Heading South. Peru, Bolivia, Chile. / Episode 4: Copacabana and Isla del Sol, La Paz and the Death Road

End of the adventure in Peru. 8 days there, discovering Cusco, walking the Salkantay Trek to the Machu Picchu. 8 days of amazement, of discoveries and pleasure(s).

We are now on our way to the second part of our trip, which will take place from now on in Bolivia.

We left Cusco in a bus and reached Puno on June 2nd at 5 a.m. Coldness, hot chocolate and sunrise over the Lake Titicaca.

 

June 2nd, 2012,
From Puno to Copacabana. On a boat on the Lake Titicaca, night on Isla del Sol

In the bus station in Puno …

In the bus station in Puno …

… watching Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Spanish version …

… watching Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Spanish version …

Our bus leaves Puno at 8 a.m. It’s cool outside, we are exhausted by our 5 days of trek and the last hours of ride, but just thinking about the place we’ll sleep on the next night, courage and smile are back.
Just so you know, we’re traveling quite in a funny way: we know were we want to go, we travel and we see what to do on site. No ticket bought in advance, no room booked: we arrive and see and decide.

Through the windows of the bus, the landscape unfolds.

Bus Puno-Copacabana
Bus Puno-Copacabana
Bus Puno-Copacabana

We arrive quickly at the border, around 11 a.m. Everybody exits the bus, and we are said to go first at the Peruvian police office. We need a stamp to leave the country. We also get into a change office, we will need money for just after the border, and there’s no ATM on the way or in the next city (Bolivian currency: the boliviano – Bs. / 1 Bs. ~ 0.12 € / $ 0.14 during our trip).
We then walk to the border, symbolized by a gate over the road. You need to cross walking. And just by going through the gate, we gain an hour: Peru and Bolivia are not on the same timezone. Funny to think than with just a step, times changes from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. One step back, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. … Just like that.

We are walking to the border

We are walking to the border

Last look to Peru

Last look to Peru

The gate between the two countries

The gate between the two countries

We are now officially in Bolivia, at around 10:30 a.m. We walk to the immigration office, just a few meters away, to get our entry visa in our passports.

Peru-Bolivia border

Back in the bus, we ride and arrive to Copacabana at 11:50 a.m., where we need to pay a tax to enter the city: 1.5 Bs. (~ 0.18 € / $ 0.22).

Copacabana … not to be mistaken with the famous beach in Rio, Copacabana is a little Bolivian city, almost just at the border with Peru, in the middle of two little mountains, and by the Lake Titicaca. Beautiful, simple and with a lot of things to see.

We leave the bus and walk down the little street that heads to the port. This is where we’ll take a boat to reach the island where we will spend the night.
With an hour to wait, we decide to have lunch in one of the little restaurant that are facing the lake. There is a lot of little open tents, aligned near the beach, serving all the same meal: fresh trout, which has just traveled the few meters between the boat and the kitchen, for 20 Bs. (~ 2.36 € / $ 2.90). The food is amazingly delicious …

Copacabana, Bolivia
Towards the port

Towards the port

Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia
Copacabana, Bolivia

Rooooooh …

Just time to finish eating, and we get aboard. Little boat, with chairs at the first level and benches on the roof, to enjoy the ride. The view is just splendid. The lake is located at 12,500 ft alt., surrounded by mountains. The weather is nice, even if just a bit too cool.

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“Ok, which one do we get?”

“Ok, which one do we get?”

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Copacabana-Isla Del Sol boat, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
“See you later Copacabana !”

“See you later Copacabana !”

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Copacabana-Isla Del Sol boat, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Copacabana-Isla Del Sol boat, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Copacabana-Isla Del Sol boat, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
The Island of Loneliness (I gave it that name)

The Island of Loneliness (I gave it that name)

The amazing lake

The amazing lake

Some are having fun

Some are having fun

After 1 h 20 of navigation, we reach the destination.

