Saturday, March 23, 2013

Machu Picchu

We rolled into Cuzco, Peru tired, worn out and sick of night buses. We’d done a pretty good job of avoiding American chain restaurants, but it was early, I wanted to look up the results of the Sounders first game and we wanted to sit for awhile.

So in the old, beautifully architected town square of Cuzco, replete with touristy shops, stone buildings and character-laden alleys, we ducked into the Starbucks. It tasted like home.
The city of Cuzco was much more beautiful then we expected. Most of Peru was like this, meaning it was my expectations of the country that needed to change.
We had spent three weeks in the south of Peru at this point and we knew we needed to get north, but there was one site that drags tourists to Cuzco. The one and only Machu Picchu.
We’ve seen more Americans in Peru than any country, with the possible exception of Ireland. Our theory is that this is a relatively easy place to get to from the US and there is the massive draw of Machu Picchu. As a long-term traveler, this can make it difficult, because the short-termers drive up prices. In other words, Machu Picchu ain’t cheap.
The Inca Trail is the most famous way to get to Machu Picchu. Its a five day, four night trek including lodging, porters and all the necessities. It looked like fun, but it is necessary to book in advance and can run $500+ each. Our budget is about 15% of that.
A second common way to get there is to do the “Jungle Trek”, which is a back way including mountain bikes, rented vans, hiking through the jungle and a guide. It cost about $230. Still too much, but possibly acceptable.
Third is the bus/train. You can take a bus to Ollantaytambo then take a train to MP for $70. Still too much.
Finally, there was the local bus, minivan, minivan hike route. It was guideless, had a good chance of getting lost and was cheap. Bingo.
We wanted to talk to some other people who had done the hike before we headed out, and more importantly, we wanted to grow our party. If one of us broke an ankle or something on the trip then we would have difficulty getting out. We thought it would be safer with more of us.
We ended up on a little hike to Christo Blanco, a statue of Christ overlooking the city when we ran into Witold. Witold is pronouced VEE – tek. I gave up on Polish prononciation a long time ago . Witold was a Polish friend we had made in Arequipa who also hadn’t been to MP yet. We decided to join forces and rallied at the Irish Pub that night to figure out our plan of attack.
The next day we went and dropped the $50 necessary for MP and the extra $10 for Waina Picchu tickets. Waina Picchu is the cliff visible in all of the famous photographs, but only allows up a few people per day. We ended up buying for two days out, which was great because it meant we didn’t have to rush so much.
Then, we made the march out of downtown Cuzco to Santiago. I’m still not sure if Santiago was another city or just a district. Either way, it was about 30 minutes walking and off the beaten trail. We then purchased the Santiago bus ticket for 20 soles, about $7. Finally, we hit up the central market where we purchased a ton of dried fruit and nuts.
More importantly, I got my first choclo con queso. Choclo is a type of corn with really big kernels. Its commonly steamed in large metal pots then served with a big hunk of cheese for about 75 cents. Leslie didn’t like the cheese. I ate hers.
The next day we were off, hopping on the bus at 8am and winding through the picture-esque landscape. Rolling mountains abandoned as we went through small mountain towns, locals hopping on and off.
Food vendors came running onto the bus at various stops hawking their wares, meaning I got some more choclo con queso.
We ran into a couple tour groups on the way. They were doing the jungle trek and riding bikes down the mountain. It looked like fun at first. Then it started raining off and on and the bikes looked like a lot less fun.
The ride was beautiful, but long. It took us about 6 hours to get to Santa Maria, the first small town. At this point, we knew we needed to get to Santa Teresa, either by hiking or taking a mini van/taxi.
There was a cartel of taxi drivers ready to take us on our way. It was one of those things where you can pay a little extra and go now or wait for the taxi to fill up. It took another thirty minutes or so before some people from Cuzco joined us and the five of us were off to Santa Teresa.
That night we stayed in a little hostel in Santa Teresa for about $7 each. It wasn’t very fancy, the hot water looked like it might electrocute us and there was constuction outside, but it was fine.
Santa Teresa was also the site of the best natural hot spring we’ve found. It was three pools right up against a cliff-face. They’d been developed enough so that they were safe, smooth and nice, but still made mostly out of the natural surroundings so it didn’t feel like a swimming pool.
The next day saw the skies open up.
It rained. And rained. And rained.
We had a quick breakfast of fruit and drinkable yogurt from the market before realizing there was a cheap breakfast place that served full breakfast. Well, a full breakfast in Peru is coffee, a single egg and bread, but it was hot. The coffee was also interesting. The waiter brought us a small, glass pitcher of cold, very dense coffee and a thermos of hot water. I then mixed them together to create a cup of coffee.
The hope was to wait out the storm, but after about twenty minutes it became apparent that it wasn’t letting up. We had a couple plastic ponchos, as we had forgotten our nice raincoats on a bus in Bolivia. They didn’t seem like they’d do the trick.
