It was a bumrush to La Paz. Flying into Arequipa at sunrise provided one of the more spectacular views an airplane window could ever hope to offer. I tried to take pictures but like usual, failed to do reality justice. The city is set in the midst of three enormous volcanoes (only one of which is active). On this bright and clear morning, they looked close enough to just step out and take a leisurely stroll to the top. This is one of those awesome airports where they let you off the plane, down the ramp and you walk across the runway to the baggage claim. I don´t know, I always loved that. Claimed my big green backpack, and wandered confidently into the cab pool, where I picked a cabbie on instinct. He spoke to me in slow Spanish and pulled over so I could take great pictures of the mountains in the morning (greatness of pictures yet to be determined).
So, Taxi > bus station > .50 soles to use a sketchy bathroom > wait until 830 am until boarding the bus to Puno... At this point I was at 24 hours without proper sleep. I hadn't slept on the plane from Atlanta to Lima because the in-flight entertainment was so entertaining. I watched This Is It, and was dancing in my seat, saw an episode of The Office I'd never seen (Jim and Pam's wedding, rom-com of epic proportions) and Funny People, where Adam Sandler is a dying comedian and tries to find meaning in life or something. Stupid but funny. Anyway, the point is, I didn't sleep. This will catch up to me.
Beautiful busride from Arequipa to Puno. About 5 hours up into the mountains, along windy roads with steep drop-offs. The driver took the corners with very little hesitation, which I liked, as I felt it showed confidence. Plus, our lane was hugging the mountain, so we were at least 5 feet further from dramatic death than the cars coming at us. And then you come around a corner and there's Lake Titicaca sprawled out in front of you. To say it is beautiful is expected, understood, assumed, but what is less tangible is the sense of magic surrounding the place. Can't say what it is, just something radiating out of that water.
The town of Puno is cuddled in a bay on the southern side of the lake where big jagged hills slope down into the basin. The town itself is not exactly attractive. The streets are tiny, the traffic uncontrollable, and many of the streets are dug up (presumably under construction); its picaresque location is Puno's grand redeeming quality, and it more than suffices.
So I got in at about 2 pm, and scheduled a tour of the Uros for later that afternoon. As I soon found out, the Uros are floating islands that indigenous people live on. I'll try to post some pictures, because it's hard to explain (and I´m getting impatient with my own writing; it's cocktail hour for chrissakes). But yeah, very cool. Six or seven families live on each island, maintaining it with grasses and fresh clumps of dirt that float by. They eat fish and keep chickens, and very rarely (if ever) go ashore. I met one lady who introduced me to her 92 year old mother who had apparently never been to shore. (I was later confronted with rumors that they don't actually live there, that they hang out and talk to tourists all day, then row home at night. I am in no position to either confirm or deny this, but I will say that upon reflection, the hut that I stepped inside did seem suspiciously clean.) They all had solar panels plugged into their thatch huts, so they had stereos and TV's. Good for them?
After the tour, I proceeded to walk about town and get quite drunk with some lovely Australian folks I'd met at the hostel. (For a country of 20 million people, Australians make up about half of the population of all the backpackers hostels down here.) Being at altitude, I was aware that the booze was going to kick in quick. So I started slow, was careful, and worked my way into a jovial state of mind. No problemo, right? Right, until the next morning. I was in bed at 330 feeling dandy, and awake at 6 carefully observing as my internal organs appeared to all be slowly shutting down. I had to walk half a mile down the hill to an ATM before I could buy water and check out. This was pure torture. I can only imagine the policeman washing his truck was pretty impressed with my appearance.
It seems an appropriate time to mention that this last paragraph begins about 8 hours after the last ended. I will explain this when the time comes.
Wait, okay. So. Down the hill, no biggie. Up the hill at 630 am, at 12,000 ft, more hungover than I knew was possible? Only one way to learn. Check out; taxi al Terminal Terrestre; OH and so I already had this ticket booked, so they knew me at the desk and were happy to take my backpack, tag it, hand me the sticker on my ticket, but then it disappeared and I said Oh, okay, I trust you? So I ask a series of questions in my ever-less broken Español, a que porte, y hay un tax de salir (para mi pobre Americano)? (Parentheses not actually spoken, no shit). But so yeah, pay the tax, get out Puerto Numero Dos, y there's seis o siete autobuses sitting there, all apparently going where I want to go and for the first time, there is not a conveniently (read: blessedly) placed individual there waiting to tell me precise where to go. Moment of Panic. Where is my bag? Where is my bus?
