Leaving Cuso, we headed out south towards Puno, our final stop in Peru before crossing into Bolivia. Bleary-eyed from the 5am start, we miscalculated the temperatures and were getting seriously cold at 60mph as the sun hadn’t bothered to warm the air up yet. Thankfully, Will located a nail that kindly deflated his tyre – coincidentally within a few hundred metres of a "llantera" (tyre repair guy) who, for a couple of dollars, removed the nail he’d probably thrown into the road himself and fixed the hole. After breakfast (served by the dimmest woman in the world – I know our spanish is bad but it’s not THAT bad!) we were back on the road again and climbing up to around 4300m – at which point it became VERY COLD INDEED as we cruised across the die-straight roads of the altiplano – the bleak, wind-blasted high plateau on which (somehow) people manage to live and farm the ubiquitous llama and alpaca (they’re quite different….have a look on Google!) that peer suspiciously at us from the side of the road as we sweep past.
A few hours later we pulled into Puno, a small town that sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest, biggest navigable lake. It’s…well…very…umm…big? And blue, too. A suitable hotel was rapidly located – these places are great – you ask for bike parking at a hotel that’s obviously in the middle of a pedestrian precinct and in the middle of a terrace and they point at the inner courtyard…into which you ride through reception, taking great care not to tear chunks out of the beautifully polished wooden desk with your mucky panniers. Excellent! We had a look at an old ship, moored by another hotel and now restored by PeruRail (cynical mode on – "publicity stunt"). Apparently the ship was built in England in the mid 1800s, sailed across to Peru, and then shipped (no pun) in pieces by train and mule – MULE! – up to Lake Titicaca (the journey took six years). Imagine the "phonecall" – "Hi, British Ship Builders?" – "Yes, I’d like one of your ships please" – "Certainly sir – is that pre-built or in our more popular ‘kit form’?" Mad.
We had intended to check out the Uros – people who live on floating reed islands on the lake. On arrival at the terminal, we discovered that it was horrendously touristy. Disgusting. We want to see indigenous people going about their daily buisness, not some canned, pre-prepared tourist attraction which is solely geared to take money of idiot spectators. Argh. We rapidly discarded this idea and walked back to the hotel via the market…resisting the urge to buy & eat guinea pig, a local delicacy, from the many stalls. After a late lunch of hamburgers (another erm…local delicacy) we headed for a hotel room and crashed out for about 15 hours…tired? Us? Never.
Next day was Border Day. Looking forward to another country, we set off south, along the shores of the lake towards Desaguadero, after a final fill of scarily expensive Peruvian fuel – how do locals afford to run their cars??!. Lake Titicaca shimmered turquoise on our left as we cruised towards the border, the bikes running beautifully despite the 3800m altitude.
The border crossing in Bolivia was superb. Although a bustling half-market half-border place, no-one hassled us apart from a half-hearted attempt by a local chap to flog us ‘mandatory’ tickets for the bridge across to Bolivia. Great! Bolivian customs initially appeared to be slightly more complex, as we’d been told that we HAD to have a Carnet de Passage – this turned out to be rubbish, the customs guys even looking up pictures of the Salar de Uyuni and printing off maps for us – superb service – easiest crossing yet!
Two hours and many handshakes later we were riding for La Paz, which we made in a couple of hours. Using the cunning ‘hire a taxi and follow it to the address we want’ method, we eventually arrived at the bike shop where we were going to have the bikes serviced – but not until the cheating taxi driver tried to charge us double the fare we’d agreed – we made up for the increased fare by paying him in three separate currencies…serve him right 🙂
Bikes now in the capable hands of the bike shop for new tyres and oil change, we found a central hotel and went out for dinner. On our return to the hotel room we discovered that some kindly soul had lightened our panniers to the tune of two cameras, sunglasses, pocket PC and other stuff courtesy of a duplicate key. What a lovely chap. Desperately trying to restrain thoughts of extreme physical violence, we spent the next four hours explaining to the extremely shifty hotel manager – who tried to tell us we must have lost them at the border – and porter that we needed the stuff back – all to no avail.
Next day saw us Spanishing our problems to a series of Bolivian policemen – until thankfully we met a English-speaking policeman called Elvis (yes, he’s alive in Bolivia) who not only sorted out the police report in record time but also came with us to find a new camera – really nice chap who wouldn’t stop apologising for the problems we’d had in his country.
Ah well – we live and learn. Next stop – Coroico (World’s Most Dangerous Road). Nice!