Sunday April 3rd, 2011
We boarded the bus (with super-reclining bed-like seats—yes!) at 9:30pm and arrived in Puno at 4:30am. Puno is the major Peruvian city located on Lake Titicaca, so the distance left to travel was another 3 hours in bus to Copacabana which is a major city on the Bolivian side of the lake.
Monday April 4th
The bus from Puno departed at 7:30am, so after successfully crossing the Bolivian border (I think that was the first time I walked across a country border) and arriving in Copacabana, we had a full day of exploring ahead of us.
As a side note, in order to enter Bolivia Sarah and I had to pay $135 for the VISA. The only reason for this is that we are from the United States. As far as I know we are the only nationality that has to pay to enter the country. This seemed especially silly to me since we would only be in the country for 1 day, but the good news is the VISA is valid for 5 years (90 days of each year) so I am now determined to go back to Bolivia before it expires.
The Peruvian and Bolivian countryside we passed through was truly gorgeous and became even more so when the lake entered into it.
Copacabana turned out to essentially be a tourist trap with hostels, restaurants and souvenirs on every corner, but a beautiful city nonetheless.
The view from our 4th floor room (with private bathroom) which was 30 bolivianos (about $5) per person per night. The big blue is indeed Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest and largest navigable lake. I have to admit it was impressive, but my allegiance still lies with the Great Lakes.
Also, it didn’t take us long to realize that with the above-mentioned exchange rate (approx. 2 bolivianos per 1 sol with almost 3 soles per dollar) things were even cheaper in Bolivia than in Peru. Furthermore, being another Andean country it sells many of the same alpaca products that are sold in Peru, but for less! Needless to say, we spent time doing some serious shopping while exploring the city…
There is a big ol’ church that takes up a good portion of the city.
I took this picture before I saw the ‘prohibido sacar fotos’ sign, so I can plead ignorance here. If you can’t tell, it was a little bit ornate… and worth photographing…
Look! Meat that looks like real animals! I’ve actually seen this frequently in Peru. It’s ironic to me that Peruvian cuisine is heavily meat-based—for me images like this only help reinforce my vegetarianism…
In the evening the plan was to climb this ‘mountain’ next to the city to watch the sunset over the lake.
We started our hike a little late, however, and in looking for the path up the mountain somehow missed it and ended up essentially blazing our own trail up the rocky face. Plus none of us (not me, Sarah, or the Canadian/German girl we were hanging out with) had remembered to bring a light. The sun was pretty much setting by the time we were only about halfway up, but from the top of a big rock the view was pretty nice anyway J
Tuesday April 5th
The bus left Copacabana today at 1:00pm and after a short while we were once again in Peru.
The Peru-Bolivia border—crossing back in to Peru! (note the Bolivian flag in the background)
After a few more hours on the bus we were back in Puno and spent the evening searching for food and exploring the city.
Plaza de Armas of Puno. I have to say it wins the award for shrubbiest plaza I’ve seen yet…
Wednesday April 6th
We woke up early today for our tour of Lake Titicaca.
We passed some pigs and cattle on the boat trip out to the floating islands… I was a little confused, too.
We first visited one of the floating islands where our guide, aided by some island inhabitants, explained the basics about why the Urus people live on the lake (literally) and how they do it. It was all quite interesting, but also very very touristy and rehearsed.
As part of the touristy experience one of the 10 or so inhabitants invited us in to her home. If I remember correctly a family of 4 lives here and shares the same bed (behind us) for the practical reasons of space-saving and warmth-sharing. At about 3,800 meters above sea level (that’s 400 meters higher than Cusco) the nights can get pretty cold. What surprised me was that they have a radio, small television, and a light bulb thanks to this:
See the solar panel on the right? Hadn’t really expected that at all…
View of the other islands from the watchtower-like structure.
They catch fish when they are small, then put them in confined areas like this to let them grow. Then it’s easier to catch them when they’re big and ripe for the eating!
Flamingoes are apparently native to the area.
The next island we visited was a 2 and a half hour boat trip away and was actually solid ground instead of floating reeds. Also, the natives of this island spoke Quechua instead of the Ayimara spoken on the floating islands.
The terracing was made by the pre-Incans for agricultural purposes. Traditionally and into the current times, however, the economic activity of the island is textiles. Unique to this culture are specific modes of dress for married and unmarried men. The distinction is in the style of chullo (in this case pretty much a really long stocking cap) worn. Instead of a ring, married men also wear a special type of belt. This is made by weaving thread using stands of the wife’s hair as the base. In this way unmarried women can also be easily distinguished by their long hair.
The clouds over Lake Titicaca were almost always interesting.
We arrived back in Puno in the evening and had a little time to shop and eat dinner before getting on another overnight bus back to Cusco.
Saturday April 9th
The remainder of the week was essentially spent catching up on class hours and preparing for and taking an exam, and catching up on sleep. Luckily the weekend promised to be very tranquil, so I would get to rest up even further. Peruvian law says that starting Thursday at midnight of election weekend until the elections are over on Sunday the country is ‘dry’ (meaning no one sells alcohol) and loud, outright festivities are not allowed.
Tonight I had the good fortune of meeting up with a friend from my volunteer group in Australia. She is travelling with a group of 21 students and was previously living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After a brief visit to Cusco they will spend the rest of their time in Lima. She’s from Chicago and goes to school at the University of Michigan, but ironically we’ve only ever seen each other outside the US. We do hope to fix that, however, once we’re both stateside again ;)
Sunday April 10th
I woke up today with a headache that I couldn’t hydrate or sleep away (the usual remedies) so I spent the better portion of the day in bed. My physical discomfort was, however, insignificant in comparison to the psychological distress of the household at finding out the preliminary results of today’s elections. The voting took place today from 8am-4pm and at 4pm they announced the results of the ‘boca de urña’ which are almost always accurate. This result, as I understand it, comes from directly asking people at the poll who they voted for and in this way they gain a relatively accurate and immediate idea of the results.
Out of the 5 top candidates, here were the top 3:
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski-19%
If these results are consistent with the final results it means the second round of elections will be between Humala and Fujimori. I obviously am no expert in Peruvian politics, but many people are concerned with this result. The short explanation for this without giving candidate biographies is that Ollanta Humala has government plans similar to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who was essentially a former Peruvian dictator who ended up escaping from Peru with an airplane full of money and faxing his resignation as president from Japan.
When I came out of my room at 4:30pm today all those present (Alberto, Paty who’s visiting for the weekend, a couple cousins, and Paty’s friend) immediately announced that they would be coming to the US with me in my suitcases. Frankly, I don’t blame them one bit and would love to take them all with me. If Humala ends up president and runs his government like Chavez I don’t foresee me or anyone from the US being able to travel to Peru during his 5 year term.
Of course we have to wait for the final count to know for sure. Everyone here is clinging to the hope that PPK will end up above Fujimori, but we won’t know for sure until tomorrow…
Monday April 11th
The results are in—the future president of Peru is either a nationalist or the daughter of a former dictator… uh oh.