There was a group of laborers who were building a road outside and they were all wearing the same poncho. It was black, had a hood and buttons on the side. Basically, it was a rectangular tarp with a hood.
We ended up getting one “classic black” for me and a bright yellow for Leslie. Mine did a bit better in the rain, but hers packed to about 1/3 of the size. They both cover backpacks as well as bodies, so that’s nice.
Before long we were off again, taking a taxi for 5 soles to the hydro-electric plant and giving the ponchos a workout before trekking into the jungle.
Supposedly, there was going to be a cable-car across the river, but they had recently built a bridge. This also made it much more difficult to figure out where we were going.
Soon, we saw one of the oddest waterfalls I’ve ever run across. The water was running fast, but I had to assume the waterfall itself was pretty new. Rocks were constantly getting knocked out of the riverbed. We could see rocks bouncing their way down the waterfall, some of them were pretty big. The waterfall turned back into a river at the bottom. The bridge over the river had a chain-link fence to hold back rocks and a sign saying it was dangerous to stop on the bridge.
We would have preferred a sign that said, “you are going the wrong way to Machu Picchu.” Thankfully, a friendly construction worker stopped us and pointed us in the correct direction.
After taking a bit of an odd detour through a construction site we found the train tracks that would lead us to Aguas Caliente, the town right below Machu Picchu.
It was still raining as we trudged through the forest. It was a bit hard to see as the rain was thick and our eyes were down, but before long I heard a “splut”.
Not being sure what it was I ignored it and kept going.
Then another…
Eventually, I saw where the splut was coming from. Thick, worm-like bugs about half again as long as your index finger and twice as thick were falling from the trees and hitting the ground. They were jet-black, but had a bright yellow bands every inch or so. Usually, bright colors in the jungle means poison.
I tried not to think of the big poisonous worms that might fall on us.
The walk was long, but not overly tough and after three hours or so, we finally reached the small, incredibly touristy town of Aguas Calientes.
The town was nice, but had been overrun by the tourism industry. The “Hiram Bingham Express” was taking tourists to the small town by the hundreds. There were no cars in Aguas Calientes, as the town is supposedly cut off from all traffic. There were buses that were intended to get people from the town to MP itself, which made me a bit skeptical about how the town was “cut off”.
I also saw the price-tiering on the train. $70 for foreigners, $5 for Peruvians, $3 for locals.
The whole place felt like a ski-town, where the visitors vastly outnumbered the locals. The restaurants were priced accordingly, with costs being at or slightly above Seattle prices in most cases. Fortunately, we had gotten some advice from some people we passed on the way up and went to the food court above the local market. It was the exact same food, except instead of being served in a nice restaurant it was served at a small bar with a front row seat into the kitchen. It was about $3 per meal and pretty good.
The next day we were supposed to wake up at 4:30am to start hiking up to MP. Unfortunately, I slept right through my wristwatch alarm and ended up waking up around an hour later. The goal was to be up there for sunset so we could get some good pictures in MP.
We had actually brought clean clothes, and Leslie had brought her makeup so we be all set for the pictures.
Then we had the hike to MP.
I use the word “hike” losely here, because for me, I think of hikes as a walk through the woods, sure there’s usually some up and down, but nothing like this. This was 45 minutes of going straight up very steep stairs. The buses which shuttled people from the town to MP would go back and forth on switchbacks, whil our staircase went right up through the middle. Before long, we were drenched in sweat, had missed sunrise and were convinced that we were going to be sweaty, gross and miss all opportunity at pics. At least it wasn’t raining.
We reached the top when the sun was already up and had little choice but to spend the $3 on a small bottle of water. There were people streaming off the buses who looked relaxed with a full belly, but they weren’t on our budget.
Nevertheless, tired, sore-legged and sweaty, we had made it to Machu Picchu.
The site itself was incredible. There is still some disagreement as to exactly why the Inca built Machu Picchu, but prevailing thought nowadays is that Inca himself used it as a home. It probably could have housed about 300 people.
Unlike many sites, parts of MP have been rebuilt, using the same methods as they would have hundreds of years ago. Its nice to be able to see what it looked like, as opposed to a pure ruin.
Llamas roam over the entire place with a smattering of bunnies running around.
At ten o’clock we made the second steep hike of the day, tackling Waina Picchu. This one was hard, but by now we had gotten a few decent pictures and we knew we could eat our snacks when we got to the top, so spirits were higher. Upon reaching the top we could see out in 360 degrees, including down on the main site itself.
It had taken three days, a few major hikes, ponchos and dodging falling poison-bugs, but we had taken the back way to the top of the world.
Now we just had to go down…..

