Lake Titicaca, Peru and the faam-lee in Buenos Aires

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August 9th 2013
Published: August 9th 2013
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After a rubbish nights sleep caused by otherwise friendly room mates in La Paz I finally buckled and shelled out the ten bucks for my first own room on the trip with a double bed, private bathroom and balcony directly overlooking Lake Titicaca. Money well spent, even if the walls were a hideous shade of peach and the electric shower has wires poking out of the top. Dad would be horrified.

This massive lake is mistakenly called the highest navigable lake in the world and is so large it is shared by Bolivia and Peru. The Bolivian jumping off point is the original Copacabana, a sweet little town that has Victorian age attractions on the waters edge like swans pedallos, and some newer attractions like those weird plastic bubbles you can run across the water in. I was going to stay on the Isla de Sol, the birthplace of Incas but instead opted for chilling in a cafe eating pancakes and trying to work out the ridiculous combination of flights I may or may not take in the next couple of months to get me to the States. So much I want to do, so little time/ money.

As I enjoyed the views two kids hurtled down the steep hill (there are no flat roads in Bolivia) on a skateboard that only had two inline wheels. The clung onto each other for balance, using their feet for balance and narrowly missing the tourists and cholitas (the local women with a curious penchant for small bowler hats and brightly coloured petticoat skirts). The reckless boys reminded me of my Mum constantly chiding my brother for using his shoes as brakes on his bike, even though it actually had some, and therefore always requiring new school shoes. Once the Bolivian boys had scattered the tourists on the way down they used the services of a docile Alsation to pull them back up the hill and do it all over again.

The trip to Isla de Sol, the birthplace of the Incas started with a choice of freezing to death on the top deck or being asphyiaxted by engine fumes on the lower deck. As diesel fumes make me feel ill pretty quickly I chose the former, better attired than many in my thermal layers, especially compared to the stupid bloke next to me who decided ripped jeans and a t-shirt were the way forward. As engines fit for a boat a quarter of the size propelled us agonisingly slowly towards the island I wondered if he was going to make it there at all. We got dropped off at a small jetty and herded towards a 'museum' (in the loosest sense of the word) by a Bolivian I am not entirely sure was part of the tour group but demanded payment at the ruins later on nevertheless. I normally tip the tour guides but I was crossing the border to Peru later that day and barely had enough for a sandwich and some water for the whole day so I feigned ignorance while he glared at me and sat at the sacrificial table on the hill, probably saying a few choice words about me.

I got to Cusco at stupid o'clock the next morning and listened to the people in the bar, as we were not allowed in for some reason at 5am. The sun festival, a celebration of erm, the sun, was starting near some ruins later on that day so I latched onto some friendly Australians and Americans and set off up the hill in a bus. As we did not pay to get into the actual site I don't really know what was happening but we enjoyed the local entertainment and laughed at the 6'7'' Aussie Jase constantly being pulled into the centre of a crowd to be mocked by the guy with the microphone in Spanish as he danced around with some puppets. This happened about five times in a row, until we dragged him off to the food stalls. Not surprising really, he towered over the locals and looked stereotypically Aussie, all blond hair and goofiness. It took us a few drinks and some Pidgin Spanish to work out the cans were required for recycling and were having to constantly negotiate with the people we were buying drinks from as to who was the owner of the can, they would try and pry them out of our hands if they thought we were even close to finishing them. I thought about trying one of the many roasted guinea pigs, complete with large front teeth and feet but could not bring myself to do it on account of our childhood pet, Sooty. I lost the Aussies and ended up going to bed at a reasonable time before finding out one of them had accidentally ended up at a Peruvian rave until sunrise. I enjoyed hanging out with the Aussies, they were a good laugh and I did my only major partying here (so far) as there were a lot of English speakers and a good bar.

But I was here, like everyone else, to do Machu Picchu, the most impressive Inca ruins set high in the mountains. The reason they were so well preserved was because the geographical location defended the village with vertical drops to the river on one side and almost impenetrable mountains on the others. I did not walk in on the Inca Trail as it had to be booked months in advance (so not my forte) and I don't love walking enough to do it for 5 days. I opted instead to a downhill bike, white water rafting and trekking combo. I foolishly only got two hours sleep before the trek so spent most the bus trip lolling around unsociably asleep.

