right then, this morning I arrived in Puno, it was 90km from where I spent the night last night in Juli, not that far but I’m exhausted so what follows is my day by day for the last few days as far as Juli… hope you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll catch up with Puno tomorrow ;-)
21 April, La Paz to Huatajata….
Ok so I finally managed to get the energy together to leave La Paz. As I write this litte bit I’m sat, having an afternoon rest, in the quiet little pueblo of Huatajata on the shores of Lake Wiñaymarca – something of an annex to the main Lake Titicaca joined via the Tiquina Straits. I had a sort of expectation that my first sight of the lake would really be quite something but that bug I caught in Oruro really knocked me sideways so although it was cool to see the mirrored sliver of water on the horizon amongst the surrounding hills I was suffering a bit on my bike so it didn’t really sink in. Now I’m here of course it’s brilliant:-) I have a cheap room with a terrific lakeside view and the usual shower arrangement of an electrical element tacked onto the end of a water pipe sticking out of the wall.
Despite being gloriously sunny this afternoon it’s chilly… no more than 12 or 14 degs c. Huatajata itself is nothing special, a scruffy collection of brick buildings along the road but the setting is magnificent. I suspect, judging by the number of restaurants, that this is a popular weekend spot for La Paz residents… I ate a terrific slab of pan fried trout at one of these places for lunch – Lake Titicaca trout are among the biggest in the world.. and quite delicious :-)
So, back to the journey from La Paz, haha, getting out of bed this morning I still felt a bit wobbly (honestly no beer last night, just a solid dinner and an early night) but figured I’d give the climb out of the canyon a go. There are two choices… one is the new motorway with a moderate gradient… supposedly illegal to ride on but the reality is even the local coppers will tell you to use it, and the other is to follow the network of steep streets up to the northwest… Being a weekday morning the main road out was likely to be a smoggy scrum so I chose the steep route just for the hell of it… haha.. Still feeling pretty weak on my bike I made it breathlessly to the point where the gradient hit about 20% before caving in completely…
So instead I stuffed my bike in the back of a cab for the remainder of the short ride up to El Alto.. it was worth the few $ it cost just for the ride as the road went pretty much straight up the canyon wall… a sustained gradient of up to 30%… At times my driver had to zigzag across the street just to avoid stalling … and this was a relatively new Mitsubishi, though of course the altitude doesn’t help the engines. I was biting my nails waiting for the car to stall at any moment as it laboured slowly upwards. For a few of the steeper sections he stopped and rolled backwards into sidestreets so he could take a run up, and there were a couple of touch and go moments while downcoming traffic meant he couldn’t take the best line… It was also worth the ride to experience the craziness of life behind the wheel in La Paz. Normal traffic rules don’t apply.. the behaviour of the traffic is akin to that of a bunch of undisciplined school kids trying to get onto the bus home… just one big crush with elbows being the equivalent of the front of your vehicle.. Excessive horn use is also a characteristic of La Paz, and Bolivia in general, my driver had a very definite twitch in his left thumb hovering over the horn button…
So, I was dropped on the canyon rim in the sprawling chaos that is El Alto with it’s huge mess of buses and cars all jostling for space on the road. It’s not a particularly pleasant place to ride a bike and I needed to keep my wits about me but 10km later I was clear of the place and out on the altiplano once again with the snow capped peak of Huayna Potosi at 6088m poking above the cloud to the east. It was easy riding on a good surface (toll road) with very little traffic and a tail-wind. Once near the lake the ride became very scenic as it wound it’s way around the shore and over the low hills that characterise this area.. when I say low, I mean relative to their surrounds.. the peak of every one must be above 4000m, the lake itself is at 3810m.
I suspect it will be trout again for dinner, having had a look around there’s little else on offer..
There is a shop… with a very limited inventory of crackers and sardines, lol, I’ll miss the bounty of La Paz. I’m hoping I have enough fuel left in my bottle to cook some oatmeal and brew a mug of tea for breakfast tomorrow… Which reminds me, having just cleaned the jet on my stove, top tip: you can buy little 100ml bottles of alcohol all over the place – it’s brilliant stuff for cleanly priming a camping stove – reduces the amount of soot that accumulates when powering it with petrol/gasoline.
The place I’m staying is interesting in a ‘soviet block’ kind of way… I guess the building is maybe 20yrs old, but the builders/owners never really bothered to finish it off.. the room is fine in a sagging mattress style but in the hallways the parquet floors are only half done.. or maybe they were completed and fell apart. The stairway and what I suppose might have been a dining area are just concrete with a few bare wires poking out of holes in the wall. The restaurant is pretty much just a shed overlooking the lake – probably cheaper and quicker than finishing off the proper one. In the middle of the bare concrete basement there stands a lonely, dusty refrigerator with a glass door… inside are 4 bottles of local beer, previously 5… hehe;-) I would love to camp on the lakeshore here but it is all either populated or farmed so sadly it’s not an option.
22nd April, Huatajata to Copacabana..
Proper mountain day today, only 70km but at an average altitude of about 4100m, approx 800m of climbing and a high point between 4200 & 4300m. It was a wonderful ride on a very quiet road that wound it’s way through the mountains around the lakeshore. Fantastic views (shame it was cloudy.. and cold) and a very good surface.
