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Archive for the ‘Copacabana’ Category

Chocolate fondue

A leisurely start to the day; collecting and dropping off washing at reception, then going down into town for breakfast. We stopped at Pueblo Viejo, a coffee bar restaurant and book exchange, for pancakes. These were of the thin crepe variety rather than the thick North American type; the adults went for honey while the girls had bananas with chocolate sauce. A rather incongruous mix of muted English Premiership football on TV with a backing track of free-wheeling modal jazz, sounding a bit Miles Davis/John Coltrane. The owner’s young sons had their breakfast in the midst of the squeeze and clutter of wooden tables and chairs; Hannah passed the time trying to play clock patience with two incomplete packs of cards.

Then up the main street to change another $100 at a rate of 6.95 Bolivianos per dollar (wouldn’t a round 7 be so much simpler?) We hope this will last us to La Paz, with meals out being the main cash drain. We carried on to the main square with the cathedral on one side, and popped into the latter. A heavy Moorish influence, and a relatively recent construction, although several parts were screened off for restoration. Outside one entrance the way was lined with Bolivians dressed in black apart from the women’s colourful skirts; we wondered if a funeral was about to take place.

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Down towards the lake, stopping at an internet cafe to catch up on emails for the first time since Puno. It looks like we may have somewhere to stay in Sucre, which is a relief. Also a chance to top up the FairFX cash card and check bank accounts.

Then back up the hill to La Cupula (at least it’s easy to spot). We headed for the hotel kitchen to have a snack and a hot drink, bumping into a couple from London who did the island walk yesterday, only just catching the return boat by 5 minutes; apparently other slower walkers missed the boat altogether. Then in the kitchen we chatted with the West Coast American chap we have seen around town, unmistakeable with his long, wild, white beard and hair. This is his third stay in this hotel; he just likes to hang out around here, but hasn’t done the touristy island trips. A few useful tips, such as the fact that our hotel bakes some of the best bread in town (which we checked for ourselves later in the day).

Meanwhile, the girls amused themselves in one of the other hotel gardens, the one having a low tightrope on which to balance.

For lunch we opted to have a light snack in the hotel restaurant, as it seems to serve some of the best food in Copacabana. My mystery soup of the day (some large round vegetable) came with a wholemeal roll and was utterly delicious (in stark contrast to the foul green salty concoction that preceded our chicken and chips in Puno) and Kirsten’s potato salad was huge and flavoursome. The girls had little room for more than a plate of chips, which were well fried – unlike most such portions in Copacabana.

After lunch, some leisure time in the sun in the garden.
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We then sought out the highly-recommended Museo del Poncho, only to discover that it is closed on weekdays (which the guidebook doesn’t mention).
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So we continued on to the beach and rented a swan pedalo for half an hour (20 Bolivianos). We pootled around the bay for a while, riding the waves and endeavouring to get the steering to work properly. It seems somewhat demeaning to Lake Titicaca to pedal a huge fibreglass bird around it, but we won’t have the opportunity after today for many a year, if ever again.

Swan Lake.
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Back up to our room for a snack for tea, and we were somewhat taken aback to find that our garden had been invaded by a flock of sheep. They stayed for a couple of hours, performing the dual functions of lawnmower and fertiliser.
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So we ran away to join the circus (the Flying Wallendas had better watch out).
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At five o’clock I took the girls out for a little explore (their garden games being somewhat curtailed by the sheep poo everywhere). We ended up climbing all the way up to Cerro Calvario, the hill we can see behind our hotel, and the girls did extremely well, without any complaints, despite the uneven steps and steep gradient. Far-reaching views of the bay and the town, and a good number of locals walking up, with even younger children than ours.

A steep street
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Copacabana bay
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The summit of Cerro Calvario
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Down again, stopping at a grotty loo for which we were charged a steep 5 Bolivianos. Then back around 6pm to start thinking about supper.

In the end we ordered a chocolate fondue with banana, apple, peach, bland papaya, a few cherries and chunks of white bread to dip. Only the two-person option, but this was more than sufficient to fill us up. The girls loved the novelty of it, and the Bolivian chocolate (we asked) was excellent – dark and rich but not too bitter.
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Back to look through our recent and not-so-recent photos on the computer – North America seems an age ago – and then to bed.

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Isla del Sol

A nice quiet night in our secluded room; awoken by birdsong and a sporadically barking dog. We got our daypack ready for the island trip and wandered down to Calle 6 de Agosto (the main street) to find some breakfast and a packed lunch.

Main street, Copacabana
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Dictionary Fail: Mate = Kill, or should it be an infusion?
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This proved harder than we expected; the ‘box lunches’ all included a bottle of water (which we have already) and we didn’t have time for a sit-down breakfast. So we resorted to buying bananas and apples from street stalls, supplemented by a small tub of Pringles, a small bag of toasted bread and a couple of cheese empanadas – all for less than the price of one breakfast at our hotel restaurant.

We found the correct queue at the harbour for our boat and snacked as we waited. A bit before 8.30am we embarked and were pleasantly surprised to find only six of us seated downstairs (with a few more upstairs). Our delight was short-lived, however, because the neighbouring queue of rucksack-laden trekkers planning to spend the night on the island proceeded to fill up our boat with bodies, luggage and noise.

