Lake Titicaca and Bolivia

Trip Start Jul 15, 2004
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Trip End Jul 15, 2005


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Monday, August 30, 2004

Hello again,

Once again it has been a fun and event packed couple of weeks and the time flies by so quickly it is almost unbelievable to look back at all the things I have been doing. Everyday you see something interesting or incredible, whether it be something of cultural signifcance, or just a scene on a street of everyday life. I am just struck by the fact I am here, in South America, and actually experiencing these things.

In the last week we travelled from Peru to Bolivia, and there has been a definite change in culture and landscape. Before we went to Bolivia though we stayed in Puno on Lake Titicaca the highest navigable lake in the world. It is huge, and quite pretty once you get out of the poluted waters near Puno. Puno itself is a pretty average place, but the point for most tours of the lake and its communities. I recovered from my food poisoning incident enough to do a day tour with the group which took us to the Reed Islands and Taquille Island on the lake. It was a nice day, quite warm and the Reed Islands were interesting. Essentially, there are several communities that create large islands on the lake using just reeds that grow there. Several families live on each on, and they can literally move the island when required. Walking on them was quite strange, a bit bouncy and spongey. One thing upset me though on one island because they had a "pond" in the middle of one but had a poor comorant tied up by the leg so it couldnt fly away...it was cruel and I hate seeing stuff like that. Next we went to Taquille Island, which has a large indigenous population and is still quite traditional. The handicrafts, particularly woven and knitted stuff is quite famous and what the island is mostly known for. The men are the only ones who knit too, and the dress of the island is quite distinctive. However, it was quite touristic and in some ways almost feels a bit like a human zoo which I find a little uncomfortable. We had another girl on our day trip who had just arrived in South America, and we had a lot of hiking to do around the island, at an altitude towards 4000 metres above sea level, and I realised just how much my body has adapted to execise at this level because it almost felt normal while this other girl really struggled. The day was very laid back, and most of us girls ended up asleep in the cabin with the boys playing chess on the deck.

The next day was an early start to go leave Peru, and go to La Paz Bolivia. It was sad to say goodbye to Peru, the last few weeks had given us many memorable and inspiring experiences. The bus was a basic one, and the trip quite long but we managed to make the border crossing without losing our Canadian companions! However we did have a funny experience about an hour later where we had to make a crossing of part of the lake. We had to get off our bus and do a short crossing on a small motorised boat, the lake was really choppy because the wind had picked up, so it made for a bit of excitement. however the really funny bit was watching the bus (and all our belongings) being loaded onto what can only be called a raft...and then punted across the lake. We were worried about making it across on the boats, but we were very nervous about seeing our large bus on a small raft sinking halfway across Lake Titicaca. The bus made it, but we were left wondering just how many buses may be at the bottom of the lake.

It was a couple of hours further when we got to La Paz. It is quite decieving really because you hit an outer suburb that you think is La Paz, but then go a little further along the highway, turn a corner and then suddenly in the valley below you is the massive city...it took everyones breath away to just see this city below us, and snow on the mountains around it. And La Paz is one teeming city. There just seemed to be people everywhere on the streets. Our hostal was just fantastic, and we were really quite excited to be there. We walked that night to a place for dinner, which was awful and had zero vegetarian food on the menu, but it was a great experience to be walking around a city that had so much life. It is a very cool place, I think we all felt a great vibe just being there. We had an early night, because the next day was our last day for the group to be together as Clare, Jen, Anthony and Mandy and our leader Maria were leaving the tour.

The next day we spent looking around the city, with its many markets. Close by was the Witches Market, famous for selling spells, charms and dead things....most notably baby llama and alpacas and even llama foetuses (apparently used to put in the foundations of new houses to bring good fortune). The smell was a bit much at times, and there were actually worse dead things hanging from doorways...eeck! I did buy a statue of Pacha Mama though, or mother earth. The streets were really busy with people walking around, but the city feels quite safe overall. Although in saying that, later that night someone was apparently mugged with violence just down the road from our hostal! In the afternoon the weather suddenly turned from sunshine to freezing and lots of rain. We were trying to look at the Black Market but the weather was atrocious and my fingers were freezing so we a few of us retreated for coffee and a relaxing afternoon, in preparation for a big night out. And it wasnt just my imagination about how cold it was....sure enough, on the endge of the city it was snowing and we saw cars driving around with snow on the roof. Still, it hasnt snowed on us yet, but by all accounts the season is very cold this year. Apparently, it has just been snowing on the Inca Trail again, and from the last day we were on the Inca Trail the weather has been very bad, so I feel very blessed to have had the weather we have had (I am thinking our little ceremonies thanking the gods and mother earth have been a good thing).

