Bolivia

Trip Start Nov 18, 2002
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Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Chapter 5

So nursing our itchy bum bites from those darling mozzies in the Manu Jungle we headed from Cusco towards Puno (still in Peru, but only just) by bus which is situated right by Lake Titicaca. This is yet another stunning area of tranquility and beauty. We stayed for a couple of nights and took a day trip to visit the Islas Flotantes or floating islands. The islands are built using the buoyant 'totara' reeds which grow abundantly in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. These reeds are partly edible as well as being used by the Uros (inhabitants) people to make their homes, boats and crafts.

The many layers of totara reeds are constantly replenished from the top as they rot at the bottom. The ground to walk on is very springy and sometimes you felt like your foot would go all the way through!!
The Uros people had set up their little stalls selling crafts they had made from, yes you've guessed it totara reeds! Mobiles, statues, models all the usual dust collecting stuff!
We were pounced on by the children as soon as we set foot on their island. They loved looking through our binoculars and playing with the key rings that I (Caroline) continue to lug around on my day rucksack. Martin constantly nags me to give them away, but how can I? They bring such joy to the lickle ickle children!! They also loved to see themselves on the digital camera but didn't quite understand why we couldn't take the picture out of the camera to give to them. Hey our Spanish doesn't stretch to the technical stuff!!

The tightly bundled reed boats were a site to see.  All of different designs and when they are at the end of their life the people just let them rot away naturally in the water.

From Puno we took the bus around the edge of the lake to the border with Bolivia. Copacabana, just like Barry Manilow sang........."her name was Lola, she was a show girl"..........Yeah right enough now! So we arrive at the border and it is chock full of local people as far as the eye could see. It turned out that they weren't all making a mass exodus to Bolivia but that it was in fact market day.
So we trundle over the border with our backpacks into another country and another stamp in the old passports too.

After a couple of days chilling in the very chilled out town of Copacabana we took a 2 hour boat ride to the nearby beautiful Isle de Sol (or Sun Island). Unlike the floating islands this one wasn't made of reeds. At over 4000 meters above sea level it had amazing views over Lake Titicaca.
how much was my insurance excess ??? isle de sol on lake titicaca
We spent a couple of nights here watching the sun set on both evenings and looking up at the sky at night which revealed billions of stars. With hardly any electricity it meant no light pollution. We were also treated to a spectacular storm one night where the thunder ricochet round the surrounding mountains.
During the day we walked along the many trekking routes which took us through the traditional villages and to the ancient ruins dotted around the island.
Some children we met would ask us to take their picture and then want money! Cheeky monkeys! Needless to say we cottoned on to this very quickly and before they said it to us we would say it to them. You should have seen their faces?
The food we ate was fantastic. Fresh trout out of the lake that very day. We ate fresh trout for all the time we were in the Lake Titicaca vasinity. With no cars or any kind of machinery this island was very peaceful. We loved it.
waiter waiter there's a foot in my soup !!!!!!!! wot are you looking at ??????????? Isla de Los Pescadores

Once back in Capacabana for a couple more days then we took a bus to Bolivia's capital La Paz.
Wow what a difference to Lake Titicaca. Mad.........busy,busy..........people........cars..........b usses........nightmare!!..........all jostling for space on the road, honking horns, spewing out clouds of black fumes YUK!
We stayed 2 nights then go the hell out of there!! We craved less people, more space, less noise....got the drift?

We took another bus south (just a 3 hour journey) to a town called Ururo our plan being to catch our first train (since leaving home) to Uyuni where the famous Salar de Uyuni or Salt Flats begin.
For $10 each in first class we got seats that lay back, tea/coffee hostess service, pillows, blankets, videos and snacks. Now why can't England do it for that price?? And that service come to think of it?
The train chugged along and 7 and a half hours later at precisely 2.40am it arrived at Uyuni. Thankfully some hotel touts greeted us at the station and took us to a bed for the rest of the night.

