Lake Titicaca
Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia Lake Titicaca (Peru and Bolivia) 21st – 26th August We made it back in one piece, as did the car, to Cusco where we`d arranged to meet the car rental man at the airport. Naturally, being Peru, he didn`t turn up and the airport information desk had to phone him to get him out of bed. All this left us late catching our train, but we made it to the freezing cold, coffee-less waiting room of the Andean Explorer (boy, could Peru Rail learn some lessons from Orient Express…or even National Express come to that!). Feeling optimistic, we tried once again to see if we could get off the train at our hotel (which apparently has a stop which has to be requested), rather than going on into Puno itself. Well, you would have thought we had asked if they could drop us back in London! First it wasn`t allowed, then it was but we should have already gotten special permission, then they could but there might be an additional cost! We`d all but given up, when the train manager pulled something out of the bag (and then remembered he had to pull our bags out of the luggage compartment) and agreed to drop us off. The Andean Explorer went about as fast as a one-legged tortoise, so took around 10 hours to make the journey. It was a fairly pleasant way to spend the day though, chugging through the stunning Peruvian countryside, eating and drinking, with the odd stop to once again be harangued by locals selling stuff you`d probably never wear, eat or have in your house, or charging to have your photo taken with them. I know that they`re only trying to make a living, but it does get a bit exhausting, especially when you can`t even get away from the ************ the train, with the obligatory “fashion and pan pipes show”. The tracks seems to run right through the main high streets of the villages we passed, nudging against people, dogs and market stalls as it ploughed through. We even ran through the middle of a wedding party, and the bride and groom seemed overjoyed to have the train along with dozens of gawping tourists in the background of their wedding pictures! The train stopped on cue, and the hotel even had a porter alongside the track waiting to take our luggage. For once, we were impressed. It was short lived, however, when we were given the smallest and noisiest room in the hotel. Dave managed to “persuade” them that they weren`t in fact full and they miraculously managed to find us a lake view room before the manager was summoned. Dave was suffering from a touch of “Alpaca`s Revenge” and I was feeling a bit sad that the next day would be our last together for 6 months, so we decided to get an early night. The glorious views of the lake from our balcony the next morning lifted our spirits, and we were looking forward to our tour to the Uros Islands, a unique collection of over 50 floating islands in the middle of Lake Titicaca, made entirely of reeds. Lonely Planet describes them as a “reed Disneyland” having become shockingly over-commercialised, and we certainly felt as though we were being taken for a ride. I wasn`t convinced that the families dressed in garish versions of the local costumes, actually lived on the islands, but it was interesting to hear how the islands were formed of layers of reeds, which had to be replaced on top as they rotted below. Their huts, lookout towers and boats were also made of reeds and it struck me as an accident waiting to happen, especially when cooking over an open flame. I prayed that each island had a no-smoking ban and an asbestos boat moored alongside. After buying something purportedly “hand crafted” on the islands, we then handed over more money to be taken on a reed boat to another island where we were once again given the hard sell. By this point, I was almost reaching for the lighter! After our tour we felt obliged to give the town of Puno a once over. It really is a dump with hardly any redeeming features at all, apart from being on the lake. We decided to head back to the hotel and had a lovely walk down to the pier alongside grazing lambs and alpacas, as we watched the sun set. I bid Dave a tearful goodbye the next morning before crawling back under the duvet for a rare lie-in, and made the most of my last luxury hotel for quite a while. Checking in to my hostel in Puno was pretty depressing, and although the room was clean and comfortable, it felt freezing. I decided that I needed to invest in some warm clothing and added a pair of leggings and some gloves to my winter collection. And I thought South America was supposed to be hot! I managed to find a pizzeria with a big brick oven to sit by, and then spent a few hours in the internet cafe warming up before going to bed dressed in pjs, socks, fleece and my spare blanket. Good job Dave had gone home, he would have found me hard to resist! Up early again the next morning to catch the bus to Copacabana (definitely not “the hottest place south of Havana”, but a lakeside town across the Bolivian border). The town itself is quite small, with an interesting tile roofed church. However, it is the embarkation point for boat tours to the Isla de la Sol and Luna, supposedly the birthplaces of the sun and moon in Inca Mythology. I had planned on staying over on the Sun Island, but my hotel in Copa was invitingly warm and cosy, so I decided to base myself there and booked a day trip instead. The journey takes about 2 to 2 and a half hours, and the boats are cheap but very uncomfortable and I was ready to get up and explore when we arrived at the pretty little port. I was once again suffering the effects of the altitude and had to take it easy walking up the hill to the ruins. The views were rewarding and reminiscent of Italy or Croatia, with terraces sloping down to white sand beaches and turquoise blue water. The Sacred Rock and the remains of the ancient Inca Sanctuary were set amongst this striking backdrop and made the 2 hour round trip well worthwhile. Back on the boat, we sailed round to the south of the island, where there were more ruins, but sadly we only had time to grab a bite to eat before heading back to town. Heading off to La Paz tomorrow to meet up with the group I`m joining for a month long tour through the wilds of Bolivia and into Brazil. This will probably be the toughest part of my trip with unforgiving terrain, harsh weather conditions and very basic accommodation, so I`m looking forward to the next few weeks, albeit with some trepidation.


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