us to take their picture, for a fee of course. We refused and they refused to go away. Eventually they found a new set of gringos to bother and left us alone.

While having dinner in Copacabana with a couple from Saskatchewan and a couple from Florida we determined that if we wanted to do the inca trail we had better book asap. The next day we called some tour agencies in Cusco and found that the rumors were correct, there was at least a two week wait to start the trail. We managed to book a date for May 31st which was the earliest of the places we called by far, some places were full until late June!

From Copacabana we took the gringo bus to Puno in Peru. This bus stopped at every hostel/hotel in Copacabana to pick up more gringos before finally continuing on to Puno. No problems at the border, more efficient stamping in tripplicate. We did see here two female motorcyclystis from Alberta, funny seeing bikes with Alberta plates. Then it was an uneventful trip to Puno which was lucky because a few days later a huge protest happened in Llave, just south of Puno.

We had been warned about Peru and little scams that you'll find there like fake money and claims of no change by taxi drivers. We were mobbed by people at the Puno bus station and told them to screw off basically. Then we were mobbed by taxi drivers outside the station, they always just come running at you which is kind of unnerving. We told the cabbie where we wanted to go and he said it would be 3 soles (about one US dollar). Along the way to our destination he tried to convince us to go somewhere else and we said no, more than once. Then when we got where we were going I gave him a 5 soles coin and he said that he didn't have any change. I told him he better find some change or he wasn't getting anything, which I don't think he liked because I think that he genuinely didn't have any change. We manged to get him some change from the hostel and he left.

Most people go to Puno to visit the floating islands on the lake. We read that they were kind of exploited and nothing too special so we skipped them and just hung out in the town. We took a sweet tricycle cab to the bus terminal to buy our tickets to Arequipa and then to the dock where there was supposed to be the oldest boat on lake titicaca that was built in England and shipped to Peru, a process that took 6 years. But it had moved across the bay, which I suspect was just to generate more business for the water taxi guys that mobbed us when we got there. We skipped the boat museum and just went back to our hostel. The next day we left for Arequipa at 9am on the cheap bus, which has seats spaced apart the exact distance of my upper legs (ie no leg room whatsoever, even when seat ahead is not reclined) and it stops in the next town after Puno and basically waits until it is full or over full. We made it to Arequipa 6 hours after leaving Puno and had a reasonably nice cab driver that still wanted to take us somewhere else.

We spent a day in Areiquipa and visited an old nun's convent that was closed to the public for 400 years until 1970. It is a city within a city and was pretty interesting to visit, although I have a feeling the nun's were pretty short because a lot of the doors came up to my neck. We went to see Troy the first day in Arequipa as well, we thought it was Thursday and it was really Friday which explained why it was so busy and we had to see the 9:30pm showing instead of the 8:40 we had aimed for. Our cab driver was smarter than the Puno driver and asked if we had the 2.50 fare exactly. We didn't so he pulled into a gas station and got 2.50 in gas from the 5 we gave him and he gave us the change.

The next day we started a 2 day, 1 night tour of the Colca canyon which is deeper than the grand canyon. The first day was just driving to the canyon and lounging in some thermal baths. The next day we got up early to make it to the Condor cross to see condors riding the morning's hot air up and out of the canyon. Then back to Arequipa where we saw the protected Vicuna, which we saw plenty of in southern bolivia so we were surprised that they are protected. But supposedly a kilogram of their fur is worth about $800 USD, and one Vicuna only has about 250 grams of fur on them so I can see why they might need to be protected in populated areas.

And that brings us to today, sitting in an internet place uploading more pictures and writing this log entry while we wait for our bus to Cusco. We will spend a couple of days there taking in the sights before starting the 4 day hike of the inca trail to Machu Pichu.

Posted by bforsyth at May 25, 2004 12:57 PM

Ben forgot to mention that in Chivay, the town we stayed in at the Colca Canyon, we had a folkloric evening. Not expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised by the entertainment. There was a 6 or 7 piece band playing traditional music, well not all traditional. There was also two dancers that were very entertaining. They picked both ben and I out of the crowd to dance, and then the female dancer asked ben again later on, a crush I think!

Posted by: Sarah at May 25, 2004 03:20 PM

Hi Beanie Baby and Sarah,

Have read everything and gone through all the pics. Looks and sounds fantastic!! Nothing new here except that Joel has a real girlfriend. This is "The One" he says.

Luv ya lots,

Posted by: at June 4, 2004 09:07 PM