Water and Salt (Lots of Both)
Trip Start Jul 28, 2004
26Trip End Dec 17, 2004
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Après quelques heures de voyage dans les hautes plaines du Pérou nous sommes arrivés à Puno, la principale ville du Lac Titicaca. Je dois dire que les hautes plaines sont hautes (près de 4,000 mètres d`altitude), plates et très sèches. Le tout avec des montagnes enneigées. Puno fut une surprise intéressante, la ville est décrépie mais le marché publique est vraiment publique. Le marché couvre des dizaines et des dizaines de rues, et il opère 7 jours sur 7. C`est l`un des plus gros marchés (et l`un des plus authentiques) que l`on aient vue durant notre séjour Péruvien.
Nous sommes dans cette région du Pérou pour découvrir le lac Titicaca et pour ensuite nous diriger vers la Bolivie. Fidèle à notre politique no-guide, no-tour nous faisons les recherches pour nous permettre de nous rendre sur les îles
Le premier arrêt est sur les Isla Flottantes, ce sont de véritables îles flottantes bâties a partir de roseaux. Des roseaux séchés sont ajoutés au sol au fur et à mesure que l`ile "pourrit". De plus les "îllageois" batissent leur propres bateaux à partir de roseaux
Après environ une heure nous reprenons notre "tour" pour nous rendre à l`ile d`Amantani. La première heure est passée à se sortir des roseaux. C`est pas la matière première qui va leur manqué. Ca nous prendra un autre trois heures et demie de bateau avant d`arriver à destination. L`eau de Titicaca est très belle, bleue profonde, le vent est un peu frais. A notre arrivé sur l`île il y a un comité d`accueil qui nous reçoit. On se fait assigner une résidence ou nous nous rendons et ou on nous servira le lunch. L`île est très aride. Ca doit semble difficile de travailler la terre et le rendement doit être assez pauvre. Après le lunch, notre hôtesse nous montre des tuques en laines qu`elle fait elle même et qu`elle vend
Lever tôt car nous prenons l`autobus pour la Bolivie ou nous avons décider de passer la frontière à Copacabana avec un groupe spécialiser dans le passage de frontière pour les touristes, bref on se fait prendre par la main et on est assez content
Capacabana est pas mal correct. Le coût de la vie selon les standard américain est très bas. On se payera une superbe chambre pour 6$ US. Bref faut travailler très fort pour dépenser plus de 40$ par jour. On passera une grosse demie journée avant de partir pour La Paz incluant une grosse sieste dans l`après midi bref pas grand chose à dire excepter une cathédrale très imposante et une chapelle ou les gens font brûler pas mal de chandelles. (Ils mettent six chandelles ensemble créant un gros flambeau, c`est visuellement beau.)
La Paz est très cool, la pseudo capital de la Bolivie
Les marchés de La Paz sont assez spéciale
Jen profitera de notre séjour pour aller voter à l`ambassade américaine où elle ajoutera sa voix aux forces libérales.
Après trois jours nous nous rendons à Uyuni en passant par Oruro. A Uyuni nous ferons une randonnée de quatre jours dans les salières d`Uyuni et dans les région avoisinantes. Nous avons été chanceux et avons joint un groupe de quatre personnes composés d`un britanniques, de deux américains et d`une allemande. C`est assez lunaire comme expérience, couleurs, sol, roches, températures, solitude, .. Mieux que de décrire cette région je vous réfère aux photos.
A la fin de notre aventure Bolivienne nous partons un peu triste car le pays est interessant et nous espérons un jour y retourner afin de faire les autres régions de la Bolivie.
Prochain arrêt; l`Argentine ou on nous a promis les meilleures steak de l`univers-tout-entier
Je vous embrasse tous,
I´ve created headings to add a little spice to the rambling narrative...
Lake Titicaca - one of the highest navigable lakes in the world After one train and two buses, we arrived in Puno, Peru in the late evening of Thursday, October 7th. We found our way to a hotel recommended by a woman we met in the Cusco bus station with only a little uninvited assistance from two different tour operators posing as helpful hostel managers. We fended them off by telling them that the next day we were doing laundry and checking e-mail, not going on tours (kind of like, "uh... Tomorrow? Must wash my hair." We really did those things the next day and enjoyed a day of wandering through blocks of a mercado (market) that started literally on our hostel´s doorstep (food in the streets and anything you could possibly want crammed in a small maze of shops between)
Puno, a lake-side town at an altitude of over 12,600 feet, offered a pleasant resting spot with nice view of the lake, a very touristy pedestrian street, two plazas with trees groomed in bizarre, unidentifiable shapes, the extensive market and not much else. I expected the lake to be surrounded by snow-covered peaks, but no. Even though we are very high and perhaps because of that, the surrounding peaks are not much higher and most did not have snow, just pointy brown hills, really. We wanted to go from Puno to two nearby islands and stay with locals, learn about island life, and of course, enjoy lake views. We had read one could arrange this trip without a tour and in fact, this was better for the islanders because all proceeds go directly to them. After our best efforts to avoid an organized tour, we were very disappointed to find, when we boarded our island-bound vessel, that, in fact, we were surrounded by other tourists and had a guide who welcomed us in Spanish and English - a guided tour it was. Oh well.
