Peru, my fourth country had come to an end. Once the strikes were over and the buses back in action, Ed, Adam and I rode the night bus south towards the Bolivian border. Our final stop in Peru was supposed to be Puno but after getting delayed in Cusco we were now in a rush to get into Bolivia and specifically, to Oruro. The reason for this was that it was Carnaval in Bolivia and, in fact, most of South America. After the obvious Rio de Janeiro, Oruro is reported to be the second best place to celebrate the festivity, as well as being amongst one of the best things to do in Bolivia. As a result, we stayed on the bus past Puno, crossed the border into Bolivia and continued all the way to La Paz. We had plans to visit Lake Titicaca but these would have to be put on ice until after Carnaval.
Arriving to La Paz was a unique experience in itself. It turns out there isn’t actually a road all the way from the border to the capital, instead, the bus we were on drove straight on to a small boat and crossed one of the narrowest parts of the lake. We were oblivious to this beforehand and it was a bit of a surreal situation. Four hours later we rolled into La Paz and were greeted with hustle and bustle, hundreds of people and complete disorganisation. I can only liken my first experience there to some of my experiences in India, not that this was a criticism, just a noticeable change from the relaxed town of Cusco we had left under 24 hours ago. There seemed to be hundreds of buses heading to Oruro and before long we were back on board for the final leg of an already long journey.
As we arrived into Oruro, we couldn’t help but notice that it was a bit on the dark side for a Carnaval. It turned out that an entire area of the city was without power which made our search for somewhere to stay a little more tricky. After a short time we were approached by a woman offering us accommodation. Up to this point, the only thing we had found was the floor of an internet cafe. We decided to go with the woman and found ourselves in the garage of her house with about 8 others. A lot of the locals open up their houses for people to stay and we exchanged stories with others who were sleeping in barns, kitchens, lounges and even a few lucky ones, in bedrooms.
It didn’t really matter where we were staying as very little time was spent there. The following 48 hours we walked the streets, enjoyed the parade which seemed to last all day everyday and may have enjoyed a few drinks here and there. Thousands, if not more, of cans of ‘fake snow’ are sold everyday and the general idea is that people spray each other with these. The kids in particular run around spraying nearly everyone, except the older generations who are treated with the respect they deserve. As well as Adam and Ed, we spent the majority of the carnaval with Patrick and Colleen, two friends of Adam also from Colorado. They get a special mention because they recently got engaged in Patagonia! Anyway, as a group five white tourists in a Bolivian city, we very quickly became prime targets for the spray and water and spent the vast majority of the time getting covered. Of course, the best form of defence is attack and all that, so we armed ourselves with our own cans and tried to give as good as we got.
We were lucky enough to bump into Katrin, Kate and Andy while we were there and spent an evening with them as well as two more Germans. For us, apart from Ed getting pick-pocketed, the rest of the carnaval passed without too much drama. Sadly though, a bridge crossing the main parade collapsed and several people were killed as well as many injured. It was a sour note to what was an incredible experience and we chatted with a man who had friends involved in the catastrophe. Health and safety is very different here, non-existent, it’s easy to laugh about it but when something like that happens, it does help to justify the bureaucratic crap we put up with in England.
By the end of the weekend we were about done with the carneval despite it continuing for several more days. We passed on the water day, specifically designated for getting soaked and instead took a bus back to La Paz. It was after Oruro that we parted ways with Adam who we first met in northern Ecuador and had met along the way several more times. We had spent the last few weeks with him and he had become the ‘third leg of our tripod’. We shared some amazing times, many stories that wouldn’t make it on to here even if I did try to record them. He was going to spend a bit of time with Patricia and Colin, as they had mistakenly been dubbed, before turning north and heading to Colombia. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the Carneval because I didn’t want my camera to get robbed/lost/broken/wet/covered with fake snow.
Stupidly, we took the last bus from Oruro and it was almost 3am when we got to La Paz. By 4am the bus terminal opened and we sat waiting to buy a ticket for a couple of hours whilst drinking pints of coffee and hot chocolate, or chocolate water hot. By 10am we were retracing our steps north, we recrossed over Lake Titicaca and arrived back into Copacabana, a small lakeside town where boats left from to the various islands. After getting some much needed rest we took an early morning boat ride to the north of Isla del Sol, another incredibly beautiful place with which I don’t have enough superlatives to sufficiently describe. We spent the day crossing the island from north to south and checked in to a hostel. We had a fine meal for something like £2.50 and were tucked up by 9pm. Our detox period had begun after feeling the effects of Cusco/Carneval and we had a lot of rest to catch up on.
We woke up to a cracking sunrise and took the boat back to the mainland. There was a lot more to see in Bolivia so once again, we took the bus back to La Paz, back over the lake and onwards. As well as a lot of confusion, there was a hairy moment or two that evening. First, the bus we took was too big to fit on a boat, so a few miles from the lake we had to swap with another group who were going in the opposite direction. It involved moving all our luggage and in the dark so was a bit dodgy. Our ‘new’ bus was anything but new and sounded like it had a lawnmower engine. Speaking of lawnmower engines, we all had to get off the bus again to cross the lake. The bus went on one boat and we went on another. I’m pretty sure the motor being used wasn’t for a boat and it cut out halfway across. One of the passengers had to hold their mobile phone light at the motor so the ‘Captain’ could ‘fix’ it. Eventually it coughed back to life and we spluttered our way across to the other side before continuing on to La Paz. The hostel we had planned to stay at didn’t actually exist any more so after a bit more meandering around Bolivia’s capital with all our belongings we settled on one and got our heads down for the night.
We changed location the next day and spent our time getting to know La Paz, by day and by night. Three of the wolfpack, Katrin, Kate and Andy arrived and helped us on our detox mission. We wandered the city seeing a combination of old and new, took advantage of one of the plethora of hills to gain a good vantage point of the place and slowly, very slowly, began to adjust to the altitude Bolivia was throwing at us. On our penultimate day in La Paz Ed, Katrin and I had signed up to do some mountain biking on the infamous Camino de la Muerte or Death Road. It involves cycling from 4600 metres above sea level down to 1200m. There have been rather a lot of deaths on this road, hence the name, but it has become a lot safer in recent years. A new road has been built which most of the vehicles use so the cyclists more or less have the track to themselves. Still, it wasn’t easy and unfortunately Katrin came off and hurt her arm and Ed somehow managed to hurt his toe without actually falling off the bike. Fortunately nothing too serious and nothing permanent save a touch of damaged pride. At some point I’ll have some photos of the mountain biking and I’ll add these in here once I get hold of them. After returning to La Paz, we had a relaxing final night, followed by an equally relaxing day until the five of us shared our next night bus to Uyuni, the infamous salt flats of Bolivia.