Around the World in 3300 Days (August to November 99)
Bolivia-Peru-Report Coroico, Bolivia, October 25, 1999
Bolivia (August 21 to September 3, 1999)
Coming from Arica, Chile, we cross into Bolivia at the border checkpoint Tambo Quemado, at a height of 13,000 feet in the Andes. The officers welcome us very friendly. It is no problem at all that we do not have a Carnet de Passage. It just takes a while to fill out a full-page form. Here we baptize our vanagon "Amarillo", Yellow (Before we owned two red VW-campers, a green one, the White Elephant, the Green Elephant, and a blue one).
On the new asphalt highway, we drive through the fairytale landscape of the Andes. To the left, the snow-covered Sajama (19,600 feet) rises into a blue sky (photo), while in the foreground lamas, alpacas, and sheep are grazing. We pass eroded lands with fantastic rock formations. In the States, this would be a national park; here they do not even possess a name.
We approach a small village. From far we hear drums and trumpets. Suddenly indigenous villagers in finest costumes dance past our Amarillo (photos). In the midst of the crowd, we have to drink a beer here, shake hands there, and take many pictures. As the only tourists we are soon well known, and a student from La Paz tells the people by microphone, what an honor it is to have guests from a faraway country at their festival representing the culture of Bolivia. In joyous mood and intoxicated by beer, even the indio women are eager to make contacts (photos). When a few indios get a bit too drunk, we prefer to leave the festival alone.
More and more houses are built along the highway, garbage piles up on the side of the road, - we approach La Paz, the highest capital of the world. Via El Alto, the poorer suburb at 12,300 feet, we drive steeply down into the valley, the center of the city that houses millions of people (photo). Here everything becomes difficult for us, driving in narrow lanes, parking at steep parking areas, starting at an incline, finding our way in the obnoxious one-way-system, finding a parking space for the night or at least a hotel with a high garage. Most details in our German travel guidebook are outdated. However, with the help of friendly people in the tourist office, in the Goethe-institute, and in the German Volunteer Service, with an accurate city map, and after paying 8 Dollars for "wrong" parking, we reach the car repair shop of Ernesto Hug. His father had emigrated from Switzerland to Bolivia. Behind high, secure walls, in a yard that is as clean as a Swiss hospital, we can relax and stay for the night. Ernesto is extremely helpful and knows many people who might help us. He finds a solution for every problem and arranges contacts with all the people whom we want to meet (photo). In addition he detects loose screws at our gearbox and has a friend who runs the best medical laboratory in town.
For a few days, we move to the parking area of Hotel Oberland that belongs to a Swiss, too. It is situated in the lower town where there is a better climate. We visit the city and get a lot of business done.
Lake Titicaca is situated only 45 miles to the north. There I dive into the favorite landscape of my childhood: a clear blue lake with reeds at the shore, a reed boat with Indios, and the Cordillera Real in the background. Now I have found it, and I am so lucky to spot a "Balza de Tortora" at the shore. I can sit in, and for a few Bolivianos the fisherman takes me on a short tour on the ice-cold lake (photo).
We drive along the lake and enjoy many beautiful views. We reach a narrow spot where we have to ferry our Vanagon to the other side of the lake. In the mild evening light, we enjoy the climb to the pass and the gorgeous views to the right and the left across Lake Titicaca.
Copacabana is a famous pilgrim center. We find an overnight parking spot right by the lake. In a small beach restaurant nearby delicious fresh trout is prepared for us. The service in the Franciscan Church consists of mass services of all kinds. At 10 o'clock, we experience a mass baptism, at 11 o'clock a mass wedding, on the plaza in front of the church masses of old and new cars receive the blessings of a priest, masses of beggars and hawkers profit from the masses of pilgrims.
By boat, we make a tour to the Isla del Sol, which is a must for tourists. Of course, we are received like tourists who have to pay for every snapshot. The light drizzle does not lift our mood a lot, but we really do not want to complain about the first rains after six weeks.
Returning to La Paz, we see the many dogs by the side of the road looking at the passing cars with begging eyes. Locals believe these dogs live with the souls of dead humans who have the right to be fed with dry bread.
On the last day of this part of our Bolivia trip, we visit the ruins of Tiwanaku, which predate the Inca times. We do not know yet, that these intricately carved monoliths will remain the only artistic stone works we will see in ruined cities of the Andes. The next day we continue to Peru where we will visit Machu Picchu, another destination of our dreams.
Today is the last day of this millennium.
There is still some work to do for me in the old year. At least I will start to translate another part of Ursulas travel report, the one about Peru.
Peru (September 3 to 15, 1999)
As you know already, we came from La Paz via Tiawanaku to the Peruvian border.
In the border town of Desaguadero, we meet with an incredible bustle. Trucks and busses stacked way above the roof, bicycles and carts loaded high and wide with all kinds of goods from vegetables to reed mattresses, masses of pedestrians carrying heavy bundles - they all inch forward through the narrow streets in both directions. Right at the border, this intermingles into sheer chaos. With our Amarillo, we are caught right in the middle. That we are able to move mostly forward seems like a miracle, supported tremendously by the patience and friendliness of all the other participants in this everyday event.
Border formalities are smooth; again, we need no Carnet de Passage for our vehicle. The Peruvian customs officers are very open-minded. They try to use their full English vocabulary and take every chance to learn a few words in German - this behavior we happen with many Peruvians.