The port of Isla del Sol

The port of Isla del Sol

Isla del Sol. The Island of the Sun. An enchanting name, isn’t it? Just so you know, the little archipelago got its name from the Inca mythology, in which is written that the Sun was born here. “The birthplace of everything that exists.”
Today, 800 families live on the island, from farming, fishing and tourism (there’s approximately 80 Inca sites to see), in an amazing and beautiful simplicity: no road, everything is carried by donkeys, guided by young or old people, on a very harsh landscape, and based on a agenda that follows the boats arrivals and departures.

We get here, and we need to find a place to stay for the night. We climb up the stairs to get to the first village, a hundred meters above. We get two rooms in what seems to be a house-hotel, with a big terrace and view on the lake, facing the East.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

We need to climb. Agaaaaain!

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The island is really steep …

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

… and for that, as in many Inca places, everything is set in gradings.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

… with endless stairs …

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The time is running out. We drop our bags and go for a walk to find a good spot to watch the sunset. We see a little path on the side of the island, and find a little glade up there. No way to go easily, we’ll have to cut through and climb up!

We want to follow one of these lines, and go up where you can see the trees …

We want to follow one of these lines, and go up where you can see the trees …

We meet some nice kids …

We meet some nice kids …

… and the youngest one is carrying a teddy bear on his back …

… and the youngest one is carrying a teddy bear on his back …

Lisa is charmed

Lisa is charmed

On the island, everything is carried by hand, on one’s back or using animals …

On the island, everything is carried by hand, on one’s back or using animals …

… which might be really hard, regarding the topology …

… which might be really hard, regarding the topology …

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

After 30 minutes climbing, I get to the top, and I can’t keep my emotions: we’re at the top, at 13,125 ft, 650 ft above water level, with a clear and complete view on the lake and the sun setting down in the West. Down there, some fishermen in their little boats, moving slowly on the water. All is calm and peaceful … just a pure moment of joy that moves me deeply.

(Do you remember the video in the introduction to this Travel Journal? At its very end, I’m filming myself, having bright eyes *_*, before I drop the camera on the ground … it was this very moment …)

Everyone gets here, and we decide to make our own little cairn (little pyramid of stones), to leave something saying that we’ve been here, in this fabulous place.

We sit down and watch the sun setting slowly.
I take some time to write my thoughts in my little travel notebook.

At the top of Isla del Sol… the view is amazing …

At the top of Isla del Sol… the view is amazing …

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Our beautiful cairn

I put my GoPro on the ground and check the settings to make a timelapse of the sunset (which you may have seen too in the little introduction video …)

I put my GoPro on the ground and check the settings to make a timelapse of the sunset (which you may have seen too in the little introduction video …)

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

The Sun goes down, slowly …

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

… and we are all amazed by this sight, at 15,100 ft alt., on the highest lake of this size in the world …

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Once the Sun is gone, the temperature drops quickly and the sky is getting really dark. Lisa, Julien and JB leave the place while there is still some light, and I stay, I need some time for myself. I draw a big heart in my notebook, and a tear drop joins the paper.
I pack and leave 40 minutes later, in the darkness of the night, trying to find a safe path … By walking in a straight line for 10 minutes, I finally cross a larger trail, and I go down to the restaurant for dinner.

We eat at 7 p.m., then back to the bed. Tomorrow will be another day: long and full of surprises.

June 3rd, 2012,
Isla del Sol, arriving in La Paz

We wake up early once again. 5:30 a.m. for me. Why so early? To watch the sunrise, from the terrace.

I step outside, put my camera on the ground, change the settings, get my remote controller. I’m ready. I lay down and look straight ahead.

In front of me, the Lake Titicaca. A bit on the right, Isla de la Luna, the Island of the Moon, 4.3 miles away. Farther, the shores of the lake. Supreme beauty: at the very back, straight to the East, Ancohuma, third highest point in Bolivia, reaching 21,086 ft in altitude.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

05:57:16 a.m.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

06:02:31 a.m. The Sun shows itself.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

… and gives some colors to the lake

Today will be a calm day. But calm doesn’t mean “doing nothing”. Here’s our planning for the calm day:
• Breakfast,
• Boat back to Copacabana,
• Bus to La Paz, capital of Bolivia, 87 miles away,
• Find a place to stay,
• Find an agency to book a ride on the Death Road,
• Eat, discover the city, drink, have fun, sleep.

