La Paz

Above: Our bus gets a ferry ride across Lake Titicaca

Strikes, rockslides, breakdowns, numerous bus changes, stroppy border guards, bribery and corruption… it was quite a day.

Have made a little detour into Bolivia to renew my tourist visa, but this simple plan was easier said than done.

President Toledo has declared a state of emergency in Peru, which is currently in the grip of six separate strikes… including the police. The disruption caused by the strikes meant that I was becalmed in Arequipa for 2 days, as no buses could run. Finally the military broke the blockades, and I was able to catch an early morning bus towards Puno and the border.

Half an hour into the journey, the bus came to a rockslide. Luckily, they’d already cleared it enough for us to squeeze past. From where I was sitting, it looked as if our wheels must be nearly hanging over the steep drop on our left. I hope it was just a trick of perspective…

In traditional Peruvian fashion, we ground to a halt a couple of hours later, with a puncture, and there unsued much panting and grunting from a couple of guys replacing the tyre. At last they succeeded, and we were on our way again.

I had to change bus at Juliaca, get a taxi, get a minibus, get a tricycle taxi, get another bus, get another taxi, and at last I made it to the Bolivian border sometime after dark (blissfully unaware that in Puno, where I’d originally planned to spend the night, a striking protester had been shot dead that day by the military).

Unfortunately, with the one hour time difference between Peru and Bolivia, the Bolivian side was already closed. But my guidebook said it is never totally closed, so I tracked down the immigration officials having their chicken supper in a nearby cafe, and they said they would let me through if I came back in 15 minutes when they’d finished eating.

So back to the Peruvian side, where unfortunately one of my temporary travelling companions had managed to upset the border guard, who was refusing to let any of us through because ‘You don’t show me enough respect’. I don’t know if it was my letter of introduction from the Peruvian ambassador that swung it, or huge amounts of grovelling, or most likely the fact that he couldn’t think of another way to get these four gringos out of his office, but eventually he stamped our papers and let us through.

Back on the Bolivian side, the border official was happy to help, no doubt mellowed by a good supper… or at least, that’s what I thought, until he asked us for 20 bolivianos each ‘because it is outside usual office hours’. To be honest, after 14 hours of travelling, and a lovely hotel waiting for me in Copacabana, there isn’t much I WOULDN’T have done by this stage to get across the border. So I am now probably an accessory to bribery and corruption. It’s a fair cop, guv.

La Cupula in Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, was well worth all the hassles of the journey – an idyllic haven, with the most amazing views over the awesomely large, deep blue lake. I haven’t calculated this accurately, but I reckon it would take literally months to walk all the way around its shore. And if you think it’s got a silly name, you probably haven’t heard yet of Lake Poopo…

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