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Cuzco, Perú to La Paz, Bolivia

posted Mar 11, 2011, 5:39 AM by Paul Gareau
Hi all! That's right, I'm finally in Bolivia! It's hard to believe I spent five months in Peru, but it's a big country and I got to see pretty much everything I wanted to. The only "touristy" area I missed was the Nazca lines, which weren't easy to get to from any of the other places I was in, and I guess they didn't interest me too much overall. 

When I was in Ollantaytambo (near Machu Picchu) I had to buy the Boleto Turistico, the tourist pass that's required to see most of the tourist areas around La Paz. Before I left Cuzco, Laura and I used our passes to see a few of the museums in the city. There were some interesting art and historical exhibits and even though I was mostly trying to get the most out of the relatively expensive tourist pass, I'm glad I went. There were also three or four ruins northeast of Cuzco that were covered by the tourist pass, so after leaving Cuzco, I decided to take the indirect route to Puno, via Pisac to see the ruins along the way. At the first, Sacsayhuamán, there are more huge stone walls, carved with incredible precision. While I was there I met Javier, a bike tourist from Spain, who was also headed to Pisac. We rode together for the rest of the day, and checked out the two other ruins before Pisac. 

The next morning Javier continued in the direction of Machu Picchu, and I headed south towards Puno on Lake Titicaca. About half way through the day, I met another bike tourist named Carlos, who had ridden to Cuzco from Argentina, and had just turned around to head back home. When we were ready to call it a day, we found a big, currently unused stadium that we were allowed to sleep in. 

It rained pretty heavily on the afternoon of the next day. Fortunately we arrived at some hot springs shortly before it started. It cost about 50 cents for us to use the pools, and we stayed there for a few hours until the rain had passed. While we were there, another Alaska to Argentina rider arrived. His name was Antonio and he's from Italy. He's been on the road for longer than I have, and I still hadn't heard of him. How many more of us are out there?! Carlos and I left the hotsprings just to get over the pass to make the next day easier. We camped at a university where Carlos had stayed on the way up. School wasn't in session, but there were still some people around, and they gave us dinner and breakfast for free. 

We met up with Antonio the next day and the three of us rode together all the way to Puno. The whole ride from Cuzco to Puno was great. Except for the one pass, the road was flat, there was great "Big Sky" scenery where you can see forever, little traffic and a good shoulder. At the end of the first day riding as a group, we rolled into Pucará and asked someone where we could stay. The guy said we could stay with him, and led us to his house. His wife looked out the window when we arrived and he yelled "Look, I found gringos!". They were very hospitable and since we didn't want to trouble them, we said we could just sleep in a covered workshop instead of in the house. This ended up being even more work, as they decided to clean the whole workshop and then lay down a plastic tarp and straw mats for us to sleep on. In the morning the wife made us breakfast, and the husband showed us all the ceramic products that they make there. Some things were very simple, such as coffee mugs, but there were also some very elaborate vases. Before we left, he gave us each a small bowl as a gift. It was a very nice sentiment, but I'm not sure how I'll carry it for the rest of my trip. 

Antonio and I stayed at a hostel in Puno that night, but Carlos camped just outside of the city. I wanted to see at least the floating Uros islands on Lake Titicaca, and the next day I went to the dock to see what the prices were. Two guys working in one of the offices on the pier told me that it would cost 30 soles / 10 dollars to see Uros, Amantaní and Taquile - with food and lodging included. This seemed ridiculously cheap (even for Perú) and I went back to the hostel to ask the owners what a tour should cost and who I should go with. They said that it was a scam and that I'd have to pay for my own food and lodging once I got the the islands. They knew a reputable company that I singed up through (it cost $30), and the next two days I  saw the three islands, and spent the night with a family on Amantaní. 

The floating islands of Uros were interesting, everything is made from reeds including the houses, boats and the islands themselves, but it has become extremely touristy and didn't feel very authentic. Amantaní and Taquile are both actual islands (not floating), and Taquile is the most developed for tourism, so staying with a family on Amantaní is recommended as the more authentic experience. The tour group was split up after we arrived and taken to the homes of our host families. The family that two Austrian girls and I stayed with had a nice but simple house, with no indoor plumbing or electricity, and they grow their own food and raise their own sheep. The husband works with stone, and the wife also creates crafts to sell to tourists. The two meals we had were made from homegrown food and were excellent. That night they had a party that the girls and I had to get dressed up for in traditional clothing. The whole thing was just for us tourists, but it still had a pretty authentic feel and I had a good time there. The next day we went to Taquile, which didn't really impress me and I would have been happy skipping it. 

The day after we got back I caught a bus to Arequipa, which is considered to be one of the nicest cities in Peru. There is an old convent there that I got to see during one of the days it's open at night. It's an incredible place and I highly recommend it to anyone in the area. For about 400 years the convent was completely closed off to outsiders, and inside the walls are a complete "city" within the city of Arequipa. Next I got a bus to the Colca Canyon. Which is the first or second deepest canyon in the world, depending on where you look. The other one is Cotahuasi Canyon, which isn't too far from Colca. My first day there, I did a short hike from Chivay to Yanque through terraced farms and cliff-side tombs where bones and skulls were scattered everywhere. 

I took a bus from Yanque to Cabanaconde, where the popular treks through the canyon start. The next day I spent about 5 hours at the "Cruz del Condor", a viewpoint where the huge Andean Condors can be sighted. There weren't many around when I was there, but I got a few pictures of passing condors nonetheless. The best flyby happened just a few minutes after I got impatient and went for a walk around the parking area where local woman sell food and crafts. Darn. Even though there weren't too many condors, the scenery from the viewpoint was spectacular, and it was a great place to hang out for a while.