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Map Time!

A quick one here.

Just wanted to say that we’ve updated the site a bit.  I’ve been working on other projects, so the blog-coding has taken a backseat, but we updated the FAQ, added an About Us and the Map.  Papa Mick built the bones here.  It took me awhile, but I finally got it ported into this site as theMap link
It shows where we’ve been and lets you go to the blog from that location. 
Have a happy Sunday!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Colca Canyon in Arequipa, Peru

Colca Canyon is outside of the city of Arequipa in southern Peru. It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon and the location of a three day, two night trek we did recently. Its also the location of where our guide gave us hiking rules. The trail was steep, rough and a bit dangerous. The rules were pretty simple, such as “stay on the path” and “don’t run”. About two hours into the trek, I heard a rumble while talking to a Frenchman who was on the hike with us. We looked up hill and saw a landslide heading our way. He ran downhill and I ran up, grabbing Leslie’s arm to pull her out of the way of the falling rocks. Some rules are meant to be broken.

It was the second rule we’d broken recently. The first was upon our arrival in Arequipa. It had been a long bus ride from Mollendo and the Peruvian coast, punctuated by the fact that there were no bathroom breaks. We took a taxi to the central area, which we usually avoid because they’re more expensive than the bus and we lose control over where we’re going when in the backseat of another car. The taxi driver looked friendly though and gave us a good rundown of the taxi companies in Arequipa. He recommended his company and two others. His English was limited, but he had a good grasp of “warn English-speaking tourists about other taxi company” English. “You be safe,” he said. “Most taxi drivers are… scoundrels.”
The practice of dropping tourists off at commission-paying hostels is common around the world. We don’t deal with that any more.
The city of Arequipa was absolutely beautiful. It gets teased by the rest of Peru for being posh, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. White rock sidewalks and building with Spanish-style architecture were everywhere. The city revolved around a large central square with a fountain and trees that was connected to a cathedral. A two-lane road ran 3/4 of the way around, everywhere except for the cathedral.
The hostel was awesome, with two movie rooms. Unfortunately, Leslie got sick and we stayed in and watched movies. I got sick the following day, but that might have had more to do with the fact that the only thing I ate the day Leslie was sick was a meat-lover’s pizza from Dominos. Yes, they delivered.
Leslie also had her 29th birthday in Arequipa, so we splurged and went to a restaurant called Zig Zags. The name was a little odd, but the food was amazing. The building was a bit like a wooden cave and we were sent to the second floor. Leslie got a fried trout and I went for the alpaca steak with cheesy-creamy quinoa.
Both dishes came flambe, meaning that a bit of alcohol was poured over the top of the meat on the table and they were lit on fire. The plates were large chunks of wood, almost like a fancy oak cutting boards. The wood had chunks carved out, inside of which sat a single piece of volcanic stone. The steak had been cooked upon the stone, which came to the table hot. It was excellent.
It was the fanciest dinner we had had in a long time, the whole experience being wonderful with the waitstaff singin “Happy Birthday, Senorita” and giving a birthday drink the size of a coconut.
The food was awesome, although the steak still has to take second place to Don Ernesto, a steakhouse in Buenos Aires. Never bet against Argentinian steak.
Nevertheless, we birthdayed Leslie pretty well.
The city of Arequipa is beautiful, but its not the reason most travellers come to this part of Peru. People come for the outdoors. Two massive volcanos accompany Colca Canyon as common hiking adventures. For us, the volcanos were a non-starter as they get up over 6,000 meters which is higher than our trip in Salar de Uyuni where we struggled with altitude sickness. So down we went into the Colca Canyon.
We started at 3 am and loaded up into a bus with a dozen other gringos. The bus was pretty nice by our standards, but a few people complained. Backpackers are a funny bunch because everybody has different standards. This bus wasn’t Argentinian or German standards, but was much nicer than the buses we had ridden in Morocco.
We attempted to sleep for the next four hours or so before getting some photos of the volcanos and having a breakfast of bread and butter. Stale bread and butter has been standard breakfast throughout South America and we’re getting sick of it. Even if we order eggs we get a single egg.
The bus took a bit of a harrowing turn through a tunnel filled with dust that was only wide enough for one bus. The earieness of the bus was compounded by Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing on the radio.
