Getting the hell out of dodge


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South America » Peru » Puno » Puno
December 27th 2011
Published: January 12th 2012
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After a night of constant clock watching I got up early to prepare to leave La Paz. After I'd collected my clean laundry from reception I had a long, hot shower to wash off the remnants of yesterday. Dressed and ready for the off, I began to clumsily cram everything into my already tightly packed bag. I tried to be ad quiet as I could so as to not wake the rest of the dorm, even though there were yet again people outside that appeared to have not yet gone to bed. I carted my things down to reception and checked out before sitting down to finish what was left of the funny Panettone cake that I had bought for Christmas.

Just as I had made myself comfy, I heard my name being called from the entrance of the hostel. Keen to leave, I quickly grabbed my bags and followed the little Bolivian lady who had called my name out of the door. It would be unfair to say that I hadn't enjoyed my stay at Wild Rovers because of yesterdays events, but it certainly hadn't been the most helpful or welcoming hostel that I had stayed in. I climbed aboard the rickety looking coach that would be my transport for the morning and settled into a seat towards the back.

As the coach trundled through the city, stopping occasionally to pick up more passengers, the enormity of what could have happened yesterday hit me. Shock isn't a nice thing to experience whatever the circumstances, but it was safe to say that I could feel the colour draining from my face as my stomach began to turn. I played the event over in my head wondering what I could have done differently and the more I did, the worse I felt. It wasn't until I started to get out of El Alto and began to catch up on blogs that I felt better about the situation.

We trundled along the bumpy unsealed road out of the city limits, past yet more unfinished red brick houses and piles of stones and earth. The scene was reminiscent of parts of India, with people cycling or trying to hitch a lift into the city centre. I was glad to be leaving La Paz and indeed Bolivia. Although I hadn't seen a lot of the country, yesterday had left me with a rather bitter taste in my mouth.

The countryside began to open up into sprawling fields with the mountains in the background and the occasional house or farm lining the road. Before long I could see the glint of the sun reflecting off of Lake Titicaca. My spirits began to lift the closer we got to the lake, passing small villages and communities on the way. We were soon on the shore of the lake where we were told we had to disembark the bus to cross this section of the lake by boat. Although I was confused, I didn't have the energy to question and simply went to purchase my ticket along with everyone else.

It had begun to rain as we crossed the lake to San Pedro Tiquina, where we would rejoin the bus to get to Copacabana. I tried to get a couple of snaps as the boat pushed it's way across the choppy waters, trying not to get choked by the fumes being kicked out by the ancient outboard motor. Once across it was time to find something to eat, and luckily there were a row of stalls selling empanadas and tupiza. Tim and Harrison had told me about the tupiza and I was keen to try it, as I hadn't found any in La Paz. It was very strange and tasted like a big ball of over cooked rice that had been fried in old cooking oil. As nice as it was, the boys had told me that it had a meaty filling that was worth the hardship of eating the rice. Unfortunately, it seemed that mine had been given the smallest helping of meat possible so I had to have a chicken empanada to fill the gap.

Once we were back on the coach, we followed the winding path of the road as it hugged tightly to the hillside. Much as with the Iguazú falls, the view continued to get better at each turn of the road, as it revealed idyllic looking villages that littered the shoreline of the lake. The views reminded me a little of the lake district due to the terracotta colour of the exposed sections of hillside, with Lake Titicaca in the background. The coach rounded one of the final corners of the road and the picturesque town of Copacabana came into view.

Running about an hour behind schedule, I dumped my bags at the tour office and set off to explore the town. I walked straight down to the waters edge and took in the view across the lake. It was exactly as I expected; a long stretch of muddy beach filled with pedalo's of every imaginable shape and size. Having only really seen pedalo's in the UK, it was strange to see them on the edge of the highest lake in the world. I headed back up Avenue 6 de Agosto to try and attempt some frantic souvenir shopping before my coach to Puno left. I walked past dozens of stalls all selling the same alpaca and llama jumpers, ponchos and hats that I had seen everywhere in La Paz. I did however, succumb to one shop where I found a pair of alpaca socks with individual toes. I was delighted because I had grown used to wearing my vibrams and this meant I could continue to do so, whatever the temperature.