For the next four days I hiked down into the canyon to the beautiful Oasis of San Galle, through the town of Malata to Fure, with three amazing waterfalls, through Llatica to Llahuar, where I was expecting to find hotsprings, but they had been completely covered by the turbulent waters of the Colca River, finally I returned to Cabanaconde with a 4 hour steep climb. I caught the local bus back to the Cruz del Condor the next day where it was too foggy to see anything, and then I managed to find an extra seat on one of the passing tour buses. It was really great luck, I paid about $5 and had a guide, a comfortable bus, and a ride all the way back to Arequipa, which I wasn't expecting. 

When I arrived in Chivay, I asked someone who worked at the hotel if I should walk to Cabanaconde instead of taking the bus and she told me there was nothing to see. On the bus ride there "nothing to see" turned out to be some of the most extensive terraced farms I have ever seen. It's totally mindblowing to see a landscape that has been sculpted to that extent. I was pretty disappointed that I didn't get to stop for a closer look on the way, or to take pictures. Luckily, the tour bus back also stopped at a few of the amazing viewpoints along the way.

I spent another day in Arequipa before heading back to Puno, where I still had to spend a couple days, mostly working on my plan for the rest of South America. From Puno I rode to Juli, then to Copacabana in Bolivia. They were two good days of riding along Lake Titicaca, but my legs were pretty sore from hiking (which was strange because they didn't bother me much during the hike) and I eventually started getting some soreness in my knees. I took two days off in Copacabana to let my knees recover, which is where many people go to the Isla del Sol, but since I had already done a tour of three Titicaca islands from Puno, I wasn't very interested in seeing that too - it's also supposed to be very touristy, which is always a turnoff for me. 

I left Copacabana after noon when the rain had stopped, and made it over the big hill to the straight that connects the north and south parts of Titicaca. I overpaid a little to take one of the rickety outboard powered barges across, and decided to stay at a town on the other side, where I paid less than $3 for a hotel room (my cheapest yet!). I probably could have gone farther, but I wanted to take it easy on my knees still and I just liked hanging out in the small plaza which was right on the water. 

It took two more days for me to get to La Paz. The first had more rain, and I stopped in a town at one point when the weather looked especially bad ahead. They were getting ready for the biggest night of Carnaval, and people were already drinking and dancing in the streets - all in traditional clothing and Carnaval costumes. I decided that I might stay there since it would be an interesting cultural experience, but it was still early, and people were already pretty drunk, so once the weather cleared ahead, I headed out.

Farther down the road I stopped a school and a small area of trees that seemed like a good place to camp. I talked to some kids there who showed me where to get water, and later returned with a notebook so I could teach them English! After that they watched me cook my dinner, then left and returned and asked if I wanted to stay in their house for the night, so it looked like I would still have a good cultural experience after all. After we arrived at their adobe house with dirt floors, they put a DVD in and we watched WWF's "Royal Rumble", and later "Hotel for Dogs". Not really the cultural experience I had in mind... They gave me some food too, which I wasn't able to finish since I had already eaten my pasta, and later the grandmother came in to introduce herself. Just like a few of the people in the town that was celebrating Carnaval, she was speaking to me in a mix of Spanish and Aymara. The only thing I recognized was "wayleekee", which I had learned on the island trip, and I remembered that it was a greeting, so at least I could say that back to her. The girl had to translate the rest of what she said for me.

The next day was the "day of water" during the Carnaval celebrations, which is when everyone throws water balloons, shoots each other with water guns, or just tries to soak another person by any means possible. Some cars are decorated with balloons and ribbons, which I guess means "Game on!"  as they always seemed the most into the celebration. Combis and collectivos would also be part of the action, and when one passed one another, they'd shoot each other through the windows. Cyclists aren't excluded from the fun, and throughout the day people threw water at me as they passed, or sprayed me with cans of foam. Lots of fun...

So, now I've been in La Paz for four days, and I think I'll finally head out tomorrow. My knees were still a little sore between Copacabana and here, so I want to let them recover once and for all. There wasn't much in the city that interests me, and since I'm trying to be good to my legs I really haven't done too much. It's getting pretty boring to be honest. The biggest project has been coming up with yet another new route to Patagonia. The rain has been worse lately than ever before, and all the reports I've heard have been that Bolivia is even more rainy than Peru. My new route goes straight to Chile, which should be about four days away. From there I'll ride along the Ruta Altiplanico, maybe all the way to San Pedro de Atacama and through some parks including Lauca, which is supposed to be one of the best in Chile. After San Pedro de Atacama, I'll head across the Andes again to Argentina and I'll loop down south to San Miguel de Tucuman, then back up to Bolivia where I'll ride across at least the Salar de Uyuni (largest salt desert in the world) and then head east to Paraguay. I'll see the Igazu Falls in Argentina, then head towards Cordoba, with a possible side trip to Buenos Aires. The new route is about the same overall distance as my last one, but I'll spend more time in the mountains than before, and I won't get to see Brasil or Uruguay, overall the weather window will be better - I hope! To add to my weather frustration, since I arrived in La Paz, the weather has been beautiful. I'm not going to assume that the rainy season has ended for good though, and I'm pretty happy with my new route now, so I think I'll stick with it.

That's all for now, ciao!