We took one more stop on the way out to the Canyon at a point where condors are known to gather. The large birds are actually related to vultures and soared throughout the canyon. There was an adult female and a juvenil active while we were there.
Another few hours on the bus and we were off the bus, seperating into smaller groups. We were on the three day two night trek, as opposed to some people doing 2 days one night. It was the exact same hike, except they did it in two days instead of three. We figured we’d go a little slower, and it was only another $4 for another night of accomodation and food, so it made sense financially.
We ended up in a group of four with a couple from Paris that were about our age, Sebastien and Manuela. Sebastien and I actually had a lot in common as we were both colorblind, the same age and both programmers. Add in our guide, Luis, and the five of us were off into the Canyon.
Colca Canyon was not what I expected. When I think Canyon, I think desert, but that was not the case. Colca Canyon was green, with life all around. Condors soared throughout and there was a plethora of llamas, alpacas and less common animals. There weren’t huge trees, as we were quite high (about 2000m) but there were plenty of big bushes, including one that looked innocent.
It was a little taller than me and looked like any other bush. It was near-white colored tree with small green leaves. Nothing about it would have stuck out except Luis told us to watch out.
He broke off a small branch and we saw a milky-white substance drip out. He told us to be careful, because the bush breaks easily and there was a good amount of poisonous liquid that came out. He showed us a scar on his arm that looked like an acid burn. He had gotten one drip on himself three years ago. This stuff wasn’t going to kill you, but it would burn like mad. Watchout.
The canyon was steep, rocks were loose and the trail was a bit rough. Workers from the local area were cleaning up the area. Luis was from Arequipa, but his family was from one of the small villages that dotted the canyon. He informed us that he used to go on fishing binges with his grandfather powered by nothing but coca and pisco (a local liquor).
The trail leading down into the canyon was small and because of the small bushes we could see to the other side. Small villages abounded, and Luis could point out to us our route.
The way down was tough, with both Leslie and I getting blisters on our feet. She was breaking in a new pair of hiking boots we had picked up for her birthday. Maybe its not the smartest to use new boots on a major trek, but it was much better than sandals.
Three hours later we reached the bottom of the canyon and the most powerful river I’d ever seen. There was no way you could go swimming in this river, it was altogether too powerful. I doubt top kayakers or river-rafters would touch it.
We hiked up the other side of the canyon a bit and reached a small town of about 200 people. There were rock walls lining the path and organic gardens all around. We purchased a bit of fruit and some water before learning a bit more about the locals from Luis over an alpaca-saltado lunch. “Saltado” is a common meal consisting of strips of meat and veggies fried then mixed with french fries. Its okay.
The small cities are getting more and more abandoned as the young people pursue education in the cities. There was a little bit of sadness about it, but I can’t really fault the youth for wanting an education then staying in the cities. Its the same story all over the world.
The next morning we made “panqueques” from scratch. I woke up at 6 to help Luis because the owner of the place ran to Arequipa to see his wife who was in the hospital. We made pancakes and topped them with Dulce de Leche, with a type of caramel.
Sebastien woke up first with Manuala and Leslie following, so we all got a chance to make the pancakes in a pan. We did okay.
That day saw another four hours of hiking. This time, we went up then down and ended up at the Oasis, which is a collection of really nice hostels by a natural hot springs. We spent an hour or so hanging out on hammocks under a mango tree. It was pretty relaxing until a mango almost fell on me. From that point on I was a little nervous.
The next morning saw the worst part of the hike. We woke up at 4:00 am and began the trek, straight up the canyon at 5. When I say up, I mean up. We were expecting three hours of straight up and we were not disappointed.
It was a race against the sun. We weren’t expecting rain in the morning, and the trick was to get up the canyon before the sun began to beat down on us. It wasn’t long before the legs started to burn. Fortunately, the blisters from the first day had faded. There were about three dozen people starting around the same time as us as we all raced from the Oasis to the top. We did pretty well, passing more people than we passed before making it to the top, sweaty and tired.
A quick stop at a hot springs on the way back saw our tired and sore bodies rest back at the hostel before another night bus.
We were sore and tired, but we had no idea how sore and tired we would soon be.
Next stop, Cusco and Macchu Picchu.
p.s. I forgot to mention the Maybelline related saga. Oh well, another time.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mollendo, Peru – Ceviche and the Beach, eh?