Our last night together as a group was bittersweet...we met in Byron and Skyes honeymoon suite and gave Maria a present from us. We then played a game that Skye organised, here we each had to take an amount of wool (as much or as little as we wanted...so guess who took the longest bit!) and then we found out that using the wool and wrapping it around our finger we had to talk about the trip for as long as the piece of wool. It was a great idea and everyone had just amazing things to say in their own brief or long way. Skye is the master at games...spot the primary teacher! We then had a big dinner at the hotel restaurant, to celebrate the end of this segment and Sze Fe s birthday. We were a pretty rowdy bunch thanks to the many bottles of wine drunk earlier. We then went out to a bar and had a good night. A few sore heads in the morning (although I wasnt too bad...honestly!). The next day though was spent wandering and we noticed it was very quiet on the streets of La Paz traffic wise. With good reason, there was a big strike on, and later that day a massive demonstration was held in the main street and we found ourselves in the middle of it. There is a lot of turmoil in Bolivia at the moment in relation to the gas pipeline and the efforts to stop the growing of Coca. Anyway, the strike meant no buses and no taxis and we were supposed to be leaving the next day so we were a bit anxious about what it all meant. We met our new tour leader Sophia, who is also Ecuadorian and once again a lovely warm and positive person. We had a less eventful night and I am now sharing a room with Jackie who has been with us from Quito and is an absolute scream. Lots of fun...we found ourselves wishing for an old movie on the cable tv and were rewarded with "Some Like it Hot" so were pretty excited.

The next day the strike was still on, but we decided to try and leave La Paz at midday. A quick visit back to the Witches Market found me buying a beautiful old embroidered shawl which is too hard to explain, but I am pretty happy with my purchase. I also got a couple of lovely colourful scarves and silver ring. We met one of our new travel companions, Calvin from the UK, who is in his 50s and travelling indefinitely. The trip from La Paz was slow, some streets were blockaded because of the strike and we had to go the long way to get out of the city. We went to the town of Cochabamba (Scarface anyone?) but didnt arrive until later in the evening. It was just a town really, but quite big and kinda cool. In the morning we went for a walk to a mountain where there is a large Christ statue and took a cable car up the hill for the view. The town is pretty big really, we were surprised, but the best part was walking through a local market, buying fresh nuts and slices of watermelon. The temperature was springlike, nice and sunny and warm. We were given the option from Cochabamba to have an 11 hour night bus to Sucre, or for $40 US fly...you have never seen $40 come out of a backpackers wallet as it did with all of us! So we flew in the afternoon to Sucre and this is just a lovely blissed out town...the capital of Bolivia and called the White City.

We havent done too much in Sucre, except have too large nights out on the town, one for the hell of it and the other for Sze Fe s official birthday. The birthday was again a great night out, and thanks to Skye we had some games to play which lasted most of the night and that involved lots of silliness and drinking! We have a new travel companion Katherine, again from Bristol but who has been working and living in Perth for the last year. She is lovely and a fellow vegetarian, which is good. We have been out to some fun bars and places to eat. Just this morning we walked up a hill and found ourselves at this cafe overlooking the city, in deckchairs and having a coffee. Yesterday we took a bus ride to a town called Tarabuco which is a big market on Sunday and looked at the woven goods. I resisted on the poncho front, mostly because I didnt have enough money on me at the time! But seriously, the pack cant take anymore...oK it can, but my back. cant! Well, the weather is just magical, and I am off to meet my friends for our last night in Sucre. We have managed to get a bar we went to the other night to agree to show a movie for us, Shrek 2 so it should be a lot of fun to have a chilled out night and a few beers with such a funny movie. I hope everyone is well back home, and that the weather is starting to turn into spring. I know the football news hasnt been good for some....so my condolences! The next week is going to see us go to Potosi, a silver mining city and then the Salar de Uyuni, or large salt plains for a couple of days adventure. I will probably write again when I am closer to Chile.

Take care
love
Sarah
xxx
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