Sorry. It’s taken a while since the last post. Peruvian ruins and treks have been taking up valuable time, and let’s be honest – they were far more interesting than the prospect of updating you on said adventures. Time to get back on track though – or at least back to a month ago, anyway. You didn’t expect more than that, did you?
Monday 09th May 2016 –
I was informed the bus would be a cama bus when I bought the ticket. Yeah, right, I thought, I’ve fallen for that trick before, and when the 18 hour bus costs the equivalent of £10, it invites a natural scepticism. The buses are cheaper in Chile, but that’s almost overboard – a similar length bus in Argentina would have cost me £70+. Nevertheless, when it pulled up in the terminal in Iquique, it was indeed a cama bus. There were some issues, though.
My mixture of Chilean and Bolivian colleagues and I quickly climbed from sea level after reaching Arica, to over 5000 metres, in a matter of hours. It’s not a great feeling, if I’m honest. Suddenly, with only half the normal amount of oxygen available, the headaches start. This was combined with the heating, which was doing its best to swelter, and burn a hole in my leg. I supposed I should be grateful if existed at all, but then at the most inopportune time, the bus stopped, and the heating went off. We’d reached the border, and would now wait at 5000m for the next six hours till morning broke.
The jaw dropping site of La Paz, as the bus curved around the great basin, was undiminished on my return. Six months after I left,it was just as incredible as the first time I set eyes on this most distinctive of cities. It was just as crazy on the ground, too. Gone was the Chilean reserve and mild mannered demeanour, and back was the crazy traffic, the odd protests, and distinctive smell of the Witches’ market.
It was a flying visit, but one where I got an impressive amount done. I spent half a day locating a place to get my bag sewn back together (my main task) and a button back onto my shorts (which last possessed such a device about five months previous). I also revisited two of my favourite locations in town. First up – the hole in the wall eatery, for the best of simple Bolivian lunches. Then – Brosso – the cake shop I’ve been trying to better since my first visit. For a few minutes, on arrival, I thought I was going to be disappointed – the menu had changed and the choice had been reduced. I gambled, putting my faith in one of the cake names and hoping it was that same original recipe, with the giant curls of chocolate extending from the melting cake. Fortunately, it was, and the walls of my world stayed upright for another day.
There was one thing in particular in noticed in La Paz though. Bolivia is missing out. Despite all the shops with (dodgy) football shirts, there’s not a Leicester top in sight. Come on guys, get yer act together!
Soon, very soon, I was off once more, this time to Isla del Sol, the reason I’d come back into Bolivia again. You see, as you may have noticed, I don’t like backtracking, and if I’d gone straight go Peru I’d have had to do just that. It was a slightly awkward arrival to Copacabana, on the coast of Lake Titicaca – I’d met three others on the bus – Enrico, an Italian, and British/American couple. Enthusiastically, they’d all agreed to come and search for a hostel as none of us had booked one. In a grand total of two corners, Enrico and I had managed to lose the couple, who dawdled to horrendous exaggeration. If you wanted some private time guys, you could have just said!
Since we had to wait till the next morning to get the boat to Isla del Sol, Enrico and I decided to do something traditional for the afternoon – we went to a bar and watched us (Manchester City that is) lose to Real Madrid. Yeah, neither traditional nor satisfying. We did trek up Cerro Calvario at the edge of town though. If I’m honest, I’m not sure it counts as a mountain because it’s only 200m higher than the town. That does put it at about 4000m though. Half way up, I needed a pee (the altitude curse strikes again) so I went to the toilet (a real one). Enrico had gone a bit further up, so I took a bit of a jog to catch up. What a mistake. Twenty metres later and it took about five minutes for me to catch my breath. Altitude hates me.
Lake Titicaca is apparently the largest high altitude lake on the planet. It’s a bold claim, and also awfully vague – I mean, what constitutes high altitude? 2000m? 3000m? I don’t know for sure, but there could be bigger lakes at those heights. If we’re going to have statements like this, I could say the pond in my garden is largest very specific altitude body of water in the world, and I don’t even have a pond. One thing’s for sure though, Lake Titicaca may not be the highest lake in the world, or the largest, but it is seriously impressive. You definitely can’t see the other side. What you can do, is watch the sun go down over the spotless horizon, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Come morning, Enrico and I were on the boat headed to Isla del Sol. It’s not very far – you can see this from Copacabana – but it took forever. Almost literally. I’ve been on a few boats in South America now, but this takes the cake in a competition for most stupidly slow form of transport. Another boat full of day tripping tourists broke down, and we laughed heartily until it overtook us again.
We eventually did reach Isla del Sol, passing the southern town of Yanama and disembarking at Challapampa, at the northern end of the island. Quickly having found a suitable home to leave our bags and stay for the night, we headed off for some ruins further up the headland. It wasn’t far, but it was a bit of an effort due to the altitude, and the inevitable climb. All this was overshadowed though, as we passed beautiful bay after beautiful bay, filled with crystal clear azure water.
Much like Pukara de Quitor in Chile, the ruins now are little more than a series of walls; but the maze like construction was still interesting, and even managed to form a home for some wild pigs. They didn’t come when called. More interesting, for me at least, was the sacred rock. Apparently, back in the day, Incas used this for sacrifices. How was I supposed to pass up an opportunity to test what that would be like?
Unfortunately for me, the rest of the day wasn’t so good. Enrico and I were tempted in by the water, and sat on the pier down the back of the ruins, promptly falling asleep in the sun. To put it in context, throughout most of South America I’ve been fine with the sun, barely putting on any sunscreen. Here at altitude was obviously a different matter though, and while I’d had the presence of mind to stick some on when on the boat, apparently I missed a bit. A bit being a half inch strip below my hairline. Real smooth, Doug. Not only that, but my baking in the best seemed to set off my previously grumbly stomach, which had started literally the moment I reached Bolivia, as if in anticipation. It was an uncomfortable evening.
Our plans were not to be scuppered though, so the next morning we set out for Yanama, at the south, me feeling slightly better. As we’d already taken the north path (which then turns south at the ruins) we searched for another way up to the trail running down the centre of the island. The little map we had (the back of a ticket) suggested there was one, and I guess in a way there was. Not really though.
Laden with bags (I had brought almost all my stuff) we asked them locals, who pointed us up a steep non-path, and Christ it was a slog. At 4000m, suddenly nothing seemed to work properly, and both lungs and legs took exception to the workload, making me feel most unfit. It was almost worth it – beautiful little houses stood hidden on the hillside, and we watched as a group of guys hauled a freshly killed pig down the slope, blood dripping everywhere. I was beat though – we’d walked 20 minutes and I needed a breather already. From this point on however, things were easy, and we took a relaxed pace along the pristine Inca trail, in the birthplace of the Inca civilisation. The views didn’t let up either.
We returned to the mainland later that day, after some relaxation and a below deck journey that smelt like we were being fumigated, and got ready for somewhere new. Peru.