Days 163 to 171: Adios Bolivia, Hola Peru!
There’s something intrinsically alluring about some destinations which means they possess a gravitational pull all of their own. Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America, was one of those places for me. It’s so large in fact that it can’t be contained in one country; not only would I hit the southern edge in Bolivia, but its shoreline would go on to keep me company for my first two days riding in Peru.
But what I didn’t know as I cycled my way northwards from Bolivia’s largest city of La Paz is that it was party time up at the lake. I was aware that a fiesta has just happened but according to my info I’d narrowly missed it. The first warning shot across the bow was at a small village shortly after I arrived at the lake. The otherwise nondescript small village had erected a music stage in front of its church and the locals were out in droves, all dressed up like it was an official occasion and plenty of them were plastered off their faces. I paused to join in for a while, and as I parked up my bike a late middle-aged Bolivian woman in traditional dress squatted next to me and pissed all over the grass. This set the mood for the following antics as the village descended into collective inebriation.
Continuing on the next day, the road was beautiful following a high ridge looming over Lake Titicaca with massive views sprawling out in every direction. Because of the warped shape of the lake, there is even a section where the road is replaced by a 15-minute barge ride. Each barge is quite small and by the time myself, a bus and a 4WD were onboard it was a full house.
I arrived into Bolivia’s main lakeside town of Copacabana to find partying in the street in full swing as I inadvertently cycled into the middle of a parade made up of dancers and a brass band. Lots of people were quite plastered and strangely concerned that I wasn’t! By the time I’d got through the parade and across the town plaza to find some lakeside accommodation I’d actually been handed 3 cans of beer! That got the party started, so after ditching my things I hurried back to the plaza to get more involved.
After a while the parades came to an end and the party seemed to dissipate as the sun went down. I voiced my disapproval to a group of chatty Bolivians who said the official party was over but there were other smaller private afterparties and to follow them! So we walked a few blocks back to a hotel with a big outdoor courtyard where the music and revelry continued.
Strangely enough the bar at the afterparty assumed people were in large groups, so beer was being sold by the crate of 12x750ml bottles. I asked if I could buy just one bottle and was told no! Not to matter though as I soon learnt at these parties there’s no tradition of each person having their own drink anyway. Instead a small plastic glass is passed around each group, while everyone is sure to tip the first sip onto the ground as an offering to Mother Earth. One family group seemed insistent on adopting me into their circle for a while although later I ended up with one of the music troupes.
Unlike the earlier festivities around the plaza though, it became quickly apparent that I was the only white face at the afterparty which meant there was no shortage of people who wanted to talk to me.
I drifted from one after party to the next, including one that was specifically for locals only but two guys outside convinced the bouncers I should be allowed in on account of having cycled across Bolivia! I finally ended up at a fast food restaurant where a really hammered dude came in, ordered and paid for a pizza, and promptly fell asleep against a wall. Staff brought him his pizza and I was left unsure whether to wake him or not. In the end I let him sleep, but a shame he fell at the final hurdle.
The next day I caught a boat out to a large island in Lake Titicaca called Isla de Sol. The ancient Inca believed the island is where the sun went to sleep at night. It was a super-chilled place with walking trails up some hills which had awesome 360 views. I had lake trout for lunch at a restaurant with some pretty epic vistas back to Copacabana. When the boat got back, the fiesta had moved down to the Copacabana beachfront for one final night so I couldn’t help but get involved.
The next morning I cycled my final 9km of Bolivia and hit the border where I crossed into Peru. Lake Titicaca stuck with me for a couple of days riding until I hit the biggest Peruvian town in the lake, called Puno. I had a couple of ugly-ish incidents with Peru dogs on my first day, but I think it was just a bit of bad luck as I’ve had none since then. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
Looking at my route north I decided to bus 200km as the only viable option north was the Peru main road, which is pretty hectic and not relaxing to cycle really. Drivers of trucks and buses in Peru seem to love both the accelerator and the horn in equal measure! I got off at some hot springs where I soaked for a couple of hours before chasing some quieter roads through a network of beautiful river valleys and highland lagoons. There were plenty of small villages dotting the route and I slept in my tent on the edge of one overlooking one of the lakes.
My last stop before Cusco was a satellite town 40km out, and it happened to be Mothers’ Day. Turns out Mothers’ Day is a big deal in Peru, with most small towns having some sort of free concert on so everyone can celebrate the day together. At a sports ground on one edge of town they’d erected a couple of music stages and there were hundreds down there all drinking with the enthusiasm that their Bolivian neighbours had a few days earlier. As the satellite town wasn’t famous for anything touristy, once again I was the only white face there which meant once again no shortage of people who wanted to talk to me!