LAKE TITICACA: From La Paz, Bolivia to Puno, Peru

13 05 2009

Friday May 8, 2009 

La Paz to Patamanta: 40 kilometers Returning from the hot, humid Amazon lowlands up to a cold, dry Altiplano winter. This after 6 weeks of gorging a stretched belly, but excercizing like a sloth. How would my legs hold up? What about my lungs? Certainly I had de-acclimated. It’s like starting over again, but it had to be done! Here’s what happened… Said another sad goodbye, this time to my friends in the Madidi Travel office in La Paz. Before I left, though, I did manage to get a photo with the ever elusive Rosa Maria Ruíz. Her story soon to come…

 BIKE MAINTENANCE: After 6 weeks away from Skinny Horse, she needed a bit of work. Changed the chain before I left because the Salar de Uyuni salt flat destroyed it with rust, in addition to a few tools that must have touched some salt. (Advice to cyclists on the Salar: washing your bike with water and a scrubber isn’t enough. Use soap and water, and wash everything.) I also changed my tires, from the knobby ones that the Bolivian dirt ripio roads destroyed, to a new Specialized Armadillo tire I got from South Mountain Cycles in Phoenix, AZ, and put one of the original Vittoria Triple Shield tires back on because it has been holding stong since day 1.


 The climb out of La Paz is steep and long, with views superior to any city I have encountered. The climb switches back and forth along canyon walls, out of the city and back up to the Altiplano. All in all the climb to El Alto must have taken me at least an hour and a half, including a 5 minute tow on the back of an unsuspecting truck. The skies were clear as day! Gave me an opportunity to snap some shots of the mountains I didn’t see that rainy day 6 weeks ago on my way into La Paz. My legs struggled. Six weeks off was too much. I got a few jogs in and kept a decent push up/pull up routine while working for Madidi over the past few weeks, but it simply does not compare to long bike rides day after day. The plan: begin again, go as far as I can, rest whenever I feel like it. The tour will get me back in shape in a week or two.

 I only made it 40 kilometers today, or about 25 miles. I ended up in a small town with no internet and no hostels. People around me spoke Aymara. I practiced, “Kamisaki? Waliki.” And ended up camping in a family’s secure backyard for 5 Pesos, or US70 cents.

 The neighborhood kids gathered into the backyard to look at the gringo so I took the opportunity to talk environment. I told them about Paraguay and South America in general, focused on not littering and the importance of plants and animals. Then we played a translated version of Jaha Jaguata, a Guarani animal game I learned in Peace Corps Paraguay.

 $ spent today: US$3.30

Road conditions: Good, paved, lots of traffic

Weather: Cold, sunny, slight headwinds  


Saturday May 9, 2009 

Patamanta to Copacapana: 80 kilometers 


Left early, 7am? from Patamanta. Kids said they wanted to ride with me until the ruta, but they were running late so I left them. I often find myself disappointing people, leaving them behind or turning down breakfast invitations in order to avoid delay. 


Got fried trout (trucha) for lunch in some small town that wasn’t on the map. The cook said fish used to come from Lake Titicaca but now there are too few fish to sell commercially. So these fish are bought from fish farms offshore. She says they are some of the biggest trout in the world. She taught me Aymara as I ate. It was delicious, walimoqsa! 


After lunch I made it to the ferry crossing. 

“How much?” 

“100 Pesos.” 


“Okay, 50 Pesos.” 

“That’s absolutely ridiculous. I’ll pay 5,” I said. 

“10” they replied. “Just get on the ferry.” 


I paid 10. Found out later I should have paid 5. Ugh, Bolivia. 


 On the south side of Lake Titicaca I continued riding, legs were a bit sore but not as bad as I expected. My destination for the day, Copacabana, was over 100 kilometers from my starting point this morning. I was going to try to make it all the way, but if I couldn’t, I debated in my mind, I decided I would hitch a ride for a 20 kilometer boost or so; this would allow me to make the 8:15am boat to Island of the Sun in the morning, a bit of tourism on a well-deserved rest day. 


Riding the coast of Lake Titicaca is hilly and long, longer than it looks on the map because of the many curves in the road. Before sunset I decided I needed a boost. There was a station wagon taxi parked at a house, so I clapped my hands outside and when the owner emerged I asked how much to take me 20 kilometers. 