I dashed past yet more artisan shops and through Plaza Sucre towards the cathedral. It wasn't like anything I'd seen before, painted white and very plain except for the blue tiled domes. Sadly I didn't have much time to appreciate the inside, because I had just ten minutes to make it back to the tour office to board the coach.

Making it by the skin of my teeth I stowed my bags and began the now familiar process of filling out immigration cards ready for the border crossing into Peru. It was only a short journey to the border, and once my passport had been stamped I made my way past the hoards of currency changers to be greeted by a huge sign that read 'Welcome to Peru'. It took a while for everyone to get back on coach, by which point I had begun to get a little frustrated. I was hungry and lacked the money to buy anything to keep me going for the next three hours till we arrived in Puno.

Our route took us past lots of villages and small towns that lined the shores of Lake Titicaca. Each one looked very similar the last, made up of ploughed farm land, tied up livestock and half finished red brick houses. It was difficult to discern between which houses were being lived in and which had been abandoned, left for the high winds and rain to reclaim for the land. It felt like the journey was taking forever, and the difference between Argentinian and Bolivian coach seats started to become apparent as my bum started to go numb. There wasn't a lot of room to manoeuvre at the back of the coach, and things weren't helped by smell of stale urine coming from the toilet behind me. I had been on far worse coach journeys though at the start of my travels, so I wasn't overly bothered.

Eventually we pulled off the main road and onto the muddy bumpy roads of Puno. Once I'd grabbed my bags I headed into the Omnibus terminal with two things at the forefront of my mind; finding the toilet ad finding some food! Having withdrawn some currency from the conveniently placed cash machine in the terminal, I bought two ham and cheese rolls and a bag of peanut m and m's. I though it was rather ironic, given that I had been fed nothing but ham and cheese sandwiches all the way through this part of my trip, but it did the job and I was soon in a taxi on the way to the hostel.

The Point Hostel was about a ten minute ride from the Omnibus terminal and looked nice enough from the outside. I had booked the hostel through Green Toad Buses, and wasn't quite sure what to expect. Unsurprisingly it was what looked to be another party hostel and I was glad I was only here for two nights. I went through the now familiar procedure at reception where I handed over my passport and entry card to be photocopied before asking for a map and any points of interest. I dumped my bags in my four bed dorm and headed straight out into town to make the most of my short lived time in Puno.

My first call was going to be the Coca museum as I had wanted to learn more about the origin and influence of the coca leaf within South American Culture. I took in the ports impressive cathedral as I made my way across Plaza de Armas and onward up Lima towards the corner of Deza and Junin. It wasn't exactly what I expected when I arrived, a small first floor room that had been divided by a partition wall separating the Coca Museum from the costumes that played a vital part in Peruvian folklore. For the S/.5 (£1.20) price of admission, I really didn't glean a lot more information for my visit, other than the process through which Coca Cola first bought the ingredients together for their world dominating brand. A little disappointed I wondered back down Lima to grab my much sought after fridge magnet souvenir and more importantly find some food. Much like anyother tourist spot across the world, there were men and women armed and ready with menu's trying to get you to eat in their restaurant. I wasn't impressed by any of them until I was approached by a guy who asked me if I had tried guinea pig yet. Intrigued, I followed him to the restaurant he was touting for and made my way upstairs wondering what I had let myself in for.

I placed my order and after waiting about fifty minutes was presented with a plate that was laden with chips, quinoa, tomato and onion salsa and an actual guinea pig. It looked like it had been run over earlier that day, scooped up and baked in the oven...head and all. I wasn't quite sure where to start, so I began with what I knew before I tucked into the guinea pig. The salsa was delicious, fresh and tangy which complemented the quinoa perfectly. I hadn't expected to be eating quite so well in Peru, given that it wasn't as affluent as Chile or Argentina but I was pleasantly surprised to have found this little gem of a restaurant. Finally the time came to try the guinea pig and I played it safe by starting with the leg. The was interesting, with an almost gamey flavour to what little meat clung to the bone. I wasn't sure as to where else I could get the meat from the small beast other than it's legs, and soldiered on determined to finish it. After parting with S/.30 (£7.25) for the cultural experience (less than you'd pay at your pet shop) I returned to the hostel to get some shut eye before my Uros Islands trip the next day.

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