We reach our first overnight parking spot in Peru after dark. We have just lain down for sleep when we hear voices and metallic knocks against the sides of the car. "Abrir" ("open") demands a voice. It's no use to hide in the blankets, as the windows might be smashed. Carefully we slide a window open a tiny bit, and we see men with axes and heavy sticks. After the first shock we regain our voices and find out that the farmers of the area were afraid of us. So they got together in order to find out what our strange vehicle was up to in their neighborhood. They are happy to realize that we are harmless, shake hands, and ensure us that they will protect us. In the morning, many curious and interested village folk arrive to ask us many questions. They are so different, these Peruvian Indios on the Altiplano!
The Inca ruins of Raqchi don't impress us a lot, but we are extremely lucky: this Sunday is a folk festival here, and within an hour, eight dance troupes arrive at the scene. They dance in typical Andean costumes around and on top of the ruins, accompanied by musicians with drums and pan flutes. We are the only tourists and are invited for "chicha", the local maize brew, and roasted beans. They love to be photographed (Photos).
In the town of Cusco - well known for its many thieves - we pay for the luxury of a hotel room with a private garage. Therefore, we don't have to be afraid all the time that our Amarillo might be broken into. There are many churches with interesting attractions to visit. However we are not really enjoyed by all this Christian art: the conquistadors destroyed all the temples and palaces built by the Incas and erected their own churches on the Inca foundations, they robbed and melted the golden and silver statues and ornaments and cast their own saints from them. Anyway, we enjoy the atmosphere of this town. The locals are friendly, the restaurants good, cheap and delightful, the streets and plazas colorful and lively (Photo).
Here we meet some of the few other globetrotters traveling by camper. They tell us their stories. The Popp family from Heidelberg, Germany, was stopped in Ecuador by taxi drivers on strike who then cut all their tires. A truck from Travel Overland, England, was stopped near Arequipe in the southwest of Peru, armed robbers took all the belongings of the tourists. In the north of Peru a Swiss biker was held at gunpoint, tied with ropes, and plundered. An Italian mountain climber had his backpack and boots stolen at the base camp, so he had to walk back barefoot and without food.
About the shipping from Panama to South America, we hear only horror stories. Therefore, we are again very satisfied about our routes. We are not eager to drive through the most dangerous areas and on the most difficult roads in order to be able to tell adventurous stories afterwards.
To visit the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu we have to leave our vehicle in Ollantaytambo and change into a train. However this is not easy at all, as the road is blocked half a mile from the station by parking minibuses; we have no chance to access the guarded parking place. In addition, two passengers in front of Richard the ticket counter is shut down.
The next morning, masses of travelers and locals congregate two hours before departure, and miraculously everybody gets a ticket for the local train, foreigners only for first class. With regret we have to chase two illicit passengers from our uncomfortable wooden bench, then we enjoy the beautiful Urubamba valley that snakes through sheer cliffs covered in tropical vegetation.
In the train, too, we are well entertained. In the aisle Indio women with children on their back stand compressed between sacks full of chicken, eggs, vegetable, buns, and other merchandise. Train hawkers with a big box in front of their body squeeze through the crowd and offer their wares. When the conductor arrives most of the illicit passengers manage to disappear under a bench and hide with a sack. Some children pee out of the window, others produce a puddle underneath that slowly seeps into the luggage on the floor. A nice couple of Indios sits opposite. He is so sweet and takes very good care of his young wife, buys a meal in a packet for her, and in return, she feeds him with the best pieces of chicken. When the train passes a tunnel, passengers scream from every corner. We hold fast on to our baggage, as the thieves are said to use especially these dark moments.
Most gringos disembark at Aguas Calientes. However, we know from our guidebook, that the train continues for another mile or so until Puente Ruinas. We are waiting, and waiting, ask the uniformed personnel and receive positive answers. Finally, after nearly two hours, the train moves for 200 yards, then suddenly stops. Unfortunately, we realize too late that all passenger cars are secretively unlocked and the engine continues its journey only with the baggage car. Well, we too have to learn that traveling with public transport can be very time consuming and quite stressful. Today we won't see the ruins, because after noon no bus takes us there. We select a nice hotel room and postpone the ruins for tomorrow.
At 5 a.m. we get up and reach the first bus for Machu Picchu. With 14 hairpin bends, it manages to climb 2100 feet. We walk straight up to the viewpoint above the ruins. An overwhelming spectacle unfolds beneath us. Far down in the Urubamba valley broods thick fog, Machu Picchu seems to sail above it. Suddenly the fog flies up, surrounds the ruins, obscures them from view, flies higher and unveils the ruins again, hides the imposing Huayna Picchu in the background, and shows it again. The rays of the rising sun occasionally find gaps in the clouds and illuminate various corners of the ruins. They create unreal effects in this fantastic scenery (Photo).
After this moving experience, the walk through the ruins is far less attractive: walls, stairs, terraces, temples, palaces, wells, waterspouts, astrological stones, and simple houses, everything one story high and without roofs. The admirable works of the masons consist of precisely cut stones that fit snugly into each other without being rectangular. However, we can not find any kind of decoration or ornamentation.
Later, when the package tourists arrive with the expensive special train, we hike away on one of the Inca trails that was cut out of sheer cliffs here. We even dare to cross the dangling Inca Bridge spanning the abyss with three tree trunks.
On our way back to Bolivia, we stop at many more or less important Inca ruins on the way. The undulating countryside where the farmers plough their small fields with the help of oxen really impresses us. We also attend every festival that we encounter. On various markets, I bargain for pottery, vases, tablecloths, and wall hangings to decorate the house we will occupy soon for six weeks. I would love to buy a lamb, too, but Richard is not enthusiastic about it.
Dear friends, this was Ursulas text about Peru. I hope to translate the text about our time in Bolivia soon.
|Pictures from Peru and Bolivia||
|Forward to our sixth leg through Argentina||
|To the journeys through Chile||
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