For days Lake Titicaca has been our companion and now we travel out of Puno alongside it towards Bolivia.
This is a walk over border from Peru to Bolivia and of course it is up an inevitable hill, still at altitude. Makes me recall the range of different border crossings I have ever made.
The main thing is that this for me is a legal crossing so I record the event. In 1974, Australians needed visas all through South America, but we were assured in Brazil, no problem, no visa necessary. Perhaps one of those Austria / Australia problems.
Anyway after a week on a river boat going up the Amazon doing the hammock on the deck thing, followed by another 5 days on the Rio Madeira, a tributary of the Amazon, we crossed into the wilds of far northern Bolivian at Guajara Merim. Sans visa like innocent babes in the woods.
An unshaven rough looking man with a large pistol very obviously bulging in his back pocket accosted us in the hotel asking for our passports. In the face of our understandable reluctance, a tall American with a monkey on his shoulder (dead set true story) strolled by as if on cue and suggested we comply because this unlikely looking character was the chief of police.
Long story short, we didn’t end up in a Bolivian jungle jail for not having a visa. In fact we became the new best friends of the police chief for the week we were stranded there waiting for transport out. He very generously took us out to lunch but somehow made the American rancher from up river pay the tab.
Back to this trip, Copacabana is just over the border in Bolivia and here we stayed for 3 days in a fabulous hostel, La Cupula, with our own fireplace in the room and stunning lake views. Two alpacas were also permanent residents in the beautiful gardens.
One little strip of street in Copacabana is home to every traveller who passes through. Backpacks, beards, and long hair from one end to the other along with the odd buskers and travellers selling jewellery presumably to fund a bit more travel. Restaurants, tour organisers and shops selling woollen garments, jewellery and knick knacks line the street which leads down to the lake.
In spite of the freezing water, the lake is alive with activities for young and old and one hardy gent even takes a swim.
Great place to chill and relax for a few days – apart from the hill climbs of course.
We have an international connection in La Paz so a deadline approaches and we are back on a bus. At a point where the lake pinches in, there is a barge crossing. We need to cross the lake to get on the highway to La Paz so passengers are offloaded and the bus goes onto a barge with several cars. It takes us bus passengers a little while to realise we have to buy a ticket and hop onto a small motor boat replete with copious fumes to meet the bus.
After so long with the Lake as our companion, I miss it when we finally part ways and keep looking thinking I see it. The biggest lake in South America and such an iconic travel destination, for me at least.
Before we reach La Paz we have to negotiate El Alto, a city on the plain high above La Paz. This stretch of road in is an unbelievable nightmare section, totally congested as every car, truck and bus going in about 5 different directions on the dusty unmade road converges and no one wants to budge from their position. This is all a totally normal driving strategy, it just doesn’t work here because there are huge mounds of dirt where presumably there may have once been a bit more room to manoevre. Somehow we make it through eventually taking about 2 hours to do 60kms but the first sighting of La Paz itself makes it all worthwhile.
The city sits encased in a deep valley in the mountains and is quite spectacular. Once you are down in the city though, the streets are the inevitable steep hills to climb no matter where you want to go.
Just a very short stay but we want to go to Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku, a pre-Incan civilization almost all the way back to Lake Titicaca but in a different direction from where we have just come.
Such a contrast to Machu Picchu in terms of visitor numbers, it is fabulous from our point of view with so few people venturing out here. One of our few tours, it was very modestly priced for a very full day and just so worth it.
Almost the very first thing you see in the first of two museums is a monolith of staggering proportions, 7.3 metres high. In spite of having resided outside a sports stadium in La Paz for 70 years in all sorts of conditions, ironically photography is now prohibited. Just a stunning spectacle.
The Sun Gate is the other famous work standing out in the ruins. As with many places both here and in Peru, many of the ruins are roped off.
Back in La Paz, there are many museum possibilities but not enough time so we opt for the musical museum. Great choice, it was so excellent.
It’s an early morning trip to the airport but the day dawns bright and clear yet again. As the highest international airport in the world at just over 4,000 metres, we traverse one last time the steep climb up out of the valley to the flatter El Alto. The tightest connection of the trip because we need to fly south the very next day from Santiago to Patagonia but I need not have worried. Having prebooked the more expensive national carrier throughout, the strategy appears to have paid off.
Experimenting with the multi city bookings helped to keep it a bit more economical and made a framework we had to run with. Turned out to be a good thing in the end I think with just 3 short months to play with.
All 13 LATAM flights have been on schedule, staff have been helpful and our luggage has always been there. Pretty good even though the in flight offering on an international flight would disappoint most. I’m used to not being able to eat most airline food, so no dramas for me.
Barely a week in Bolivia. It was added in to the journey more as a logistical tactic to get back to Santiago, but provided a few special experiences and a nice opportunity for reminiscing on my youthful adventures.