Okay, found it. Uncomfortable bus, fine. Forced to switch seats three times, okay. Fed to the head of the line at the border for being an American? Not as great as it sounds, since they only wanted my sweet sweet Dollars (no longer so sweet, I'm told). Novente dias en Bolivia costs us $135. (Already worth it).
So we walk across the border and re-board the bus for another 2 hour cruise to Copacabana, at which point we disembark, and half the gringos race to book their tickets to Isla del Sol (can't say I blame them), and the other half don't know whether to get back on the same bus or to grab their baggage and stand around in the mid-day, atmosphere-unimpeded sun for half an hour until someone wanders along who actually knows what the F is going on. (The latter won out, obviously). Board the new bus, and am surrounded by beautiful women. Seriously, on all sides, call it 8 of them, surrounding me, and all I can manage to muster is a meek Hola, buenos tardes, que pasa, que un dia tan bonita, no? And then the girl in front of me sinks her seat all the way back so here head is practically in my lap, and all the other girls giggle as I make a big show of taking a deep breath and smiling and use her chair (now trapping me tighter than a rollercoaster restraint) as an armrest.
Halfway through this ride, we disembarked once more in order to cross el Lago Ti Ticaca at a thin point. After the kind young lady left, I erected the seat in front of me in order to escape the confines of my seat, but have no fear, she reclaimed her reclined position just as soon as we had cruised across the skinny stretch of lake and found our bright white bus again. Deep breath. Tryambakam mantra x 3. Consciously create a cloak of white light around the entire bus. And send the prayer to she who confounds you: May you be safe. May you be happy and healthy. May you live with ease. Smile and try to sleep. But again, we were whipping around cliff-face roads pock-marked with grave-stones or memorials marking spot where one vehicle or an other careened off the cliff. I stayed awake and watched Titicaca rest amidst its protectorate cliffs, verdant in the late-afternoon mist.
Um, then what. Oh, okay, got to La Paz. The girl once again neglected to put up her seat, so I waited until everyone else got off before I was able to extricate myself from my cozy little ahh but it's fine. Found a cab immediately, brought me right to the hostel, they were expecting me, got a bottom bunk on the quiet side of this monstrously amazing building, wandered around in search of Cappo until deciding he would find me napping in my bed (which, by the way, is one of the most comfortable hostel beds I've ever known: Wild Rover Hostel, La Paz, owned by an Irishman, proper fun, tell ya whut).
And so he did. After half an hour of pure gratitude for my horizontal orientation, Cappo comes in, jolly-as-all-heaven, telling me about these people I need to meet, and soon enough about the soccer game we might>could>will>need to attend. So let´s say it's 7 pm at this point. Wednesday. How many hours of sleep have you counted? I give it 6 at best, but 3 of those necessarily came crook-necked on a bus, and the other three were in Puno where the alcohol negated any possible benefit. Whatever, what am I going to do, NOT go to the soccer game? Exactly.
Long story short, we bought tickets from the first scalper we met, who sold us perfectly legit tickets, but to the youth game that had happened an hour earlier. So we got ripped off for $1.50 US. Not the point, it's the principle of the thing. Found proper seats, front row of the balcony, and absorbed the atmosphere that only a South American country can create for two teams who, in all honesty, would benefit if they would let me start recruiting for them. Not to say I could have played (I could have), but I definitely know folks who could step right in and start scoring multiple goals a game, no questions asked. There were obvious runs unmade, lazy striker play, sloppy ideas followed by sloppy touches, and an infuriating lack of conviction when it came to finishing the football. Game ended 1-1, whatever. Good time.
Then I slept for 16 hours. Woke up after 8, continued to believe I might die, went back to bed. Got up, chugged water, went to an ATM, brushed my teeth, slammed some multivitamins and had a salad heavy on the avocado, and the world was brand new. All of a sudden there were wonderful people around, from all over the world, who already knew and loved Cappo and were excited to meet me, and well, it has continued from there. Most likely, I imagine that my mother does not want to read about the details of what has transpired over the last two days, but suffice it to say we have booked a 3 day trip to the Amazon, in Pampas, Bolivia, leaving this Sunday (so that during the Super Bowl we will be deep in the jungle, far from any mention of Brett Favre's future, or lack thereof) north of La Paz, and booked our tickets from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, leaving on the 3rd of March. Also, we have tickets to see Paul Van Dyke in BA on the 27th of Feb. I'm imagining this to be an interesting event, to say the least.
That's all for now. I'm free to sleep now, and my body is greedily grabbing these hours of rest whenever it can, since it is now alert to the fact that they are on premium. Hope all is well where ever every one is.
Love and Light.