Freezing cold showers in La Isla Del Sol and one overnight bus ride meant Leslie and Bryan had not showered for four days…yep, four days. The only thing we wanted to do was take a hot shower, eat ceviche, and lay on the beach. Mollendo seemed like the perfect spot.

Crossing borders is always a stressful event for me. So far, border crossing in South America has not been fun, mostly because we had to pay an arm and a leg to get into Argentina and Bolivia as US citizens. My research told me we didn’t need to pay anything for Peru, but still, one can never be sure. We hopped on the overnight bus from Copacabana with our new Swiss friend and about 10 minutes later we made it to the border. Thankfully, we didn’t have to pay anything! Yahoooo!
We arrived in Arequipa, Peru at 5am in the morning and it wouldn’t be a Leslie and Bryan adventure if knew exactly what our destination was more than a day or two in advance. In this case, we only had minutes to decide if we should stay in Arequipa for a couple days or take the next available bus to Mollendo. We chose beach and ceviche because we knew we’d be back in Arequipa.
The little town of Mollendo was brought to our attention by two Canadian guys we met in Bolivia. They were informed about Mollendo from a friend who lived in Peru for awhile, and it’s always best to follow local advice, so we decided to follow.
It is known as a vacation destination for Peruvians, mostly locals from the nearby city of Arequipa. For some reason, not a lot of backpackers know about this place, so we were pretty much the only non-Peruvians around. We weren’t sure if we were going to see our Canadian friends, Sean and Mike, in Mollendo because they had talked about going to another beach town first.
We found a hotel to stay that was little more expensive but it had HOT showers! We decided to spend the little extra to have this luxury and it was well worth it.
After showers we walked along the incredibly crowded beach and ran into our friend, Sean. It was easy to spot him as he was the only non-Peruvian for miles. We talked for an hour on the beach and decided to meet up later for sunset and dinner.
Beach towns in South America have been quite different from South East Asia so far. We’re used to cheap bungalows right off the water. Not having this made me miss S.E. Asia, but despite this, it was still a cute little beach town. Plus, there was ceviche in Mollendo. Ceviche is fresh raw fish that has been marinated in lime juice. It is usually mixed with chopped onions and cilantro. The acid in the lime helps kill the bacteria and makes it appear like it has been cooked. Basically, it is delicious, and if mercury poisoning were not an issue, I would eat it everyday of my life.
We met Sean and Mike later for dinner and card games. We played combo-buster, shithead (we need to come up with a new title for this one), and a new game Bryan and I learned called eucker. All and all it was a good night.
The next day was spent relaxing on the beach under an umbrella and swimming in incredibly humongous waves. They were so huge that it was almost impossible for kids to swim in the ocean as it would have been quite dangerous. As a result, there were little swimming pools all over the beach that people would fill up with ocean water. Sean, Mike, Bryan, and I had a lot of fun getting knocked down by the waves for the next couple of days. Swimming, eating ceviche, reading, playing cards, and trying not to drown was quite the life really and we had a lot of fun doing it with our new friends.
The night before Sean and Mike left we all decided to go to the local bar next to our guesthouse. This may or may not have been a good idea. It was a pretty sketchy place and I was the only girl there, except for the bartender. She was my hero. We were there for a good two hours, and we saw her kick out about 5 belligerant men. She literally had a stick in her hand which I actually saw her use. She was the toughest, most badass woman I have ever encountered and it was a pleasure meeting her. Bryan was able to get through many conversations in Spanish with some of the drunk local men, so he was pretty happy with himself. There were a couple interesting moments as one guy seemed to not like we were there, but he was wasted and we had Sean and Mike who are pretty tall guys with us, so I wasn’t afraid. All and all it was a good night.
The next day we moved to another place that was cheaper and had more character. We went to the beach with Sean and Mike and then they left for Arequipa later in the afternoon. Bryan and I stayed one more day and enjoyed relaxing in our room. Actually, I relaxed in our room and Bryan played video games at the internet cafe. He was pretty happy. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a lot of pictures in Mollendo because we were at the beach so much and our little camera was stolen out of our backpack while it was in the luggage compartment on a bus. It also just occured to me that we didn’t take any pictures with Sean and Mike. Sad. I guess we’ll just have to hang out with them again sometime in the future.
Alas, it was time to move on to the next spot. Arequipa and Colca Canyon, here we come!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized on  by leslie