“100 pesos.” 

“That’s too expensive. I would pay 15.” 


We discussed Pesos for a while, then I gave up and continued cycling. A few minutes later a bus passed, picked me up and took me to the top of a hill for 15 pesos, or so he said. At the top of the hill I unloaded my bike from the bus and handed him a 20 Peso bill. I asked if he had change. He said yes, got on the bus, and they drove away with my change. BOLIVIA! 


I made it to Copacabana just before sunset, got some cheap food, and hit the hay early… excited for a day off and a tour to Isla del Sol (Sun Island) tomorrow! 


$ spent today: US$7.50 

Road conditions: Quality paved, hilly and curvacious 

Weather: Cold, sunny, dry, no wind 





BOLIVIA: Tomorrow I leave Bolivia and enter Peru. After more than 2 months in Bolivia, these are my impressions of it: It is extremely geographically diverse. Huge mountains and low Amazon jungle. Canyons and lakes and rivers. Caves and mines. Very rich in minerals and natural resources but a very poor country. It is obvious to me big businesses are trying to rape the land and make money by exploiting local people and land. Cargill is an example: transgenic agriculture in the Amazon, I have heard. Bolivian people are very shy and quick to say no if you ask a question, but mostly kind and respectful people. The traditional dress is noticeable in every city and small town. The accents are distinct, apparently influenced by Quechua and Aymara. “Pues” for example, becomes “p’s” and “tantas cositas” may be pronounced “tant’s cosit’s.” There is a huge indigenous pride in the country. Evo Morales, the president, is indigenous and emphasizes indigenous awareness. In respect, I now fly the colored checkerboard Wipala (“flag” in Aymara) above my bike trailer, which represents indigenous rights and awareness. 



Sunday May 10, 2009 

Boat to Isla del Sol: 0 kilometers 


Isla del Sol is a gorgeous island at the edge of the stunning blue waters of Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. On the island are Tiwanaku ruins. The Tiwanaku people were a pre-Incan race, living in the area 3500 years ago! Their stone homes, paths, staircases, monuments, and sacrificial altars remain on the island. 


Lake Titicaca is named so because of a puma head-shaped rock on Isla del Sol. Titicaca means puma stone. 


Pros: I was impressed to see local people doing organic farming, companion planting corn, wheat, quinoa, and other crops to eat themselves, not to sell back to a big company like Monsanto. The ruins and the landscapes were beautiful. One of my favourite sites of my bike tour so far! This pros list should definitely be longer than the cons. This was a highlight! 


Cons: The floating islands we visited on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca were clearly fake. Nobody lived on them, the designs were cartoonish, and a local told me they are actually floating on Styrofoam. There are also pay traps set up on the Isla del Sol. First, you are told you only have to buy one ticket for 10 Pesos. As you walk farther, you are charged again, but you are too far to turn around. Quite frustrating. This happened 3 extra times. If you hike Isla del Sol, know that the price is around 40, not 10 pesos. 


$ spent: US$11.00 

Roads: N/A 

Weather: Cold, sunny, no wind. 




Monday May 11, 2009 


Copacabana to Juli: 80 kilometers 


A beautiful day along the coast of Lake Titicaca. Stopped for lunch at a house and chatted with a nice family. After lunch while passing through another small town some kids ran out to greet me so I took the opportunity to talk to them for 10 minutes about the environment, my trip. They had a million hilarious questions; I love meeting people who aren’t afraid to ask questions. “Why do you like riding your bike so much?” lol.   Met Guillermo and Rachel in Juli. We traded advice and Guillermo even gave me a sweet long sleeved cycling shirt and a pair of shorts! These are good people, wish we had been riding in the same direction. Turns out, they had met David from two years earlier when they were touring Argentina. I have been picking David’s brain via internet because I came across his website in researching for my own trip. His tour was a near-perfect model for Ride for the Trees.


