To speed things up a bit I took a bus from Arequipa to Puno (3855). Puno lies on the north west shore of Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake on the world, and shares is sapphire-blue waters with Bolivia.
The next day I went for a half day boat trip to the floating Islands, the Uros. The people of the Uros fish, hunt birds and live of the lake plants, most important of which are the reeds they use for their boats, houses and the very foundations of their islands. It was interesting to see their way of life and I even got a ride in a reed canoe.
The following day I headed of along the western shore of the lake, stopping in at Chucuito to check out its interesting church and the Inka sun-dial. Than the road went inland for a bit and went mainly through farmland till it hit the shore again at the town of Juli. I stayed a bit further on in Pomata for the night, a very relaxed local town with a strikingly beautiful red sandstone church perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. It was a short ride from here to the border with Bolivia, which was a very busy place this day. In the popular tourist town of Copacabana, just 10km after the border, was a 2 day festival on: La Virgen de Copacabana (4-6 August). Many Peruanos and Bolivanos flock to the town these days, with their colorful decorated cars, to get them blessed by the Virgen. That doesn’t justify their careless and dangerous driving, and roads have been very busy and traffic fast!
Since I had a cold and not much energy I stayed in the very overpriced mediocre hostel Sonia (prices quadruple at these times) and watched the madness. The whole town was converted into a market, people were dressed up and the decorated cars got a champagne shower with their blessing. And of course not to forget their favorite brass band tunes, which they play walking the streets followed by a dancing crowd.
I didn’t feel motivated to visit the Isla de sol, a favorite tourist destination and the site of the main Inca creation myth. Instead I left early and made my way up the hill and along a high traverse, a beautiful stretch of road , overlooking the lake and with vistas to the snowy Cordillera Real. I cross the lake on a narrow stretch in a precariously looking wooden ferry which nevertheless is strong enough to take even a bus across. Now on the east side of the lake I came through a few villages and was accompanied by ever the same brass band tune. Today was Bolivia’s Independence days celebrations, 6th of July. I stayed the night in Huatajata, which has the highest yacht club in the world, but I was more impressed by the many pole restaurants on the lake offering nice local fish. I spent my last hours of Titicaca time on the lake eating a kind of whitebite dish, called Ispi. It was a very windy and stormy night…..apparently the start of a windy month!
The next day it was an easy flat ride with gorgeous views to the Cordillera Real all the way to La Paz, highest Capital of the world. I first had to traverse the town of El Alto (at the edge of La Paz), which is the second biggest town of Bolivia after Santa Cruz (leaving La Paz a mere third), than there was a great descent into the heart of La Paz which is located in a canyon, apparently because at the time gold was found there and also to get away from the cold winds of the Altiplano. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at the Casa de Ciclista, right in the center of town. The owner Christian Konitzer put up a whole apartment for passing cyclists. Great to have a place to feel like home and to be able to cook my own food for a change. I’m really missing having fresh vegetables, something which doesn’t exist in the Southamerican diet very much, …and I cooked up a great feed!! Food becomes very important for a cyclist…as we are always hungry!!! There were also quite a few other cyclists, mainly germans.
One of the days spent in La Paz Christian offered to take us and our bikes up the old skifield road. Chacaltaya mountain used to be the highest skifield of the world at 5300m but nowadays it’s closed due to lack of snow. Me and a german couple from Hamburg took up the opportunity. We walked up the remaining 120m to the top of the mountain first and than traversed the rather snowy ski-slope to take a route down the back – back to La Paz. What a great trip and beautiful scenery….not your everyday downhill ride!!!