I was on the road at 8.15am for no other reason than I was awake and ready. Every morning at the moment I have mild double vision from tiredness so the first few km each day are a bit weird until the adrenalin kicks in and my eyes and head clear. It was 25km to the pueblo of Tiquina.. named after the stretch of water here – the Tiquina Straits between Lake Titcaca proper and Winaymarca. All the vehicles go on large wooden rafts to cross, it’s about 1km across but the rafts only have tiny motors so it’s a slow process.
I arrived just as a raft was leaving the slipway so rode my bike onto an adjacent moored raft, lifted my (fully loaded) bike tenderly onto the gunwale while the guys on the departing raft grabbed hold and lifted it across… I had awful visions of the whole lot falling in the gap between us and sinking without a trace…
This road to Copacabana and onto Peru is not a main border crossing so it’s very quiet.. hence the reason I guess there is no bridge. Besides, a bridge would kill the village and it’s collection of cafes each side of the straits, the rafts must provide quite a tidy income stream (I paid 10b for a bike, about £1) so no idea what the bigger vans and trucks pay.
On the far side of the water I stopped for a break in a cafe run by an enormous lady in a faded gingham dress and green camouflage sun hat. Ordered a mug of bad coffee… I mean I didn’t specifically ask for it to be bad, but it was, and ate a packet of biscuits while admiring the interesting interior decor….
From there the riding was just beautiful.. hard work but worth it as the road climbed steadily, eventually leaving the lakeshore and it’s pre-Inca terraces to cross a stark mountain wilderness with just the occasional shepherd to exchange greetings with.
The day finished with a beautiful 10km , 65km/hr descent back down to the lake shore and the town of Copacabana. Days like this are just perfect :-)
23rd April, Copacabana…
Copacabana is a popular stop-off on the gringo trail for those leaving/entering Peru and with access to a couple of islands off-shore has developed into a proper little resort town. At first I thought it was hideous with masses of souvenir stalls, indifferent locals and hordes of backpackers but having been here a night now and sitting with a large pot of properly brewed coffee and a slab of banana cake I’ve decided it’s OK. The daytime is fine, all the backpackers are either on a boat to the islands or on a bus somewhere so it’s a pretty chilled place, and the indifference I experienced on arrival has warmed up somewhat as I take the time to engage with the locals.
There are a heap of places to stay here, the places I was recommended didn’t have room for me and my bike but a chap came after me while I was looking around on my bike to ask if I needed a room, something in some places I’d probably be wary of, but he was completely genuine with a small and tidy hostal tucked in off one off the main street. I have no view of the lake but for £2.50/night I do have a quiet, comfy place to stay with a bathroom and ‘warm’ shower. The wiring arrangement for the shower is great.. it’s wired from a chunky 250v/30A circuit breaker nailed to the wall, above the light switch, in the corner adjacent to showerhead itself. It gets a spray of water every time but so far I haven’t died so must be OK :-)
The advantage of stopping in a gringo town for a day is that I have access to great coffee and great food and can enjoy a peaceful lake shore (top tip, new expat cafe opened here couple of months ago called El Condor or something… not dirt cheap but fresh ground coffee and proper coffee pots, and excellent cake).
There are fleets of pedalos and fake kon-tiki rafts (regular boats wrapped in reeds) down on the beach but for now my only plan is to do bugger all :-) I’ll get an early night tonight and then cross the border into Peru tomorrow… I’ll not miss anything by retiring early with a good book…. I’m not really that into young gringos sporting topknots and stripey pajama trousers playing bongos in the street as they were last night… I often wonder what the locals, who work hard, often for very little, think… hmm.
As for the islands, well there are some Inca ruins to look at but have seen a lot of that before.. and right now I’m just happy to be riding my bike in the fabulous scenery around here :-)
Oh, cool, as I write the two Aussie girls I met in Salta just walked in… see ya!
24th April, Peru :-)
Tonight I’m writing in the peaceful little town of Juli, about 80km south of Puno just above the western shores of the lake at about 3900m ASL. It was a fabulous ride to get here as the road wound it’s way around the lakeshore through tiny farming and fishing communities with the lake surface itself ruffled by a fresh breeze and sparkling in the brilliant sunlight. It was only a 70km day.. trying to keep my days short now, less than 100km if possible, so despite some significant dawdling on clifftops and so on I was here by lunchtime. Stopped in a scruffy little cafe near the plaza, complete with 10yrs of calendars on the wall and an old TV wrapped in clear plastic showing a loud western. Lunch itself was the usual set menu deal… a bowl of soup, in this case complete with chickens feet, and a plate of rice with a very tough bit of llama rib. It’s always something of a lucky dip …!
Crossing the border was a doddle, the UK Foreign Office at the moment has posted warnings about robbery, holdups etc at this border but it was very peaceful this morning and I was through in about 15 minutes :-) As in Bolivia, so far everyone on this side of the border seems very friendly. Nice place to ride a bike :-)
Juli is a pleasant place for a stopover with a few colonial relics. I have a room in a small pension overlooking the tidy plaza for 15 soles (about £3.50) for the night. There is an electric shower but I couldn’t make it run warm… however I’m used to cold washes by now and really couldn’t be bothered to question it.
Peru time is one hour behind Bolivia.. so tonight I have a cunning plan to gain an extra hour of kip, I’m still running on Bolivia time.. so I’ll eat and hit the sack on Bolivia time and get up on Peru time :-) Apparently not a good idea to be on the roads here super early, ’tis the favourite time for highway robberies when the roads are quiet.. not that it’s ever going to be a problem for me, I ain’t going to be on my bike before 8.30 at all now :-)