$ spent today: US$8.00 

Road conditions: Paved but rougher on the Peruvian side 

Weather: some headwinds in the afternoon 




Tuesday May 12, 2009 


Juli to Chucuito: 60 kilometers 


I realized I should have told Guillermo and Rachel about the beautiful views ahead of them, behind me. In this part of Lake Titicaca you ride along the coast but it is not visible beyond the landscape.   I do not like Peru so far. Maybe I should be more tolerant; after all, Guillermo and Rachel warned me about Peru. The people along the roadside are often spiteful. They laugh, point, even throw rocks and spray water. I have caught kids picking up rocks to throw at me so I approach them and they get embarrassed. But then as you ride away they yell, “Gringo!!” This has not happened anywhere else on my trip so far. The deeper into Peru I go, the worse it gets. I dread passing through small towns. I try so hard not to get aggressive, but AGHHH it is frustrating! After one 40-year old man sprayed me with a hose and yelled gringo, I dismounted from the bike, approached him, hit the hose out of his hand and called him a maleducado racista. If you approach these types of people, I am learning, they shut right up and get embarrassed. Hopefully that continues to happen, but I’ll try to be less aggressive just in case. Another time I had a scarf wrapped around my neck when two kids pointed at me whispering “gringo swssswwsss gringo sssswwswwsw swss.” Then one kid pulled on one side of the scarf and the other kid pulled on the other, strangling me just to see what I would do. I just stared at them straightfaced, wondering, “What do they expect me to do?” And then I laughed and pushed them hard enough to knock them over and scare them away. Don’t get me wrong, 99% of Peruvians have treated me very well, but as another tourist said to me, “In every country there is that 1% of people who want to cause problems.” For some reason in Peru, that 1% is worse than anywhere I have ever been. Tips for other cyclists: the harrassment is non-existent if I am walking or riding next to a Peruvian, and it is much less when I am riding with other gringos. But when I am riding alone the rocks fly.   On a much more positive note, I arrived early in Chucuito but decided to stay since it was my favorite town so far. The people here were the friendliest of any town in any country (perhaps it was just the contrast of getting sprayed with water 30 minutes outside of town?) Chucuito is the town of the fertility temple. It has grass streets as well as beautiful stonework and springwater flowing down a channel in the middle of the main street, reminiscent of Incan ruins. It has two beautiful colonial churches, a few little hostels, internet, and even 2 larger luxury hotels, and a beautiful hilltop view of Lake Titicaca, but almost no tourism. I got to chat with an old lady who was taking the sheep to graze, and a man who was building a stone wall at the edge of town. If you like talking to people in small towns and learning about their life, try Chucuito. If you like to party around the world Chucuito is probably not your place. The one thing in town that makes it famous is the odd fertility temple which consists of nothing more than an Incan wall and about 50 large stone penises. Even the Catholic church next to the fertility temple has a penis as a steeple instead of a cross. This is not to be grotesque; according to the guide (an 8-year old girl, awkward) Incan women who were having trouble getting pregnant would come here for blessings. If I understand correctly, when the Spanish Catholic culture began mixing with the Incan culture, blessings would come from Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Pacha Mama (mother earth), and the God of the Sun. Must have had a lot of babies after that.   A big thanks to Percy for giving me a free place to stay. Ask around for Percy’s hostel if you go to Chucuito.  

$ spent today: US$3.50 

Road conditions: Paved but getting rougher toward the west 

Weather: some headwinds in the afternoon 






Wednesday May 13, 2009 


Chuchito to Puno: 20 kilometers 


After the disappointment of the fake floating islands in Bolivia, I had to see the real floating islands in Peru. So today I only did 20 kilometers until Puno, then found an inexpensive couch to sleep on in an abandoned hotel (a brothel??). The road was very rough before arriving in Puno, but on the outskirts of Puno they smoothed out a bit. I passed beautiful rocky cliffs, totora reeds being dried in beautiful designs at the lakeside. Puno was bigger than I expected. It is a city.   I managed to make it out to the floating islands on a boat that charged me multiple times. Tourist money traps are common at Lake Titicaca apparently.   The floating islands were incredible. The Totora reeds are used to build the floor of the islands, floating naturally. The ground is springy and fun to walk on, but be careful– one tourist got his foot wet when he stepped through a small hole. It reminded me of Pi Patel’s island in the novel “The Life of Pi.” I also got to eat a Totora Reed, which the indigenous Uros people used to supplement their diets in addition to fish. Nowadays, however, the lake has been overfished for commercial sales, unregulated, and the indigenous people rely on tourism for income to purchase fish and other foods.  

$ spent today: US$15.50 

Road conditions: Paved but better in and around Puno 

Weather: some headwinds in the afternoon




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