Our first stop was the "Islas Flotantes" (Floating Islands). The story here is that the Uros people live on man-made floating islands and build beautiful boats, all created from nearby reeds
The boat ride to our destination for the night, the island of Amantanì, took a couple of hours. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a group of colourfully-clad young women, all wearing identical traditional dress. We were assigned a host and led to our new home. Our accommodation was a simple room in an apartment adjacent to our host family´s house (apparently, some actually stayed within the host family´s home). We were immediately served lunch - a nice quinoa soup, some boiled potatoes and eggs and a tea made of a local herb, called something like "muña".
The daughters of our host family insisted that we borrow beautiful hand-knit alpaca hats (even though we had perfectly adequate hats in our possession, perhaps some tourists aren´t as well equipped?) and then we were whisked off to see an attraction of the island, ruins of a temple dedicated to Pachatata
When we returned to our new home, we were served dinner in our room then our hostesses, came to "dress" us for a "village dance". Andre was given a handsome pancho and advised to wear his borrowed hat. The women helped me put on the same clothes they were wearing over my clothes. I was wrapped into two skirts (the top a bright pink), a brightly embroidered white shirt, and the best part, a long black embroidered scarf to drape over my head. We were then escorted to the communuity hall where there were mostly a bunch of other similarly uniformed gringos and some hosts, and a fantastic band. We were shown how to do the traditional dance (a basic back and forth frolic with an all-join-hands-and-run-around-the-room circle at the end - think hava nagila) and danced the night away
Curiuosly, as we walked home in the pitch dark, we realized that our home is not the only one that has no electricity. The entire island has no electricity, though it seems there is an infrastructure for electricity, ie. street lights and wires everywhere. Some homes had solar panels which, in our hosts´ case, we were told was for the telephone.
After a delightful surprise of pancakes for breakfast (I had seriously convinced myself that were going to have another soup which would have been fine I´m sure), we all piled on the boat to head to the neighboring island, Taquile, an hour´s ride away. Though we had done our best to play along nicely with the undesired tour, when we arrived at the island, our friendly tour guide glared directly at us as we were about to disembark and said, ¨it´s very important that everyone wait for me at the gate ahead, especially YOU two, because I´m going to tell you very important information and you might have to spend the night on the island if you don´t hear it!¨ Well, then... The important information was the boat would meet us in a couple hours on the other side of the island. And, as he correctly guessed, we left the group at our first chance (the tour was having lunch together in the central plaza) and headed off to picnic with a view from the top of a hill. The island was a little greener than Amantani and appeared to have more of a town rather than the assortment of homes in Amantani. It was very pretty, being surrounded by the brilliant blue waters of Lake Titicaca helped
We returned to Puno (another 3 hours in the boat) and were happy to relax again at Hostal Santa Maria in the comfort of the same room we´d stayed in before.
Copacabana - Our Entry to Bolivia This time we intentionally sought out the tour company bus. We were a little concerned about the border with Bolivia, because one of our guide books mentions the possibility of all kinds of unpleasantries (bribes, drug planting, searches, etc.). The tour companies essentially escort tourists through the border - it seemed worthwhile to pay a little more. As hoped, the exit from Peru and entry to Bolivia were non-events and after changing a little bit of money, we were off to Copacabana. This little town´s greatest feature is that it is on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Small, touristy, and fairly non-descript. We did land a fabulous, very affordable room with huge windows, overlooking the lake. The big activity here is to go to Isla de la Sol and/or Isla de la Luna, however, since we had just been to islands in the lake, we didn´t feel we needed to visit them. We´ve heard that they are different and very beautiful, however, so if you´re in the area, you might want to check them out
La Paz, Bolivia - The highest almost-capital city in the world We took a morning bus to La Paz and arrived in this, the biggest city in Bolivia, only a few hours later. La Paz is built in a big bowl in the altiplano (high plains) with an elevation range of over 11,400 feet at the bottom to the airport above at over 13,000 feet. While it is apparently the commercial and political center in Bolivia, much smaller Sucre to the southeast is the official capital of the country. My first impression of this vast bowl city was that it looks unfinished. Most buildings are industrial brick with seams exposed - they seem wanting a layer of plaster and some pretty paint.
