13 October 2017
Copacabana, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Hardcore. Death-defying. Exhausting. Exhilarating. We’ve written quite a bit about these aspects of our trip but for this post you can slide back from the edge of your seat and maybe make a nice cup of tea. Not coffee. It will make me jealous (see later). This post isn’t going to be more of our version of Ewan and Charley meet Indiana Jones.
I expected to have done more camping by now (I am writing this in a very nice hotel in a funny little town called Copacabana on the Bolivian shore of Lake Titicaca). My expensive and difficult to pitch tent has so far remained firmly bungee’d to a pannier (sadly unlike my waterproof jacket and trousers which blew away somewhere on the road from Cusco to Puno) and my titanium knife and spork (look it up!) set has so far remained unused. The reality so far has been that we have found it easy to stay in hotels, hostels and hospedajes and we have almost always found some sort of establishment to provide lunch en route and dinner in the evening. Most of the credit for this goes to booking.com which seems to have an astonishing quantity of places on its site and in some pretty remote locations too. It has only really let me (and Phil) down once when we came down the coast of Peru south through Lima heading for the pleasant sounding seaside town of San Bartolo. It turned out to be a virtual ghost town and both the places we had identified were completely shut. Normally we make a booking a day or two before we plan to be in a particular place but on this occasion, we didn’t. I wonder what would have happened had we tried.
So it was that I found myself this morning idly composing a mental list of the top three hotels I have stayed in so far. Even though the quality in other regards has been very variable I have hardly had an uncomfortable bed. This has of course been a pleasant surprise although I hope we will do some camping at some stage.
I don’t deal very well with petty officialdom and having read a number of blogs and forums prior to the trip I wasn’t looking forward to the various border crossings we would need to make. The first one was from Colombia into Ecuador and to be honest it wasn’t too bad apart from the fact that the perfectly pleasant female official on the Ecuadorian side seemed far more interested in eating her lunch and interfering with the activities of the person next to her than she was in completing the paperwork necessary for me to temporarily import my bike into Ecuador.
A few days later we crossed from Ecuador into Peru. Well actually we crossed from Ecuador into Peru then back into Ecuador and then back into Peru. The first two of which were, I guess, technically illegal. We had read that we should look for a large blue and white building on the Ecuador side of the border, but when we spoke to the security guard there he seemed to indicate that we didn’t need to do anything there and that we should continue on to the Peruvian side where everything could be achieved with regard to both riders and bikes leaving Ecuador and entering Peru, so we continued on until we crossed the Bridge of Peace which joins Ecuador to Peru. I was unsure about this at the time. The security guard at the Peru border post told Tom and I that, indeed, this was incorrect and we needed to go back across the bridge to Ecuador to get our bikes legally exported from Ecuador. By now, Ian and Phil had nonetheless marched confidently into the complex of buildings on the Peru side and we couldn’t see them, nor did they pick up on our attempts to call them. So Tom and I rode back into Ecuador, ignored the idiot security guard and found the Aduana (customs) where it only took about 10 minutes for him to complete the simple form. As we were finishing Ian and Phil turned up, having by then managed to get themselves, but not their bikes, stamped out of Ecuador and into Peru as there was indeed an Ecuadorian passport desk in Peru but not an Aduana office. We then all made our way back across the Bridge of Peace (I wasn’t feeling very peaceful by now) where Tom and I got ourselves out of Ecuador (whilst already in Peru) and into Peru (yes that’s right – we were already there!) as well as getting our bikes temporarily imported into Peru. Simple really.
Yesterday we crossed from Peru into Bolivia. I wasn’t optimistic. It was an absolute breeze. Logical, efficient and friendly. A model for all future crossings. Yeah right.
One of the worst aspects of the roads in all four countries so far, apart from the potholes, gravel, sand, mud, roadworks, rockfalls, landslips, animals, taxis, trucks, buses and tuktuks (the bloody tuktuks) has been the humps. There are humps, or speedbumps, at the entrance to and exit from every tiny little hamlet, village, town and city and in all sorts of other random places in between. They are, literally, a pain in the arse. I have developed a few strategies for coping with them, including standing up in the pegs on approach and playing a sort of game of “chicken” quite often involving actual chickens which happen to be hanging around the side of the road, where I have to identify from far enough away whether or not there is a sufficient gap to the side of the hump before the inhabited part of the road begins, to slip through. This is not at all easy as the crafty locals often build little side humps out of rocks to prevent me doing this. Also life in South America is lived in large part outdoors so the houses and the shops often spill onto the paths, again making it too risky. The only positive thing I can say about them is that the trucks and most other vehicles slow to a walking pace to cross them so they provide an excellent opportunity to overtake.
They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil! They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as well but can you get a decent cup of it? Can you heck! We have all been surprised, and disappointed, at the quality and the bizarre ways in which it is presented in these three countries. It’s not unusual to be given a large mug of lukewarm milk and a small jar of powdered instant coffee or more weirdly, a tiny jug of highly concentrated liquid coffee. You wouldn’t perhaps mind if it tasted ok. It generally doesn’t.
Anyway, we’re going out for supper now so I’ll call it a day with this post. I hope you have found it interesting as an insight into some of the more mundane aspects of our trip but if not at least I’ve got a few things off my chest.
Tomorrow we head for the highest capital city in the world. La Paz. I’m looking forward to it very much.