The road we cycled down was paved, unlike Death Road and they made us wear a ridiculous amount of motocross safety gear but it was great weaving around the steep roads with views of the drops next to the narrow roads. And the freezing wind woke you up. We got soaked as we went through a couple of rivers on the way down but I was really enjoying the outdoors stuff and we were in normal hotels, not dorms which made a change. The Peruvians do love their carbs and insisted on providing us with three course meals including potatoes and rice, even for lunch, then expecting us to trek through the jungle/ local coca plantations , or up a mountain afterwards when we just wanted to lie in a hammock and go to sleep. The promise of some hot springs spurred us on and we carried on to the cable car our guide kept talking about. He kept pushing us on to be ahead of the much larger group behind us and when we got there, we found out why.

European/ western world definitions of a cable car and Peruvian ones are very different, it seemed. This cable car kind of looked like the old western rail carts that two people pump the handle on to keep it moving. Except it was not on rails, it was suspended between two mountains and only big enough for two people. They were building a new road on one of the mountains so we had to hunker down one side of a hill while they set off explosives on the other, with the rocks rolling down the mountain to the valley we had been walking in not half an hour before. We thought where we were must be safe but the roadworkers pelted past us to the next bit of shelter, which made us all look at each other a bit uneasily.

The second day of trekking we were getting tired and thinking of the other backpackers who had been trekking for 4 or 5 days. Safety not being a huge priority (in Peru, our guide was great), we walked down the edge of the train tracks, over high rivers on rickety bridges, maingly with me humming 'Stand by Me' and asking people for cherry flavoured Pez. The train line was dotted with little restaurants in the jungle we got served a surprisingly good (three course, carb loaded) lunch, surrounded by chickens pecking around in the dust and the locals washing. We walked all the way into Agua Calientes, being waved at by hordes of tourists from the train back from Machu Picchu. Agua Calientes was a strange looking place, part Swiss town, part Peruvian and soley for tourists with its inflated meals and trinkets and none of the usual Peruvian hospitality or friendliness.

With tired legs we got up at 4am and made our way in the dark to the base of Machu Picchu. You could get the bus up but I thought it kind of defeated the object, so following the panting and torchlights of the other 300 odd tourists doing the same thing I climbed the 1800 steps to the ruins. Despite the fact it was really cold and dark when we started everyone was hot and sweaty by the top. Watching the sun rise over the mountains and light up the ruins and stepped grassy areas originally used for farming and socialising was really impressive. A lot of the group struggled to remain focussed as the tour guide gave us an interesting history of the place, as the sweat had cooled and most people stood there shivering uncontrollably. I have to admit, I did not envy the people who had opted to climb the mountain at the back of Machu Picchu and lay on the grass, admiring the views I had seen so many times on pictures on the way round and trying to ignore the incongruous hydro electric project behind me. Considering what the Incas were capable off I have no idea why we call that progress. As bus loads of people started descending on one of the seven modern wonders of the world I decided to leave them to it and walk back down the 1800 steps, encouraging the hot and sweaty people on the way up.

After a couple more days of partying with the Aussies, who had seemed incapable of leaving Cusco, and not because it is a pretty colonial town, I broke away from the usual tour route and got on a plane to Buenos Aires to see my cousin, Laus, who had been teaching English in the north or Argentina. After a long day of travelling it was great to see her in the hostel, much to the amusement of the staff as I picked her up for a big hug (everyone who lives away from their family will no exactly what I am talking about). We both needed some chill out time so we lolled around, eating empanadas and sleeping. Portenos, BA residents do not party until gone midnight and as we were there in the week and staying in a place full of Argentines I did not experience this fully. We did happen across an American bar on 4th July that was absolutely packed and partook in a few with a lovely Argentinian guy and a slightly odd Canadian. I think I am past all that now (J) so I mainly just admired Lau's Spanish speaking (while she mercilessly mocked my pathetic attempts) and waited for the arrival of my sis, Nats and the lovely Jake.

Nats and Jake had booked an apartment literally round the corner from where we staying and Laus and I got over excited about things that would seem normal to us at home, mainly the washing machine, comfy beds and power shower. We also got some great view of the city, particularly when it got dark. The sky was blue when they arrived but descended into 4 days of rain and grey skies. We still got out and about most the time, getting creeped out at the Ricoletta cemetery, the most expensive piece of real estate in Buenos Aires, going to lovely restaurants for the best steak I am ever going to eat and watching an impressive tango show. The thing I loved the most was just hanging out with my family. The obligatory bottle of my favourite champagne came with Nats and Jake and we drank it in the steaming hot rooftop pool as an early birthday celebration. I might have to travel with Nats and Jake more often. I was my usual mess saying bye to Nats, but as there is talk of her coming to Australia at Christmas so I don't have to wait another year to see her I am already looking forward to that.

And so onto the Iguazu falls and is tough people, life is tough.

Nic/ Nics x


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