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Best of India

So it’s been awhile, but we’re trying to catch up, so here’s the Best of India!


Flavours – Kodaikanal

It was northern food, but made in the south. Our best meal has to go to Flavours, which is a tandoori chicken restaurant in Kodaikanal India. Tandoor Chicken BBQed in a massive clay pot is a staple, but these guys manage to get just the right abmount of char on the outside so its crispy, but still juicy in the middle. Combine this was the succulent gravies of the north including a wonderful mushroom masala and you have our favorite meal of India.


Varanasi to Agra

This was by far the worst travel day. Our train was supposed to leave at 6pm, but was five hours late to start. It kept being delayed by two or three hours until we eventually left at 5am the next day. It was absolutely freezing cold and there was little food around. Mice were running all over the train station and Leslie got peed on by a monkey. Yes, you read that right. Eventually, we made it onto the train and the train itself was pretty nice, but the delay made it a terrible travel day.


The Taj Mahal

Many people think it was built as a temple, but the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that the Shah Jahan built for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It’s the world’s biggest monument dedicated to love. It towers above the city, which seems to exist only to funnel tourists to the world landmark. The stonework is impressive and the way the light reflects off the mausoleum is beautiful, but the whole thing is emphasized by the immaculate grounds surrounding the Taj. To top it off, there are rats throughout the whole city, which means food for birds of prey. Thirty or so hawks patrol the skies above the Taj, looking for food below making the entire experience surreal, unique and incredibly Indian.



The Brits might claim to like tea the best, but the Indians are going to give them a run for their money. Little stalls stand on the side of the street where a tea-maker keeps milk and some sort of condensed tea warm. For about twenty cents you can buy a fresh made cup of sugary tea that smells wonderful as they pour it back and forth between two cups to mix it in front of you. Everyone’s welcome as the community gathers for the warm brew. It’s always welcome after six hours on a bus, but its especially nice on cold days. Bryan’s never been a big tea drinker, but it doesn’t take long for the Indian tea stall to convince you to rethink that idea.


The Kids

Kids throughout India loved having their pictures taken. They’d come running up to us with huge, toothy grins when they saw a camera yelling, “Photo! Photo! Photo!” and would love having their picture taken.


The Kids

Then they would pose for the picture and stare at us stonefaced like people from the late 1880s. Once we took the picture the smiles would return as they looked at themselves in the photo.


