Last Sat night, I took a 8 pm bus from Uyuni to La Paz with Mickael and Cecile, the two people from Paris that I met on the salt flats tour. The bus was COLD, and that is an understatement. We had blankets, but even when using it with my two coats on, it was a bit chilly! When we arrived in La Paz about 7 in the morning, we walked about 5 blocks to their hostel. We then went to eat breakfast. The whole town was closed this Sunday morning. We walked for about an hour before finding a little spot that had some food. I didn’t have the address of where I needed to go.
While in La Paz, I stayed with the Marcos Rios Family. I had met his son, Yasser Rios Lopez, a couple years ago. Yasser was an exchange student at Helena High. He came to my classroom in the spring as one of the annual foreign student panel members. His enthusiasm and humor was an immediate hit with my students.
Yasser had given me one, but it was his father’s work address. After eating, then, I strolled back over to a hostel I had seen a wi-fi sign in. The Lion Hostel had a very nice man at the front desk. I asked to use the. Wi-fi for a moment. He said sure and when I offered to pay him for it, he said ‘tranquilo’ – no problem! But the wi-fi was painfully slow, and after almost 10 minutes without getting a message to Yasser, I decided to go find a phone and call his father. The man told me there were a number of call centers just up the street. I then asked if I could leave my backpack – sure, he said! I put my pack behind the front counter, offered again to pay (and was again turned down), and headed out armed with the phone number.
The phone conversation was hilarious. Gabriel (Yasser’s 14 year old brother) answered, but when I said his dad’s name, the phone was passed off. Marcos gave me his address. I then said goodbye to my French friends, and grabbed my big bag from the hostel. I walked a couple blocks and then flagged a cab. The driver was very nice. He told me it would cost 30 Bolivianos to get to that address. Instead I should take a #4 something. He showed me a #1 across the street and said take a 4 for only 3 Bolivianos!
So I stood on the side of the street for about 25 minutes, ultimately deciding it would be better to spend the money and get to my destination than standing on a busy city street with everything I have on my back. So, I opted for a taxi. Another nice driver. He taught me some words in Quechau and A’mani. We had a hard time finding the place, but after the driver asked about 5 people, we pulled up at an amarillo (yellow) home. Marcos was standing at the front door to greet me! I gave the cabbie 40 Bolivianos for his trouble, and went into the home to meet the rest of the family. I was super lucky because it was a holiday weekend, so the family didn’t need to work or go to school on Monday or Tuesday!
Over the next few days, I got to ride a ferry across Lake Titicaca on my way to Cococabana, a little town on the end of the large island in the middle of the lake. We also saw the city from a number of angles and I took pictures like mad. La Paz is perched atop a number of incredibly high – and steep – mountains. It is a fascinating place, and having a couple local guides and a car made all the difference in the world! We went by the President’s office just as the flags were being lowered for the day. Classic that I saw flag ceremonies in 2 of the 5 countries I have visited (Brazil and Bolivia)!
We also went to the Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon – named by astronaught Neil Armstrong) and to the zoo, both of which are just blocks from what they hope will be. Their new home in a few weeks. We went by the President’s residence and the Embassies of the USA and of Venezuela.
Tues morning, ‘mom’ and I went into the bus station. Many of the businesses were closed, but a Peruvian bus company was open and had a first-class ‘cama’ (bed) service that left for Juliaca at 4:30p. Perfect!! My first opportunity to ride luxury service had finally arrived.
Or so I thought….
Turns out that after a final lunch at the house, I was at the bus depot by about 3:30 — perfect! But this is where my plans once again changed…
The lady who had sold me the ticket in the morning came over and asked me to come visit with her at the office. She told me there was a problem because the border was not open due to the holiday. Instead, I should take the 8 am bus – it would cross the border and get to Juliaca at 2. But I had a plane to catch to Lima at 11:30 – arriving to Juliaca, Peru at 2:00 was a couple hours too late! And, I also had my ticket to the USA the next morning from Lima – I had to get there!