It’s time to check the first thing and have a great breakfast just above the lake. 20 Bs. for scrambled eggs, home-made bread, butter, home-made jam, yogurt, coffee.

Terraces with amazing view on the lake …

Terraces with amazing view on the lake …

… can you dream of a better breakfast?

… can you dream of a better breakfast?

We get back to our rooms to get our bags, then walk down to the port and to Copacabana.

Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Me? I look at the boats coming and going …

Ride and lunch, eating trout just by the beach (it may look like we have lunch just after breakfast, but almost 3 hours passed between the two … :D ). 20 Bs. again for the trout. Looks like everything is at the same price here!

Someone wants to play baby-foot on the beach?

Someone wants to play baby-foot on the beach?

Or maybe a little ride in a pedal boat before leaving?

Or maybe a little ride in a pedal boat before leaving?

We have 30 minutes before the bus leaves. I go do a bit of shopping while the others go visit the cathedral.

Gift for my brother, mother, niece and nephew. I also get into a lot of store to find a film for my camera. I finally find one at … 20 Bs.! It’s not easy to pay: backpack is on the back and another on the chest, camera is in hand, GoPro is in a pocket … and the change is in a small pocket around the waist. I need to put everything down, pay, get everything back and leave.

Back to the bus. We get on, drop our bags and I open and share a little bag of cookies bought earlier. A few minutes later, a hard thought hits my mind: “Where is my camera? Where the h3ll is my camera?!”. Adrenalin. My heart gets carried away. It hurts. I look into the bag at my feet. Nothing. The bag over me? Not here. On the floor? Nope. Under the seat? No. Need to think. Quickly. The bus leaves in 3 minutes … Thinking about where I’ve been. I had it when I got the gifts … I didn’t have it getting on the bus … I get up, run out of the bus, down the little street, get into the store where I bought the film, I ask the young girl that is here, in a approximate Spanish. She smiles at me, and take it out from the back of the counter. Stress. Mad at myself. I smile at her back, I thank her 20 times and I just have time to run up back to the bus, which leaves just after. I get it now. To get my change, I put my bags on the floor and my camera on a pack of Fanta.

It. Should. Have. NEVER. Happened.

I get calm, and enjoy the ride. Outside, the lake is still visible.

After an hour, the bus stops and everyone gets out. We’ll have to cross the lake to reach the road on the other side. The bus gets on a small barge, we get in a small boat. Nice.

Copacabana-La Paz bus, Bolivia

OK, we have to be confident … All our bags are in the bus which gets on this small float boat …

Copacabana-La Paz bus, Bolivia
Copacabana-La Paz bus, Bolivia

On the other side of the lake, we drive to La Paz. I fall asleep on the end of the ride.

Copacabana-La Paz bus, Bolivia
Copacabana-La Paz bus, Bolivia
Copacabana-La Paz bus, Bolivia

We finally arrive on the heights of the capital at 3:30 p.m. The bus stops on the side of the road (common here, everyone does what it wants, even on the highway) and we step out to take some pictures.

La Paz!

La Paz!

The heart of the city is in the middle, where you can see the buildings. The city is … huge!

The heart of the city is in the middle, where you can see the buildings. The city is … huge!

La Paz, a city that is breathtaking: at the bottom of a canyon, at 11,800 ft alt., bowl full of houses and buildings, and with a view on mountains covered with snow … Sensational.

Going down in La Paz

Going down in La Paz

We end our ride and arrive at the main bus station. We get to a hotel recommended by friends we met earlier during the trek. “A room for four, for a night pleaz!”. Perfect. We drop our stuff and we step out quickly. We need to find an agency to book a descent of the Death Road … for tomorrow. Just one day before the trip, this is us!

In the main bus station of La Paz …

In the main bus station of La Paz …

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Now, it’s calm. It’s just 4:20 p.m., the city is just waking up …

Now, it’s calm. It’s just 4:20 p.m., the city is just waking up …

An agency, a second one, and it’s done! We’re so lucky. Get some cash, pay, give our details, and it’s booked!

