Our driver also pointed out the outlines of a llama and a fish in the rock and the imprint of hands where hundreds of women must have put their hands. We also went to some pre-Inca ruins in the small town of Ichu. they were on top of a hill from where we had an amazing view of the lake and surrounding countryside. We had some initial misgivings about our taxi driver who took us to these towns as he kissed his bible on the way out of town. We were somewhat reassured when we realised on the back it may have had something to do with the cemetery we passed. Plus we were grateful that despite suffering from food poisoning he did a great job showing us around.
We decided to tackle the border crossing the easy way by getting a tourist bus from Puno straight through to Copacabana on the shore of lake Titicaca in Bolivia. This includes waiting for you to complete the border formalities. So we stopped, let the Americans go first (they have to pay $100 and it's a bit tougher) then visited the Peruvian police check, then immigration, then crossed the border behind a swarming French tour group who had reverted to the Parisian style of non-queuing in front of the Bolivian immigration officials. A few minutes of frustration and angst from the Americans ensued; then we handed our passports over with a "buenos Dias", and our passports were stamped and returned with the reply of "kangaroos." The Americans joined us in the bus a few moments later grumbling about having to pay the weirdest bribe ever in the form of a bottle water. Then on to Copacabana.
Copacabana does in fact bear some resemblance to the beach it gave it's name to in Rio. If you ignore the fact that it's at altitude-sickness height, (4000 roughly) it is surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, draped over a saddle, and fronts onto the cobalt blue Lake Titicaca. It's a heavily tourist influenced town, the positives of which include a decent cappucino and wi-fi. We stayed in an amazing hostel overlooking the lake up on the hill, once again thanking the strength of the Australian dollar. The beds were the most comfy yet, and we savored every minute of the hot showers as all sources had informed us that Bolivia does not rate highly here.
We decided to spend a night on the Isla del Sol (Island of the sun, where the first Incas
appeared) and walk the 9km length of it along the ancient path connecting the temple and sacred rock there to the rest of their empire. Getting there took two hours, not for the distance so much as the teeth grindingly slow boats that connect the two towns on the island with Copacabana. However we did meet some Austrians, two more Melbournites, a spaniard from Madrid who taught philosophy and a Kiwi who we spent most of the day with on the trail.We really noticed the altitude having become unaccustomed already in our few days lower down in Arequipa. Having seen Macchu Picchu all subsequent ruins are at a disadvantage, however the temples there were fairly intact. Nearby, we were shown an unassuming rock which has enormous significance for the incas and descendants as that was where the first Inca and his wife (incaress?) came from. It radiates positive energy, and since we were low we topped up. The landscape was not what we expected. It was more in keeping with that of the high Bolivian alti Plano - scrub, dust, rocks, donkeys and lots and lots of terraces.
Despite initial concerns of no electricity or comforts on the island, these were proven unfounded (with the exception of hot water). We had a fantastic meal of trout from the lake, a vegetarian
pizza and some local alcoholic concoction of warmed red wine and Pisco. All this prepared by a 'gourmet vegetarian chef' in a spot with a 'great sunset view' who was clearly the leading local entrepreneur. The sunset was stunning, see the attached pictures. We missed sunrise (on the island of the sun, we know) because of a failure to account for the time difference between Peru and Bolivia. But the breakfast of pancakes, banana and maple syrup in full sun on the terrace looking over lake Titicaca with snowcapped mountains behind was adequate compensation.
That afternoon we caught a bus to La Paz having narrowly avoided food poisoning at a local restaurant and sunburn after the ride back to Copacabana. The bus trip was interrupted by the need to cross a narrow stretch of lake on a small motorboat, whilst our bus drove onto a low flat 'ferry' with a 40hp outboard on the back to get it over to the other side. It was blowing up a storm, and the outboard wasn't exactly up to the task but eventually we hopped back on . The landscape was mostly altiplano - scrub, terraces or farmland and adobe huts surrounded by mountains.
After leaving Arequipa, we realised how spoilt we had been with our cities. Puno was not at all what we had been expecting - it was a bit grubby and unexciting so we only spent the night there en route to Bolivia. Function seemed to be chosen over aesthetic in the city's design- no roof ever seemed to be complete, with steel rods poking out of concrete pillars from all kinds of buildings. Although we were pushed hard by the local touts to go to the 'floating islands' made entirely of reeds, we figured that seeing as they depended entirely on tourism they would be a little overrun. So we spent the morning before our bus left visiting some nearby towns. We didn't have time to see the funeral towers up to 12m high made in the pre-Inca 'Choylla' period to house their leaders, about two hours out of town. In the end our selection included the nearby fertility temple. The stonework included Inca and pre-Inca sections and it was a place that women who had trouble conceiving would come to try and overcome their difficulty. The most dominant feature of the temple were the many giant stone phalluses.