July- Aug 2013
Beunos dias mis amigos,
I was fortunate enough when I arrived in Peru to get 6 months on my passport so it was only by late July that I needed to get an extension. The easiest and cheapest way to renew my visa was to visit Copacabana which was just over the Bolivian border...8km to be exact. This route is used by many staying here. There were also lots of people able to advise on buses and hostels. If I’m honest I was a little nervous about setting off on my own. I’m sure that sounds weird to you all considering I up-ed and went to Peru but I’d argue I had had a little insight with my treks. Anyway armed with extra info I felt more at ease and set off . I couldn’t book the hostel I wanted but they suggested I turn up there and if there was a cancellation I would get it or they wold help me find somewhere else. All set I set off from the house at 9pm to catch the overnight bus leaving at 10.30pm from Cusco to Puno, arrive in Puno bus station in the early hours of the morning and wait for about 3-4 hours for the connecting bus that I had pre-booked to Copacabana passing through the Bolivian border on the way, arriving in Copacabana just after midday.
Overall the trip wasn't too bad. From Cusco to Puno which was just over 7 hours meant we arrived in Puno at 4am. Hanging around the bus terminal wasn't great. For a decent sized city and a busy terminal linking many cities, the toilets and food were pretty poor. When the time came to board our next bus there developed quite a bit of confusion and commotion deciding which bus was to take us to Copacabana. The reason being some were going to La Paz and some to Copacabana. The tour guide who helps you with crossing the border changed our bus from a double decker bus to a single decker so all the tickets pre-purchased no longer made sense . I wasn’t so bad as I had changed to the top deck to get a better view for photos but those that had paid a supplement for the reclining seats lost out. The problem was compounded as the same tour guide was trying to sort out the La Paz bus but more were getting onto our bus with the same number as ours and saying we were on the wrong bus! Their tickets had a different time. When we asked and challenged the tour guide he got very upset and made us sit wherever! At the border I also had a little problem but other than it costing me a little more and taking a little longer to sort out all was ok. The problem had been I had a stamp in my passport to say I could sign documents for a work visa but I explained this had never come to fruition so I had to sign a document to say I wasn't working as this is illegal on a tourist visa.
Another girl on our bus had a bigger issue and actually had to get off the bus as she had lost her immigration slip which you fill out when you enter the country and must hand it in when you leave. There is always a fine which she said she couldn’t afford. I did see her later in Copacabana drinking a beer with a guy she had met on the bus. Seemingly crying did the trick and they let her in.
While waiting at the Puno bus terminal I met a lovely young couple (Jarrod and Chelsea) from Canada. Jarrod had accidentally jammed my foot in the door of the lower level part of the bus on the way from Cusco. My reclining seat was behind the door and I was just getting settled when they came in. He apologized and I said it was OK I had another and we laughed. We got chatting while waiting in Puno for the next bus and really hit it off. This proved to be a most enjoyable friendship as we met up over the next 2 days, really enjoying each other’s company. Having such nice company made the trip all the more enjoyable.
We all parted our various ways when leaving the bus in Copacabana with a view to meet up later to climb to the crosses, the highest peak and viewpoint above Copacabana where there were many Catholic crosses and monuments to Mother Mary...I have never see so many in one place.....to see the sunset here is a tradition here and certainly worth it.
As mentioned , with no accommodation I headed to this lovely hostel recommended by many. They were particularly nice and I could see why everyone recommended them. Luckily I managed to get a room and just had to use the communal toilet and shower. The other amenities were worth this sacrifice. On my last night there I managed to get a room with bathroom but unfortunately the roof developed a leak in the early hours. They sorted it quickly, even at such an early hour (7am).
La Cupula Hostel was such a homely place with free tea and coffee, free use of the kitchen, an amazing outlook with hammocks and deckchairs and very friendly staff. The restaurant above it was also lovely and served very good food at a reasonable price. Chelsea, Jarrod and myself ate there each night.
During the afternoon I booked my tickets for the 2 islands I wanted to visit - Isla del Luna and Isla del Sol. We set off early as this was a full day excursion. The trip across the lake (Lake Titicaca) was beautiful as we chugged along towards the islands. It was a beautiful calm day for it.
I had explained this to Jarrod and Chelsea and they decided to come too. We did our own thing on the first island as I wanted to just wander and then we ate and chilled on the second island. No surprise the times on each island and the stops were totally changed when we got on but we didn’t mind. We had a lovely day. The sun shone all day and the lagoon was calm making the crossings very calm.
The following day Jarrod and Chelsea, left for La Paz on the noon bus. My hostel had helped them find accommodation in La Paz and then we went to eat before they left.
That night I got a carryout Pizza and watched one of the many DVDs the hostel had. This last day was a very chilled one after a full day visiting the islands the day before. The following morning continued in the same vein with a pleasant time spent reading in one of the hammocks. The only slight hiccup was the young dog that belonged to the hostel. He often sat with me and had taken a shine to my plastic flip flops which I managed to prevent him from shredding until that last morning. I hadn’t noticed him creeping up. As it was my only pair I quickly visited the local market and purchased a new pair which the hostel compensated me for.
Copacabana was a lovely little town with the front resembling Brighton beach with pedalos and bars. Many boats to take you on various trips around the lake are moored offshore or tied up at the jetty waiting to load their passengers. The main street - 6 de ogusto was full of small restaurants and outlets trying to sell you trips of varying kinds. La Cupula sat up on the hill hidden from view. It was a small hostel and in a peaceful part of town which was exactly what I wanted. It made for a very pleasant stay.
