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La Paz, Bolivia
September 8, 2004

Crossing into Bolivia

Peru has been great to me, both the splendid scenery and the friendly and accommodating Peruvian people, but itís time to move on. My flight out of Buenos Aires is scheduled for September 17, but itís clear that I wonít make that date, and Jan has graciously suggested that I extend my departure by a week. I will take her up on that.

A reed island on Lake Titicaca.  One of only two or three such communities in the world.While Iím anxious to get on to Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, near Puno, is home to one of only two or three groups of people in the world who live on islands made of reed mats. (One other is in the Euphrates delta in Iraq, at least before Saddam cut off their water supply. The allies may have since restored it.) The islands are about a forty-five minute boat ride from Puno, and I decide that I just canít pass them up, so hop an excursion boat for the trip.

Although there is another group of islands further from Puno, that I understand is not as commercialized as the Isla Totora group, it is still very interesting. This group appears to be comprised of a half dozen islands, the largest of which is maybe two hundred feet across, made entirely of reed bundles. From walking on them, and visual inspection, Iíd guess that the reeds are four to six feet deep. The islands themselves are floating, but the lake is shallow here, and I suspect that live reeds are woven in to keep the islands stationary.

Maria, selling trinkets to tourists on Lake TiticacaEconomically, the islanders are primarily involved in fishing, and now selling trinkets to tourists like me. Each island appears to support a half dozen families; their primitive houses, essentially woven reed bundles. Itís a unique situation and Iím glad I took the time to see it. After all, itís not every day that youíre in Puno, Peru. From Puno itís eighty-five miles to the Bolivian border at Copacabana, and I cover it in just over two hours, even taking time for pictures.

For several months before the start of this trip, every time I saw news of South America, I marked it on my map, so I would have some idea of current events. By the village of Llave, Peru I have marked on the map: ďSeattle Times Ė 5/26/04 Ė mob kills mayor in dispute over services.Ē Thereís no other road available, so I pass by quickly. It doesnít sound like a friendly town.

Peasants communally plowing and planting on the road to the Bolivian borderThis is a rural area, with a few small villages, and while there is a fishing industry in nearby Lake Titicaca, primarily I see Indiginas in full native dress farming the land in the most primitive fashion, or herding small flocks of sheep. In other parts of Peru Iíve seen modern farm equipment working large tracts of land, but not here. From time to time I stop to watch and take some pictures, but from their looks and gestures, my presence is clearly not appreciated. I move on.

National borders are almost always a problem, and I approach them with caution. In Central America you can usually count on several hours and $30 - $100 in fees and bribes. So I was surprised when I sailed through the exit from Ecuador and entry into Peru in an hour, but still Iím wary. Normally I try to cross a border in the morning, so thereís lots of daylight left in case I run into problems. But I show up at the Copacabana crossing into Bolivia at 4pm with the time change, and only three hours of daylight left. Itís the usual gaggle of roadside vendors, locals crossing back and forth for commercial purposes, and some tourists trying to move forward. Because of the bike, I have to clear aduanas (customs Ė for a transit permit for the bike) both in and out, as well as immigration (to get my passport stamped,) and often stop by the national police as well (just because, I believe.) Frequently the buildings are poorly marked, or unmarked (the case in the Costa Rica/Panama crossing on the Panamericana) and so itís a bit of a guessing game as to where to go first.

Gas station, Bolivian style.  In all fairness, it gets better in the cities.But Iím lucky this time, and as I park my bike a Peruvian Aduanas officer addresses me in English, and both points out the three stations, then gives me the order in which to visit them. Iím checked out of Peru in fifteen or twenty minutes. I ride the bike forward into Bolivia, with similar results, although only customs and immigration are interested in me. Amazing. Iím out of Peru and into Bolivia in less than forty-five minutes; a new record for me, I believe. With over two hours of sunlight left, I ride on to Copacabana and find a hotel.

So hereís the scoop on Copacabana, Bolivia. First off, the real Copacabana in Rio was actually named after this little slice of sand on Lake Titicaca. Second, it may be the cheapest place for a tourist in the entire world. My hotel room, without negotiating (bath and shower included,) is less than $5, and itís pretty nice. Hot water even. Iím so taken aback by the price that I ask three times, then make the desk clerk write it down.

The ferry crossing on Lake Titicaca.  It was only when we landed that I realized that I had to back the bike off the boat.A Swiss couple (by the way, where are all the Americans down here?) recommend a local restaurant, and for less than USD $2.25 I have a four-course meal of salad, soup, grilled trout and a desert. Now the drawback. In the morning I ask for the gas station and am directed to a shop across from the hotel that is dispensing fuel from fifty-five gallon drums. I have enough gas to make La Paz, so I pass.

La Paz is another large, congested Latin city, in which I canít find my way around, so I again employ my taxi driver trick. For less than a dollar Iím at my hotel. Iím only here long enough to change my airline ticket, get some cash, send some stuff home to lighten the load, and get mentally prepared for the southern Altiplano, an area where the elevation ranges from 12,000í to 15,000í, and itís cold, cold, cold.



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