After some serious hotel-searching and defeat, we started with our packs reluctantly toward the best of the grungy evils, when a smiling older gentleman asked if we were looking for a place to stay. Feeling brave and figuring it can´t be worse than where we were headed for the same price, we followed. Up, up, and up along the side of the bowl, through the crowded streets of the Mercado Negro (called the black market even though it`s really just a market), our new friend raced ahead, looking back and smiling occasionally
We spent our days in La Paz wandering the crowded market streets (see Andrés great market photos) and exploring the city´s ritzy and university sectors. We found La Paz an energetic city with a delightful blend of the traditional Andes culture (women in traditional clothing selling soups from huge pots on the streets), contemporary urban style, and young university beat. There were wide city streets lined with fancy department stores, movie cinemas, cafes and restaurants, and women in traditional clothes and hats selling newspapers, candies, scarves or sunglasses in sidewalk stands.
Aside from simply enjoying the La Paz scene, one highlight for us was a very educational visit to the Museo de Coca (the Coca Museum) where we learned about the important role coca has played in the Andean traditions as well as it`s use as a stimulant, cocaine production, cocaine use and addiction, and the US involvement and perspective on Bolivia´s coca production
Even though pharmaceutical companies still purchase large quantities of coca leaves for medical treatments and Coca-Cola still purchases eight tons for flavoring purposes, the United States has taken an anti-coca production position (the aforementioned companies are protected by an exception clause) that encourages campesinos (farmers) to destroy the coca crops. This policy has apparently caused people to start new feilds of coca to receive the benefits from burning them. Further, you can imagine the inherent conflict of destroying your own livelihood if you are a farmer whose sole source of income is a crop that is widely used in your own country for nutritional, medicinal, social, and cultural purposes
O.k. enough of that, another fabulous highlight of La Paz was the witches´ market (Mercado de Hechiceria) which I stumbled across while looking for a hotel, but later read about and sent the world-famous photographer, Andre, to covertly capture it digitally (we had read that the vendors/witches? don`t really appreciate photos). Unless you are looking, you might miss it, but there are several blocks in La Paz where the ladies in the sidewalk stands are selling a most unusual collection of things: feathers, candles, fresh flowering herbs like chamomile, small stone sculptures, bottles of oils and powders, and most surprising, llama fetuses! Here´s a short article in National Geographic if you want more: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0530_030530_witchdoctors.html
Another highlight was a fancy movie theater where we saw a lousy movie however, we were impressed with the balcony and assigned seats. We also visited the US embassy where I was elated to discover that I could vote. All in all, we loved La Paz and were starting to love Bolivia with its affordable prices, modern conveniences, interesting culture and landscape, etc. and so on. We started to think that maybe we should stay longer in this fine country (one that we had originally planned on skipping), but we decided to stick to the second original plan and headed out on a morning bus to Oruro on Thursday, October 14th
A Mid-way Point - Oruro, Bolivia We arrived in Oruro, a modern city, during a convention so we had some trouble finding a place to stay. Soon enough, though, we found a fine room for a little more than we cared to pay, but we weren´t going to be picky. Even though Oruro is on the railway line to Uyuni, a huge tourist destination, it was apparent that not many tourists hang out there, because we had clearly returned to the land of people gaping at gringos. It`s weird, but in a way, that made me feel better. The city`s streets were packed with uniformed school children, suit-clad business people, and general busy-ness. Unlike La Paz, there was little sign of Andes culture, mostly just modern, pulsing city. We weren´t really there to sight-see, just to get a feel for Bolivia and maintain a reasonable travel schedule (the guide books recommend avoiding night buses, because drivers tend to fall asleep!), so we spent our time wandering the streets, checking out the main plaza, buying our train tickets, and getting on-line.
