Majes Valley, nr Arequipa, Peru

Above: Follow the yellow brick (Inca) road…

You know you’re broke when you’re trying to flog your flip-flops to a cafe owner to raise the bus fare home…

Last week, my friend Chris and I spent a couple of days in Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, where the Isla del Sol lived up to its name and I got burned to a crisp. Then, sated with the life of comfort, we decided to do a 3-day trek along the Inca road to Taquesi, outside La Paz.

Due to a minor administrative cock-up, we set out at 4.30am on Day 1 with only 104.50 bolivianos (about GBP 10.00) to our name.

Payment for hostel room: 40 bolivianos (64.50 left)

Taxi to bus station: 15 bolivianos (49.50 left)

Find bus has already left, and hire another taxi to set off in hot pursuit (incentive scheme – the sooner our driver catches up with the bus, the faster he earns his fare): 20 bolivianos (29.50 left)

Collectivo bus fare for 2 hour ride to trail head (me squashed between wide campesino woman, and a man who falls asleep on my shoulder. Something wet and cold is soaking up into my trekking pants from the bus seat. I choose not to investigate.): 10 bolivianos (19.50 left)

Day 1: One tough day’s clamber through spectacular scenery, across a high mountain pass – eagles swoop, llamas and alpacas gaze in supercilious bemusement at this sweating, red-faced gringa: free!

Wake on Day 2 to another blindingly blue sky, and a man shouting ‘Buenas Dias’. Somehow we suspect he hasn’t dropped by just to wish us a good day… campsite fee: 2 bolivianos (17.50 left)

Day 2: Another beautiful day’s walking, down from high altitude, into lush valleys gorgeous with wildflowers and butterflies, past scattered houses with gardens full of lilies and aubretia: free!

Wake early on Day 3, and strike camp before anybody can ask us for money: free!

Day 3: Chris has a seriously bad knee, and is hobbling like an old man (it’s his age, poor lamb, he’s all of 24 years old). We think we only have 2 hours to go before we can catch the bus, but we get to the village only to find that the bus no longer runs on Monday afternoons, and the next one isn’t until 6am the next day.

Manage to hitch rides in the back of assorted pickup trucks to get most of the way to a better-connected village: free!

Bus fare back to La Paz is rumoured to be either 11 or 12 bolivianos each… giving us a shortfall of at least 4.50. So I rummage through my rucksack. I thought I’d packed the bare minimum for our trek, but it’s amazing what becomes disposable in extremis.

Our only potential purchaser, a cafe owner, looks unimpressed with my offerings of a sunhat and pair of flipflops, but perks up when he sees my combination padlock. 20 minutes later, he has almost grasped how it works, when the bus rolls up unexpectedly early.

Chris confesses our shortage of funds, the driver impatiently nods us to get in anyway, as if poverty-stricken gringos beg favours from him every day of the week. So I grab my padlock from the bemused cafe owner’s hands and throw rucksack, flipflops, self, etc into the bus, and we trundle our way back to La Paz, weary, hungry and broke, but curiously elated after our 3 days in the beautiful wilderness of Bolivia.

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