Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copacabana: Police Party and Procession

We were relieved and happy to be in Copacabana after the border crossing episode. It’s quite an interesting town with a hippy traveller vibe. Loads of travelling artesian Argentineans work in the restaurants sell their jewellery or just play bongos on the street.
After a nice meal and wine we headed back to the hostel exhausted but along the way we came across a concert which turned out to be for the police. It was the day of the virgin of Copacabana who is also the patron of the police. We stood watching the music and dangerous display of fireworks spaying the crowd but were soon in a circle dancing with Bolivian men. A hot alcohol called Te con Te was being passed around as well as bottles of a mystery liquor similar to aguadiente. Every 2 minutes we were yelling salud! Then Baile! Baile! Sante! Sante! These guys were completely insane and I couldn’t stop laughing. More alcohol was being passed as well as bags of coca leaves. In between the bands the heads of police did little skits which were hilarious. Later on men came with trays of chicken sandwiches and all of these treats were free. We danced until 1:00am then the grand finale of fireworks was set off. It was a completely random first night in Bolivia.
Our first morning didn’t let down either. We went to find the procession and discovered all the drunken men we were partying with last night were police officers. As they marched past us they yelled out, “Sasha! Sasha!” For some reason they only remembered her name. We followed the procession to the lake where the virgin was being put on a boat and people were getting on other boats to follow her around Lake Titicaca. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I told our new police friends I wanted to get on a boat as well so we boarded one yelling, “Follow that virgin!” We were the only tourists in the boat procession and some of the only few who weren’t police aboard. I just kept thinking back to the guy who told me that Copacabana wasn’t that great. It just goes to show everyone can have a completely different experience in the same place. So if you are sent on going somewhere listen to yourself not other people’s opinions and you may have an amazing crazy time.

Border Crossings: Peru - Bolivia

A friend and avid traveller once told me one of his favourite things about travelling is walking across borders. With just a few steps you enter a whole different world. At the time though I didn’t quite understand him, I had worked for an airline and flew everywhere.

Since my first border walk across at the Taba Ilat border to enter Israel I have collected many stamps and fought my way through the hectic furry that comes with crossing a border, the guys on bikes trying to rip you off, people trying to sell you a tourist form that is actually free, money exchangers following you. Although it can be frustrating and sometimes stressful I have come to appreciate what my friend was talking about. Past all the nonsense and with a few steps is a different country, an unknown place yet to be discovered, sometimes a different language, different landscape or the differences could be subtle, the vendors on the buses are yelling out gaseosas instead of refrescos.

Then there was the Peru – Bolivia border crossing. I decided to leave with the English girls for Bolivia. Another traveller in the hostel asked when our bus was leaving and what company we were going with, a traveller with a plan. Our idea was just to show up and hop on the next bus. Everything seemed to go smoothly in the beginning; we got onto a bus to Puno right away. Once in Puno everyone told us we didn’t have enough time to get to the border. It was 3:00pm and the border closed at 6:00pm. I figured they were lying; we could easily get the local transport and get there. The girls were too worried because they figured I was older and more travelled therefore knew what I was doing, little did they know even though I have been doing this for years I still fumbled my way through. We found a collective bus that was supposed to take us to the border. I was starting to worry when I looked down at my IPod and saw that it was 5:20pm. We got dropped at road crossing and as soon as we got off we were being harassed by a taxi driver. He was trying to promise to take us to the border direct on his bus for 5 soles each, which is ridiculous. I was trying to talk to another bus driver and the girls with him yelling in my ear. I turned around and Shushed him while Sasha yelled, “No es un bus es un taxi!!” I made an executive decision to take the collective bus for 1 sole. As soon as I got on the bus I felt 4 more soles might have been worth it to guarantee our arrival at the border on time. We were in a panic realizing the bus drivers here are not at all like the crazy ones in Lima. A bus with the name Kevin over took us. Why weren’t we on Kevin?! Time was running out and we made it to the dodgy border town by 6:00pm but the actual border was still a taxi ride away. I was determined to make it across no matter what. I mean there isn’t a wall separating the two countries, we could just made a run for it and be illegal in Bolivia. We had to run from one plaza to another to actually get a taxi. Katie suggested just staying in the border town but I was determined to get across. We got mixed messages about when the border closes and our new taxi driver told us it was still open. A little light of hope but Sasha wasn’t convinced. I think our hearts stopped pounding when we saw it open and a tourist bus pulling through. We just slipped by as we got our exit stamps leaving a giant statue of Cusquena beer and Peru behind. As we entered Bolivia the gates closed behind us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Active in Arequipa: Cocla Canyon Trek

I could have stayed in Lima forever but adventure and the wonders that Peru holds beckoned me. I was no longer going to be lazy in Lima. With a heavy heart I boarded a 15 hour bus for Arequipa in the south.
Arequipa is famous for the mountains, volcanoes and nearby Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world. I guess the Grand Canyon in The United States really isn’t so grand. With all of these topographical features come hostels and agencies trying to sell you treks. Don’t get me wrong I’m quite an active sporty person but in the past I have seemed to turn my nose up to these overpriced, herd you like cattle up a mountain treks. The lure of an oasis with a swimming pool and hot springs was too tempting. I just had to get past the fact that the tour left a 3:00am.
On the bus leaving we past people entering bars, they were starting their night and I was starting a trek. Manicures and pedicures of Lima soon gave way to dirty finger nails and sweaty smelly feet. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. The first day we hiked down in to the canyon after spotting condors. It was hot and dry and my fingers turned into fat sausages from the altitude. A mud hut with dirt for floors awaited us for our first nights rest. I shared my hut with three English girls, Sasha, Allegra and Katie.
The second day was a bit of a tease from where we started trekking you could see down into the canyon at our oasis with swimming pool and waterfall but looking down into a canyon objects seem closer than they appear. We eventually reached our paradise after 5 hours of walking down on a windy trail in the dry sun.
Day number three, the hike up. I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle 3 hours of uphill hiking. I’m not experienced at all. Then visions of Volcan Baru in Panama came flooding back where Peace Core volunteers convinced me to climb a volcano in the middle of the night for the sun rise. Like the savvy traveller I am I brought my carton of wine to enjoy the view. Seven hours later of straight up hill in the dark then pouring rain in minus temperatures at the top, all the time lugging my wine. So this time I was prepared, water and my IPod. Daddy Yankee, Shakira, ABBA and the Bangles joined me on my ascend to the top. I was cruising along, leaving my group behind and passing others. A friendly local man with a Donkey put out his hand which I thought he wanted to encourage me; instead he pulled me down the trail while laughing at me. Despite his attempt I made it to the top with Sasha. We were one of the first up. Now I am addictited. I crave more treks, more moutains and volcanos!!
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