Death Road with Coca Travels

Death Road with Coca Travels

Back to the hotel. Quick shower, quick look on the Internet and we go out for dinner and a visit of the city. A lot to see: La Paz has been built on the river that has dug the canyon, and we still can see it in some locations … the presidential palace, the little markets … to the prison of San Pedro, that has its own society, where the prisoners, mostly related to drug affairs, rent their rooms-houses and live with their families (have a look to the book called Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America’s Strangest Jail which is about this prison and the life in it).

La Paz, Bolivia

The Presidential Palace in La Paz

La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia

Looking for a bus-taxi?

La Paz, Bolivia

Cheers!

Little beer to drink for the day and tomorrow, and we go to bed. Do I need to say that we’ll have to wake up early?

June 4, 2012,
Death Road

Wake up around 5 a.m. Packing everything, we leave our bags at the lockers. “All you can eat” breakfast with pancakes coffee. We need to get some strength, the day will be epic and long!

Not only we have to ride down the Death Road today, but also we have to get back to La Paz before the rest of the group, not to miss our bus to our next adventure at 5:30 p.m. Usually, the day on the Death Road ends at 7 p.m., but we asked the agency to get everything done so we can be back earlier. It should be OK.

Our driver is here at 6:30 a.m. We first go get our helmets, and get somebody else who will ride with us. We leave La Paz, already vibrating like a bee-hive.

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La Paz, early morning

La Paz, early morning

In the car, I attach my GoPro to my helmet, and check if it’s safely tied :) .

Check!

Check!

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We get to a small lake at 9:20 a.m., 15,288 ft alt. This is where we’ll start our ride down with the bikes. We meet the rest of the group, put on jumpsuit, fluorescent jacket, over-trousers, gloves, helmet and get our bike. Our guide explains us that he’ll ride with us, and shows the gestures we’ll need to reproduce so everyone behind can see them, so everyone can survive the day: “watch out”, “slow down”, “get on the right”, “get on the left”, “we stop”.

Death Road, Bolivia

Little lake, at 15,288 ft

Death Road, Bolivia

The bikes are waiting …

Death Road, Bolivia

… everyone’s getting ready …

The first part is on a road, to get comfortable with the bike. 12.5 miles down on asphalt, on the mountain’s edge, bypassing cars, buses and cow, sometimes at 40 mph.

Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia

Crashing is not allowed, eh!

Death Road, Bolivia

Yay JB!

Death Road, Bolivia

We pass cows …

Death Road, Bolivia

… and a bus in the middle of a turn …

Once we’re ready, we go back in the car to drive a bit up and get to the beggining of the trail of the Death Road. The view is amazing … Surreal landscapes, completely rugged, with peaks and extremely deep canyons, and a little gray path snaking into a green field.

Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia

“Careful, danger”?

Death Road, Bolivia

I get the GoPro and my helmet …

Death Road, Bolivia

… and everybody is ready to get going!

We get on our bikes, I check my GoPro is safely tied to my helmet, and I try to be just behind our guide to have the best view possible and be able to bike as fast as he does. We we start our 19 miles-ride of pleasure and happiness.

I cannot tell you the whole story, because you have to live it … but in some lines, the Death Road is:
• a 40 miles ride with a 11,811 ft vertical descent,
• a ride from the Altipano (the highest inhabited plain in the world, after Tibet), cold and at 15,288 ft alt., to Coroico in the humid and warm forest at 4,920 ft alt., so with big temperatures difference,
• a path of dust and rocks which measures, at its largest point, 10 feet,
• a precicipe just by the path which can be absolutely vertical and dive 2,000 ft by your side,
• a dozen of security barriers (made of wood, eh) at the most,
• an impressive number of accidents, it’s sad but always deadly …

The Death Road has a name that suits to it. It has been named “The most dangerous road in the world” in 1995. Here’s how you ride it:

Death Road, Bolivia

Rule #1: you copy the path and movements of the guide …

Death Road, Bolivia

… then you stop just on the edge of the road, for fun …

Death Road, Bolivia

You ride under waterfalls …

Death Road, Bolivia

You start thinking: “what if I miss the turn?”