Varanasi, India

It was a big city, and absolutely freezing, but the small winding roads through the ancient city of Varanasi were some of the most fun we’ve had getting lost in a city. True, there were cowpies (and cows) everywhere, we had to keep a wide distance from dogs that potentially had rabies and the touts were some of the most aggressive we’ve seen, but it was still an intoxicating city. Hindus who want to be released from the cycle of reincarnation will travel to Varanasi to die and be cremated at the holy Ganges river. Combine this with decent hostels, good prices and we have a city that sets itself apart from everywhere else in the world.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Isla del Sol, Bolivia – The Island of the Sun

It was early in the day when our boat left the port town of Capacabana, Bolivia on the shores of Lake Titicaca to head out to the Isla del Sol. It was a cute little town, but we were just using it as a jumping off point to get to the Isla del Sol. We ended up on the same bus as people we met before, so a couple Swiss guys and a Mexican girl joined our multi-lingual group as we floated across the water.

Two hours later we pulled into the north end of the island, which we had heard was cheaper and more backpacker friendly. The south was more popular, but apparently full of resorts. We were looking forward to hanging out on the beach and relaxing on Lake Titicaca.
Disembarking on the north side of the island showed us how few people there really were on this end of the island. We could walk the entire town in about eight minutes.
When we got to the beach it became clear that most of the backpackers weren’t staying in hostels or homestays like we usually do. There were about fifty tents set up right on the beach. It didn’t take long before two really pushy salemen talked us into coming to their place.
They were about four and five year olds running over to us, smiling, waving their arms in circles and yelling, “habitaciones! Habitaciones!” They talked us into staying in a very basic room with cold showers.
Our first reaction to the place was one of a bit of disappointment. It was cold, and not the beach-hangout place we really wanted.
We were hungry, so went to a restaurant with the Swiss guys and asked for a menu. Instead, the host told us there was no menu. You could have whatever you wanted as long as it was BBQ trout. It ended up being pretty good.
The area was quite rural, with groups of pigs running around the tents. They started at one end, and cleaned the beach, eating all garbage and food that wasn’t nailed down. One of the pigs had a long rope hanging off from around its neck and a dog kept trying to bite the rope and play tug of war. The pigs would then rally to drive the dog off. The pigs showed intelligence in both the way that they swept the food away from the campers and the fact that pigs that were not being annoyed by the dogs helped drive the dog away.
The island was pretty quiet and reminded me of camping with the cub scouts as we went to a “restaurant” which was really just a living room where the family served tea and beer. We ended up playing cards into the night.
The next day the Swiss guys took off, but we decided to hang around one more day and be on the beach. The problem was, it was cold. It was a bit disappointing because we’d been looking forward to being on the beach for a long time and thought this was going to be our opportuntity. Instead, we were cold.
After breakfast we started thinking that we should have left, because there was little to do. Then we saw a to-go sandwich place making egg and avocado sandwiches and a board outlining hikes. A quick mindset change and we realized this isn’t a place with a cold beach. This is a great little island for hiking. After purchasing a travellers lunch we began exploring the island on foot. The high-altitude wasn’t too bad and we ended up hiking right along the water for the morning before having lunch.
We knew the west side of the island had some great ruins and a sunset viewpoint so we explored the east side in the morning. It was hot by the time we got back to our hostel, so hung out on a beach for a bit before eating another trout and heading west for sunset. We found some old pre-Inca ruins and a great lookout point for sunset.
The problem was that we were two hours from basecamp and had not brought a flashlight. Next thing you know I’m talking about how our eyes adjust at night and we’re hiking a semi-trecherous hill back through the woods.
Honestly, it was great. It was a clear night and soon, the stars began illuminating the path. We did well in the dark up until we got back to a semi-populated area. Then, lights in the distance began to ruin our night-vision and it became difficult to see again.
To top it off, some dog started barking at us, and we had to go right by it. It sounded like some sort of guard dog, but we just kept our cool, walked straight and calm and kept saying “shhhhh”, which I know the Bolivians use to calm horses, so I assumed it was similar with dogs. In the end, we made it through the dog’s territory and it left us alone.
We met some Canadians in La Paz who had told us about an excellent little beach town in Peru, so even though it was a bit of a way away, we woke up with the goal of making it to Mollendo.
Next stop, the Pacific Ocean. It will be good to see you again, old friend.
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