We set off late and puttered over Lake Titicaca for a couple of hours along the peninsula and out to Isla del Sol, stopping at a southern port to collect yet more passengers. I noted the absence of life jackets on board; no room for them, probably.

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At 11am we reached the northern settlement of Challapampa and were told to be back at the boat by 1.30pm. Otherwise no indication of where to go or what to look at, other than a sketchy map on the back of the 10 Boliviano tickets we had to buy to gain access to the island. But absolutely no signs or signposts on the island itself.

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Beach at Challapampa
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A guide called a group of us together; initially we weren’t sure whether he was from the tour agency or else was an enterprising islander, but he turned out to be the latter. He started explaining something about the island in Spanish, and everyone else in the assembled group drifted away, leaving just the four of us. German (for that was his name) planned to take us for 50 minutes’ walk up to some Inca ruins at the top of the island and then back again to visit the Gold Museum once it was less busy. But we needed a 10-minute loo stop and by this time it was 11.30. By my calculation we wouldn’t have much non-walking time available to see anything at all (especially with two young girls in tow), so we asked to omit the ruins.

The compromise was to visit the Sacred Stone (mistranslated as the Secret Stone on one leaflet) which was only 10 minutes’ walk away. Well, it probably took nearer 20 minutes, and our guide pointed out various plants and features on the way; a cactus used as a cure for headaches and toothache, a primary school catering for the island’s 300 children. Certainly, without him we might never have found the Sacred Stone – no signs on the side path that branched off the main route for those doing the five-mile walk from the North to the South of the island.

This stone was possibly an execution block for miscreant Incas, although out guide mentioned something about stuffing their mouths with coca leaves, tying them to the stone and making them promise never to repeat their misdeed (the three Inca laws were: don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy).

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As we left this site, we noticed a rainbow halo completely encircling the sun in an apparently clear blue sky; I suppose it must be caused by high-altitude ice crystals.
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Back down to the bay via a sandy beach littered with pigs enjoying a shoreline drink.
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To the long-awaited Museo de Oro, a one-room wonder containing only one solitary gold artefact and lots of old pottery found in the submerged city of Marka Pampa just off the north coast of Isla del Sol.

We tipped our guide and sat down in a dodgy cafe for a cold drink; we didn’t risk any food from there given the flies and the general lack of refrigeration, but instead had half a banana. Later outside we crunched a few Pringles and tried the toasted bread (sweet and slightly soggy).

[Gratuitous nice picture]
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Then back in the boat to sail for half an hour to the south of the island (for those not walking the full distance). Only the engine wouldn’t start for a good ten minutes… An Israeli in the front of the boat got out his guitar and started singing Beatles numbers. At last we got moving; the boat was now depleted of its burden of backpackers and we soon stopped at Yumani village.

Again, an entrance ticket to buy but no clue as to what we should see or where to go, bar an obvious but daunting flight of steps up the hillside. We climbed these, a trickle of water running down alongside them, and reached a natural spring, la Fuente del Inca. I pressed on further up the hill to see if I could find any more attractions, but the view over to Isla de la Luna and the white-capped mountains of the Cordillera Real was the only reward.

Yumani beach
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The Inca steps
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View from la Fuente del Inca
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So we descended and got on the boat early – with no information available as to where to go – and headed back south. An unannounced stop at a fake floating island – of such rectangular construction that it was clearly a wooden platform covered with a light scattering of reeds. All those of us who had visited the Uros islands stayed on the boat, while others paid three Bolivianos to step onto the raft. (Advice to namers of currency; try to get it snappier than a five-syllable mouthful.)

Onwards to Copacabana, and we got back around 5.30pm. Today’s trip was the least satisfactory of those we have taken; yes, it only cost under £8 for all of us (plus island admission), but the lack of guidance and information was appalling. There is also insufficient time to see the sights properly unless you stay the night and have an expert guide on hand.

While down in town we thought we would have some supper; the first proper meal of the day. We returned to the hotel restauant where we had ice creams yesterday and ordered two sandwiches and two spaghetti dishes. After nearly half an hour the sandwiches and one spaghetti arrived, but there was no sign of my order. After another wait, we chased it up only to discover that the waiter had not made a note of my dish. I insisted that I had ordered it, and he then said that they didn’t have it available today anyway. So I shared Kirsten’s spaghetti instead (for it was getting late) and resolved not to return to that establishment.

Back to our room, and half an hour’s reading/writing for the girls before bed. A windy evening with a bit of rain as well; tomorrow we’ll take things easy and spend time in the garden – weather permitting.

P.S. We currently have big problems sending emails – in Cusco we had no wireless internet access, in Puno we could receive but not send, and here we are again with no connection (hence reliant on fragments of time in internet cafes), This is also why we have a huge backlog of photos to put on – we hope things will be better in La Paz…

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Peru to Bolivia

Awake early (if not so bright) at 5.30am in time to shower and do the final bits of packing. We have accumulated clothing and souvenirs so it’s becoming more of a squeeze getting everything into our rucksacks; we’ll have to do some serious pruning before our next flights.