Death Road, Bolivia

You can also hear yourself thinking: “Atch, it’s not really wide here!”

Death Road, Bolivia

And then: “Oh, this is even narrower here, and the path’s wet and slippery!”

After 2 h 30 of vibrations, shudders, fear when your rear wheel touches the light gravel and slips towards the edge … we arrive at the end, alive. Wrists in pieces, fingers sore because they spent too much time tied on the breaks … but happy to have ridden all these kilometers.

Everyone’s congratulating, opening beers and laughing.

Death Road, Bolivia

At the end

Death Road, Bolivia

High five with Lisa

Death Road, Bolivia

High five with JB

Death Road, Bolivia

And we rest and laugh with beers

Death Road, Bolivia

Last minutes with Lisa who will return to La Paz in the evening and will fly back to London tomorrow. It’s sad to say goodbye in the middle of the adventure. But I laugh thinking about what’s gonna happen next, between “males”. Nice team (Lisa did all the translations until now … None of us has a really good Spanish :D ). We’re gonna be OK …

The group leaves to Coroico and will enjoy a good lunch and a good time in a pool, and will go back to La Paz by the new road, built in 2007. We go back to the capital with the bikes on the van … using the same old road, the other way. Julien was more afraid this second time riding the Death Road. It’s true that when the driver stops, start talking and points a little car, completely smashed hundred of meters below, that’s a bit frightening …

Death Road, Bolivia

“You see the car wreck below …?”

Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia

The end of the ride on the Death Road happens in the mist. Comforting …

Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia
Death Road, Bolivia

I sleep in the van, and we get to La Paz at 7:30 p.m. Just some time to get back to the hotel, shower, talk with … but, it’s Jenny and Amie who got here too! – take back our bags and leave to the bus station.

Our daily bus will ride the 408 miles to Uyuni, our next checkpoint. The vehicle is simple and I start feeling strange: we heard so many stories of bag getting stolen in the bus or in the hold, I think that this bus looks like a bus in which this could happen. Awesome.

Just after we leave downtown, we stop in Bolivar, some kind of poor suburb, to get more passengers in. At some time, a guy gets in, fuzzy look, walks to me and starts talking. OK, from his smell, this guy’s drunk. I don’t understand what he says, but I get that it’s something to do with my seat. OK, I have confirmation looking at my ticket and his, the company has sold my seat twice. He sits down next to me. I feel faint. He’s looking in a way I don’t really like. With the alcohol in his blood, the one he has still in hand and drinks and the way he looks at me, I fear for my life. Really. Julien will tell me later he has the same feeling. Sitting next to a drunk and pissed off guy, in a bus, with a 11 hours ride ahead. 10 minutes later, his friend calls him. Looks like there’s an available seat farther. He leaves, a young boy takes his place. I feel a bit better.

Apprehension. Fear. And we’re still in La Paz.

The bus finally starts, I fall asleep under my blanket.

The road ends for hundreds of kilometers of dusty path. My dreams are strange. Mix of war, destruction, earthquakes. Awesome night.

Apprehension. Fear. Nightmares.

June 5, 2012,
Uyuni. Arriving by night in the middle of nowhere

I wake up. The bus stopped. I’m cold. I look around, people are getting out. I don’t know where we are. I look through the windows, I see nothing. It’s still dark and the windows are covered with … ice. Completely. Julien and JB wake up too. We don’t really know what’s happening. We don’t know if we are in Uyuni. I step out to check. Nothing. It’s dark, we are in a small street of dust and clay, in something that looks like a small village. Just one streetlight. A digital clock indicates 4:00 a.m. and 20°F.
We finally understand that we are arrived when the drivers asks everybody to leave the bus.

Apprehension. Fear. Nightmares. Coldness.

We get our bags back, put on the maximum of clothes we can. The travelers disappear quickly, and we are now alone in the middle of the dusty street, lightened by a single street lamp, in a ghost town, with no idea of where we are, where to go, what to do.

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