Next morning we awoke to brilliant sunshine, so so bright you needed to wear very dark sunglasses even at 8am. And not forgetting a hat either as the air is so thin being 3700 meters above sea level.
So our aim of being here was to visit the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats). Loads of agencies offered tours lasting anything from 1 to 4 days. We opted for the 2 day one night tour which started the next day.

There was just 4 of us in the group, an American couple Joana and Alex and our driver come cook come guide all in one. We started off along a bumpy dirt road and some half an hour later we arrived at Calchuni. A dead end town where most of the houses were made from blocks of salt. As you will see from the photo above. We had a quick look around then hopped back into our Land Cruiser and headed off into the 'white.' What an amazing sight? Pure bright white salt in every direction as far as the eyes could see. It was with the help of our travelling buddies that we were able to take the trick photography pictures. Because the salt is so flat and all the same colour there is no perception of depth. They were great fun to do and we have tonnes more on CD.
wot no focus trick photography salt mining
At lunchtime we stopped at an oasis in the middle of nowhere called Isla do Los Pescadores. An island covered in Cactus. The sun was even stronger here compared to the town so again sunglasses and a hat were an absolute must. The sun even reflected off the salt and burnt the underside of your chin if you weren't careful. Great!!!

After a lunch of fried Llama and salad yes that was Llama! tasted OK actually a bit like no! not the usual chicken but like a rump steak, we then headed off in the direction of Tunupa Volcano.
A refuge there was to be our home for the night. As you can see from the photo, the doorways were made for the little people. Our little house overlooked a small lake where a group of Flamingo's lived. How they survived on salt water we don't know.
Once the sun went down over the volcano it got really really cold. Out came more fleeces, jackets, jumpers and it was a good job there was 5 blankets on our bed!!
home sweet  home in the refuge on the salt flats house built ot of salt blocks Volcano Tunupa at sunset
After breakfast the next day 'Jack of all trades' our driver/cook/guide etc took us for a walk up the volcano. Puff puff.......pant, pant.....air is thin........high altitude.....there we go again.......... then we stumble across a metal door in the rock. Out comes a key to unlock the padlock.....why?....the door is opened..........still a mystery.......all is revealed when after climbing through on all fours we arrive at a small cave and there in front of us is 5 mummies. Now we are not talking about some social gathering of parents or such like we are talking dead skeleton mummies. Only unlike the Egyptian ones they were not bandaged, just in normal clothes. And had been in a crouched position for the last 100 years or more. We all went very quiet, well what could we say? Then we all made a quick exit. Very strange, weird, spooky.........

Back at the Jeep we all headed back to the town of Uyuni. Nearby the town we stopped at a train graveyard. Boring you might think but these were actual old steam engines (about 25 of them) just left, well we can't really say to rot as they were made of steel but just abandoned! Quite sad really to think they used to be stoked up, lovingly cared for, going about their daily business chugging along the track etc. No, I'm no train buff, but.....
We climbed onto loads of them took photos........Martin encouraged me to have a rest across the track but failed in his quest to claim any insurance money as no train came along.......Shame!!

Much later that same evening we took the night train back to Ururo. Then a bus that morning back to manic....busy busy.... La Paz where we lasted one night then next day we took a bus back into Puno in Peru. On the way we had to cross the narrowest part of Lake Titicaca. Here our bus got loaded onto a motorised raft. But luckily we had to take a smaller passenger boat. While we crossed the choppy water we all debated whether we would see our backpacks (which were tied to the roof as you will see in the photo) again.

Needless to say we made it and from a small town north of Puno we took a flight back to Quito Ecuador where (3 and a half months ago) we left our dive gear in storage. We have been here for a week now trying to get this web site up and running and catching up with 2 friends Katy and Chris who we met in the Galapagos Islands. Hi girls!
And tomorrow 27th September we fly off to San Jose in Costa Rica for some much needed diving and beach life.
Fingers crossed the hurricanes will not affect this part of the Carabiean. We will keep you posted until then Chow for now

Caroline and Martin xx
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