A quick snack in our room before hauling our heavy bags downstairs. Percy’s son got a taxi for us and soon we were on our way to the Terminal Terrestre (no, it’s not the end of the world…) where we showed our tickets and proceeded through Gate 2 (more delusions of grandeur) to wait for our Tour Peru bus. Counting down our few remaining Soles – tip for Percy’s son, taxi fare, bus station tax (1 Sol each), loo entry fee – we’ve judged things about right, ending up with less than £1 in loose change.

Luggage stowed below, we found our reserved seats in the fourth row back. There was a block booking in front of us; an Australian tour group. We also spotted another gringo family with two young children (younger than ours), a rare sight. They were from somewhere Scandinavian, travelling for a mere four months.

The bus to Bolivia
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And so we departed right on time, at 7.30am. Puno to Copacabana should take three hours, we were told, so we would be there well before lunchtime. This would include a twenty-minute stop for border formalities, and we were asked to check that we had passports and the vital slip of paper we received upon entering Peru.

When we came across piles of rocks strewn across the road, there was some curiosity at first. Fallen off the back of a lorry? But then it became apparent that this was a deliberate act of inconvenience/sabotage. An entire dumper-truck’s worth of earth in the middle of the road, a stone wall dismantled, moved and reassembled to block all traffic. (Well, by the time we were making our journey, enough had been cleared to allow us to proceed with caution, zigzagging onto the verge or the opposite carriageway to dodge the obstacles. This continued for perhaps twenty miles, along with the occasional separatist slogan.

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To cap it all, at one stage a car in front of our coach stopped suddenly (for no apparent reason; there was no obstruction for once) and of course we gently piled into the back of the car, shattering its rear window. So an unscheduled stop while the drivers sorted things out – and one of the Australians got out to take photos (I didn’t dare).

We continued along the lakeside road, more focused on potential dangers ahead than on the views of Titicaca to our left. Immigration forms for Bolivia were distributed – fill in all 25 sections in ballpoint pen, in capitals and in Spanish (and we needed to do the girls’ forms as well). After a couple of hours’ travelling, we reached the border. Out of the coach, change a few dollars to Bolivianos, go to the first Peruvian office and then to the second one (we just beat the queues from other coaches), then through the big border arch and go to the Bolivian immigration office – poor Ellen was ‘done’ first and pushed through to the next stage on her own.

This side, Bolivia; that side, Peru
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A peculiar system; as far as I can see, there is nothing to stop you doing nothing – i.e. simply getting off the coach and then back on again. Perhaps there is some cross-checking of names with lists provided by the bus companies – I don’t know.

One of our group mislaid his passport, slowing things still further. But eventually we were on our way, around 11.30am Bolivian time (they are an hour ahead of Peru). Would we reach Copacabana in time to get our room? Later than 2pm and they cancel your reservation. Fortunately it was a mere ten minutes further to our destination.

Once we had got off the coach, I thought I had better ask our guide about buying onward tickets to La Paz. I assumed that he would point me towards the Tour Peru office in Copacabana. So it was strange when he walked past the office and started booking us in with a totally different agency, and also strange when he pocketed the $30 for the tickets instead of the lady in the office. No doubt we have paid over the odds, and I hope it’s a decent coach company we’ve ended up with.

We then took a taxi up the hill to Hostal la Cupula and checked in. No problem here, and we are delighted with our spacious, clean room and the garden attached which we share with only one other room. Hammocks, deck chairs, a slide for the girls to play on and views over Lake Titicaca.
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We lost no time in finding the restaurant to get some lunch; lasagna and trout to share with the girls, and a vast jug of freshly-squeezed orange juice (it filled at least six tall glasses).

First impressions are that we may end up spending more per day in Bolivia than we did in Peru; our room is $44 a night rather than $20 or $24 and lunch came to around £12 (we usually spent £8 in Peru). But we are getting superior quality accommodation and food.

Around 2.30pm we walked down into town to (a) change more dollars to Bolivianos and (b) book a tour to Isla del Sol for tomorrow. We also explored the beach (the only one in the entire country), with its Bolivian navy of Pedalos and floating swans. Very few foreigners, but plenty of locals down for the weekend. Then to a restaurant on the main street for a couple of sorry-looking banana splits (served on a flat plate with a knife and fork only) and huge bottles of coke and beer. Well, we ordered a litre bottle of Coke so we could take it away, and my beer was twice the size I expected. At the end, we were told we had to leave the Coke behind because there was a deposit on the bottle, but eventually we were given the option of paying 10 Bolivianos more to keep the bottle.

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Back up the hill, some time in the garden, and then down into town for supper. We ended up in a deserted cafe for three burgers and Salchipapas for Ellen, which we ate while distracted by some American thriller on two TVs (innocent man pursued by corrupt cops – I explained to the girls that it’s Tom and Jerry for grown-ups).

Back to our room in the dark, and we now have German neighbours in the mini-apartment next door (it has a small kitchen). But since there are no TVs in the rooms, we are hoping for a better night’s rest.

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