Heading back my challenge at the border was to get 4 months on my passport, instead of the normal 3 months... and I managed it after a little discussion and a good long look at me.. I must have looked harmless!!
This was all I needed until my flights back to Scotland. To travel back to the border for one month just seemed pointless. I would probably have changed my flights.
Remembering to change your watches is also important while on trip back (and there of course) so as not to miss your next bus. Bolivia is an hour in front of Peru. I nearly came unstuck in Copacabana as I had changed my watch but not my phone and had set the alarm so as to give me plenty of time before the Island trip. Awakening just before my alarm I realized my mistake and had to make a mad dash!
Back to the return trip......As we travelled slowly around the lake (Lake Titicaca), which is absolutely huge, watching the changes in scenery and how people live and work was quite captivating. Nearer the Bolivian side you could see many boats, small fish farms and men working the waterways bringing in large bundles of reeds in their small punts. I could see a couple of men toiling hard with poles to help bring their boats home piled high with reeds or grasses. As we got closer to Puno and the lake/ open water was further away the expanse of flat golden or brown land ,from the recently ploughed earth, increased. Where the houses were adobe with thatched roofs they blended into the landscape, more difficult to see against the glaring sun, making the landscape look mostly empty. At one point though something caught my eye; brightly coloured green corrugated iron toilets, which were set back from each house and doted over the whole area adding such a splash of colour over an otherwise subtly coloured scene . The landscape looked so tranquil , full of grazing animals and the occasional man or woman working at a slow pace in the fields. In the intense sun everyone takes their time. It made for a lovely sight and a smile.
In other areas, where the small houses has roofs of tin you could see clearly just how far the land went before reaching the lake as the strong sun reflected off them. It must have been incredibly hot inside I should think!
In Puno there was a 6 hour stop over but on the bus back we were given an option to visit the floating islands of Urcos. They sit about 30 minutes from Puno , on Lake Titicaca. I decided this was a good use of my time. It was very cheap to do and actually really interesting to meet the people living there and see their homes and how they live. I met another german couple and tagged along with them.
The islands themselves were interesting. The entry into the islands was along small waterways surrounded by reeds. We could just see the tiny outline above the water in the horizon as we travelled along. We entered a waterway with islands on each side, paying entry to Urcos as we arrived, which was the collective name for the area. Each small island had its own unique name, was made of reeds, anchored with 4-6 eucalyptus trunks and housed up to 6 families. The islands could be moved by lifting these trunks but because of the number of the islands it would have been difficult to know where they would have gone.
There were a considerable number of islands and the boat had the option of turning left or right as there were islands as far as the eye could see. The guide told me they visited different islands on each trip so all got a visit at least 3-4 times a week in the busy season. They relied heavily on the tourist industry to sell their weavings, other artisan products and food. He said about 40-60% of children stayed and married on the islands and so more islands needed to be added. There was a primary school on one of the islands but the older children had to go to Puno for their secondary education.
At the first island we visited, Suma Sapi, the ladies sang a few traditional and then a not so traditional song ( Row, row your boat)! We were then taken across the small stretch of the lake which appeared like a small river between the islands and back to our starting point. These boats were all made of reeds and once pushed off by a motor boat it was left to the arms of 2 of the local men to row all 12 of us across. When we arrived back I was invited to a local woman, called Norma’s house to see how they lived...not too badly actually. I had seen so much worse, but it was still a precarious existence but it was important for them to maintain their traditions. Fishing was also a popular trade for the men. They did have a few mod cons in their houses via solar power allowing a TV in the house. Because the roof was only reed they seemingly pulled polythene over if there was severe weather. I liked Norma and did buy a couple of items from her, to help her and her husband and young son.
Leaving this island we quickly visited another for a hot drink and something to eat, so 2 got the benefit from our trip.
Back in Puno and still with 3 hours to spare we all finished with dinner together in the centre of Puno. During our lovely meal I discovered the German couple weren’t actually a couple but brother and sister; refreshing to see how well they got on actually and often went on holiday together.
Back in Cusco things have been pretty quiet since then, mainly through illness! With the changing weather and like so many I caught a cold which lasted about a week.
There has been some uncharacteristically wet days, about a week of rain and cold..felt like Scotland actually before the sun returned.
Shortly after my cold I realized I’d picked up another parasite so started on meds for that and finally a terribly spasming started that has only just began to subside after 2 weeks and 3 visits to the doctors! The sleepless nights were horrendous and nothing from my drug cabinet seemed to be touching the pain and spasms. My landlady Lilo has also been quite ill with a chest infection lasting about 6 weeks.
I am glad to say I am finally starting to feel better as is Lilo.
I feel the time had come to do a little more and will now look at possibly other volunteering options for a short time before returning to Scotland. With this time to reflect I have an idea of what may be next for me but will say no more until I have investigated a coupe of options suggested to me and firmed things up.
So there you have it mis amigos..you are finally up-to-date with the “normal” happenings in my life.
My next blogs may be a little different and “out there” but I think it may be time to share.
...On that note...Keep well, help others in whatever way you can and live your lives to the full, with love and joy in your hearts....even on your worst days try to find some kind of joy and be thankful for it.
Hasta luego mis amigos...