While we were there (about 24 hours), we witnessed at least 3 different protests. One passed while we were in an internet cafe with loud exploding fireworks and nobody inside moved, giving the impression that this was a common occurance
Uyuni - The Town and the Tour We hopped on an afternoon train to Uyuni. We had a lovely dinner on the train with some travelling flight attendants from Holland (well, the food was marginal, but the company was very nice) and arrived in Uyuni around 10:30 at night. We were shocked, and not a little annoyed, to find that the town of Uyuni seems to exist only because there are tourists who come there to see the spectacular countryside south of the town. We were bombarded by women trying to get us to their hotel and on their tour in the morning. We went to an odd place that appeared to be under construction. The woman who brought us there had mysteriously disappeared before we got a chance to ask where the showers were and if they had hot water, so I left Andre and scoped out a couple of other options. Everything else was the same price and nothing looked better, so we stayed. As it turned out, the showers were brand new and it was the first, fabulous hot shower we`d had in months
One of the tour sellers was in our hotel room (I kid you not) when I returned at 11 p.m. talking to Andre about how great the tour was and how she would cover the cost of breakfast if we committed to going on the tour with her. We told her we would talk with her in the morning - it was too late to be discussing such matters with no comparative data. In the morning, this persistent young lady arrived at our door, before we`d even stepped foot outside to start our investigations. We told her we`d find her in an hour and tell her what we thought. Jeesh!!
For a little background, we were embarking on a four day tour by jeep through the salt flats near Uyuni and then on to see a variety of other spectacular naturally occuring sights - colored lakes, volcanic mountains, thermal springs and pots, etc. The books warned that it was essentially luck of the draw if you get a good tour, but they explained a few important things to look for. For the official record, I was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of sitting in a jeep for 4 days - sitting in vehicles for long periods, day after day, is not really my cup of tea. But, every indication was that it would be well worth it for what we would see.
We talked to a couple of recommended agencies, compared prices and vibe and made a decision. We researched little, except how much water they provided and how many other people were being jammed in the jeep. As it turned out, we thought we were going on a tour with four French people. When two jeeps pulled up, however, we were directed to a jeep with four non-French people - we had actually been pawned off to another agency, because ours had filled their jeep with French people and apparently this other agency was looking for two more passengers. As it turned out, our new tour friends had done their research much more completely - they had, in fact, looked at the jeep´s engine, checked the tires, discussed the menu, asked for heat, etc. We were impressed and happy to have joined them. Our happiness only grew when we discovered that they were some of the greatest people we´d met in our travels. Since we were going to spend some serious quality time with them over the next few days, this was a great relief.
There is no way that I can effectively describe what we saw - you have to see it, so check the pictures. The first day, we visited the train cemetary - not high on my list of activities, but kind of interesting. The trains are retired trains from a long time ago - 1800s? They were used to transport minerals from the area to Argentina and Chile
The nights are somehow more uniquely defined in my mind. Our first night was spent in a fairly nice building - we all shared a room and had a table for mate (herb tea), dinner and games in the hallway outside as were the bathrooms. The beds were typical of what we`d found in Bolivia - kind of like La Paz, shaped like a bowl. There was no heat, but we were not cold. We played a game that Peter, the Scotish sportcar-designer traveling around the world for a year, intruduced. The game, called Perudo, is a dice game played by guessing (correctly or incorrectly) probabilities
The next night, we were at approximately 5000 meters in elevation. It was very cold even before dark. It was even colder as night set in. There´s a photo of our room which included our game table (note the saggy beds). The bathroom was a couple doors down and had neither a light nor a door. We warmed our room with small candles and played again until it was too cold to stay out of bed. That night, despite the tiny bed, I insisted on sleeping with Andre. I couldn´t even consider trying to warm up my own bed!! We survived, of course, but in the morning opted to skip bathing in the hot springs, figuring there was no way we would remove the 5 layers of clothes we had piled on.
Sadly, at the beginning of the third day, we said good-bye to half our party - they were heading to Chile and we were close to the border. The departing friends were Peter, off to spend a few months in Asia and Jake and Amy, Americans who had spent two years in the peace corps in Antigua and Granada respectively, were traveling for a few months in South America and heading home for Thanksgiving (the first at home in a couple years). We felt quite lonely after they left, but Andre and I were happy that Petra, a German woman who is traveling in South America for a year, stayed with us
We spent the rest of that day quietly (somberly?) driving through miles of dirt track with views of mountains and odd wind-formed rocks. That night, we stayed in an actual hotel-like place and we were served our meals in a restaurant. Petra followed the game path that Peter had set us on and taught us a new card game (which we have continued to play on many buses since). Our last day was mostly driving with breaks at small towns along the way. Our driver and cook seemed to be having a disagreement - one possible interpretation was that he was very, very hungover and she didn´t appreciate it nor the way he was driving. Oh well. We made it back to Uyuni safely. We spent the afternoon there and had a parting dinner of pizza and beer with Petra at a joint owned by a guy from Massachusetts. At 10 p.m., Andre and I boarded an overnight train and headed for the border of Argentina.
Hopefully, we will write again soon with the next few weeks of our adventure. I hope this message finds you well. We are sadly counting the last days of our adventures in South America. We will be back in North America by Christmas. Hugs to all,