Peru and Bolivia

Hello from Copacabana, a little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca just over two and a half miles above sea level (for all you lucky people who don’t have to deal with imperial measurements, that’s 3.8 kilometres). It occurred to me earlier today that given the town’s altitude, I must currently be at a higher altitude than the overwhelming majority of people on earth (and no, airplane passengers don’t count), which is a rather strange thought.

But how did I get there, and what crazy escapades did I get up to on my way here, I here you all ask. By bus, and very few, I would reply. But still, earn my love by reading what I have to say anyway!

The trip officially began in a nondescript bus station in the nondescript desert town of Ica, where I met my travelling companion Mirja. From there we headed straight to the little oasis of Huacachina just a few miles away. Though the town itself was fairly unremarkable- presumably the only reason it exists is to cater for the hordes of tourists who flock there- the scenery was incredible. Huacachina is surrounded on all sides by huge sand dunes, and looking into the distance from the top of these all you can see are more dunes. Only the city visible a couple of miles in the opposite direction acts as a reminder that you’re not in the middle of the Sahara!

Sand dunes in Huacachina

Apparently the point of going to Huacachina is sandboarding- which, believe it or not, is a bit like snowboarding… but on sand. However, we’re on a budget and can’t afford such frivolities (didn’t know that word actually existed, but hey, Microsoft Word didn’t hit me with the squiggly line!). So, instead I pioneered the sport of sand running- gravity assisted sprinting down the steep dunes as fast as possible before you a) manage to slow yourself down, or b) fall over, the latter being preferable in my opinion.

From Huacachina we took a bus to Arequipa. It’s a really beautiful city- in the historical centre at least- with its ancient white stone buildings, grand cathedral, and the huge snow capped volcano which towers above it. However, given that I had spent most of the previous six months there I was already well acquainted with its prettiness, so I was happy to get going further up into the Andes.

El Misti volcano in Arequipa

Getting from Arequipa to Bolivia was rather more of an ordeal than it ought to have been. After wasting a load of time searching for a bus that would take us out of the country, we eventually had to concede defeat and spend the night in Yunguyo, an eerily quiet little town right on the Bolivian border. The following day, though, after yet more lost time waiting for the town’s only cash point to be repaired, we did eventually get across the border- and, thankfully, with minimal bureaucratic faff!

As I approached the border (which we actually had to walk across- that’s a first for me!), I tried to feel sentimental about finally ending my time in Peru, but it was difficult. Not because I didn’t enjoy my time in the country- I did. It just barely felt like the place I had left was any different from the place I was entering. I may be using a different currency and seeing a different flag, but the reality is that Peru and Bolivia are very much alike, or at least the parts of both which neighbour each other. Same language, same culture, same people… it makes me wonder yet again which idiots were in charge of drawing national boundaries centuries ago.

Anyhow, now I’m in Copacabana. Aside from the altitude (did I mention yet how high it is?), it’s a fairly pretty little town, albeit completely overrun with stereotypical hippyish backpacker types with braided hair, but at the end of the day if it wasn’t for the beautiful (and amusingly named) Lake Titicaca, upon which it sits, it would be a fairly unremarkable mountain town.

Copacabana beach- not quite as nice as the one in Rio

Titicaca is South America’s largest lake, so vast that to look out over it it’s easy to imagine the lake as the sea. The lake’s big draw (at least of the Bolivian half- it’s split between Bolivia and Peru) is the Isla del Sol, a little island where, according to some mythical bollocks, the bloke who founded the Inca empire rose from the lake on command of the Sun God, or something like that. (I suppose if the Inca’s were gullible enough to fall for that then converting them to Christianity must have been a piece of cake for the conquistadors! )

The Côte d’Bolivia on Isla del Sol

First impressions after getting off the boat were good. The island looked like it could have been somewhere in the Mediterranean, with turquoise water and nice sandy beaches beneath a cloudless sky- except, with it being so high, the air was icy, and there were snow capped mountains in the distance. Making the scene even more surreal were the cows, pigs and donkeys hanging out by the shore…

Where the farm meets the beach…

And yet, it soon became clear there wasn’t that much to do on the island. The island’s Inca ruins were frankly naff, aside from the coastline the scenery was fairly boring, and not only was the path across the island long and tedious, it was chock full of the tourists who had arrived on the boat from the mainland at the same time we did.

So basically what I’m saying is, if you’re ever planning to visit South America, by all means visit the lake because it’s beautiful, but don’t stick around for too long: it’s cold, expensive by Bolivian standards, full of tourists, and there’s not that much to do.

Well, on that happy note I shall bid you all farewell. Off to La Paz tomorrow and after that the Amazon rainforest! However, if I don’t die on the rickety little airplane to the jungle I’ll probably get eaten by a snake or a dolphin or something, so if this is my last update, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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