As I stood there wondering what to do, a man and a woman standing nearby and getting the same story from the bus employee got upset. The lady at the counter suggested we go together and take a cab. The couple sized up the foreigner (me) and agreed. A tall European looking lady wanted to come too, but because she had purchased her ticket at a travel agency, she couldn’t get her money back like I did, so she was forced to stay.
We took a cab to El Cemetario – which is a huge transportation hub for non-buses in addition to being the resting place for former La Pazians. We got out of the cab and maybe walked 30 feet before they had negotiated a deal with a driver to get us to La Frontera (the border). In we piled, me in front, the two of them in the back. Just as we thought we were set, another man climbed in the backseat. I recognized him immediately, as he had also been standing in the bus station. We greeted each other again. Gonna be a long couple hour ride, I thought, so I asked their names. Diego, the last man in, was from Cusco, but has been working in La Paz for 15 years. Fransico and Sara were also from Cusco. We began chatting – and while I didn’t understand it all, I was surprised how much I could comprehend!
The ride was crazy. Diego had called and knew the border on the Bolivian side was closing early. This didn’t matter to the three of them, but I needed an exit visa stamp! So, we did the two hour ride, with heavy traffic, in just over 1.5!
The scenery was spectacular, but I was afraid to take out my camera. We got passed a military checkpoint about 100 miles before the border. Good sign, I thought, as the military is working today! We hit the small, dusty border town with horn a blarin’ as we screamed to the end of the road. When we stopped, Sara got out and in moments had arranged a 3 wheeled bicycle with a platform on front. The man loaded our bags and began pedaling them to the border sign while we walked behind. At the exit building, it was open!
The three of them waited outside with the bike and our bags (yes, I was trusting these people I just met with everything I owned… but they were helping save my life and not making me have to carry everything on my back) while I got my exit stamp. We then continued over a bridge and looked out over Lake Titicaca as the sun set and the snow capped peaks on the Bolivian side glimmered in the distance.
It was on of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, but there were tons of people in the street mulling about and selling street market items. This was not the time or the place to play tourist. So, I kept walking.
The group again waited while I completed my entry paperwork and got stamped for Peru. I also changed my money – Francisco was with me, and led me to a lady sitting at a little desk in the street rather than a house of cambio (money exchange business). He made her show him the rate and double-checked the amount she gave me. This guy sure was looking out for me! The bike shuttle guy had looked for a vehicle, but came back saying there wasn’t one. He continued with our bags. We went about a block and decided to unload and wait. No sooner were our bags off the bike than a man drove up in a newer car and in we piled. This time I got in back.
About two hours later, after stopping to pick up one man of about a dozen stranded by a broke-down micro-bus (he rode in the back with our luggage), we made it to Puno. Due to safety concerns, we had decided to stop here. The three of them headed to buy their tickets to Cusco. Francisco helped visit with a couple people trying to lure me to their hotels. Francisco suggested I stay in the terminal for the night (35 soles), but one of the people said I’d need to get across town in the morning. That didn’t sound good. I headed off after saying goodbye. A lady approached. She said her hotel was next to the micro-bus station for getting to Juliaca. Perfect!
I then walked out with her and got in a three-wheeled motorcycle cab — classic! For 2 soles, I got a ride across town. The man let me off right in front of my hotel. Perfect! There was no hot water, and it was a loud night, but at least I’m in Peru and according to the guy that let me in last night, I can get a direct shuttle from here to the Juliaca airport for just 15 Soles ($5.50). Going to go check that out now!
… I caught the mini-bus to the Juliaca airport. It was about an hour ride, as I remember. I would have updated this entry when I arrived, but there wasn’t any wi-fi in the airport terminal. The plane was late, and it was quite the ordeal, but in the end I got on and saw the countryside of Peru out the window of the plane as we flew to Lima. Guess I’ll have to come back one day soon (maybe with my brother to see Machu Pichu and go to the Galapagos Islands)… until then, what I saw out the window of the Andes Mountains and the city of Lima is all I will experience!