Friday, December 23, 2005

Cusco to Copacabana, Bolivia

Lake Titicaca from the south shore, near Yunguy, Peru

Just returned from dinner with Anne. We went to “Mankha Uta”, a restaurant that was totally populated with foreigners (even the band was from Argentina.) They offered fixed menus at 17 Bolivianos, a bit over two dollars. I tried some lasagna, which was satisfactory - well, great, considering the cost!

Coming into town, I had stopped at two hotels, asking if anyone had seen a French woman on a motorcycle. At the second, I was told she went to the "Hotel Mirador". I got directions from people on the street, and was on my way, when she spotted me and called out.

She led me up the hill to her hotel, the "Utama" (not the "Mirador") and I checked on a room. They offered me the only one available. It was pretty dismal and cell-like, but at $6, I was happy to take it. (Anne said the breakfast that's included is quite good.)

After checking in, Anne and I went to an internet café. I sent an e-mail to Issa at BMW of SF asking that he send the repair parts I'll need to La Paz. The new valve cover, related hardware, face shield and turn signal cover, will run over $300, plus exorbitant shipping costs, I'm sure. Later, Issa responded that the parts probably will not go out until Tuesday, so I may be getting to know La Paz pretty well!

My back is really bothering me tonight. Can’t stand straight. Probably from sleeping in the same position the past 5 or 6 nights (due to my other injuries.)(Reminds me of a particular period at Mondavi, when at least three of is in the Purchasing group were suffering back problems, at about the same time. It was the subject of some humor, as day after day someone would come to work bent over to one side.)


As I was loading up the bike, two of the hotel staff brought me a number of gifts, from the owner: souvenirs of Cusco, including a ceramic pot and medallion and some post cards. A surprising and very nice gesture.

The manager, Juan Carlos, came out to chat and admire the bike. It was the first time he’s shown interest in my travels. He asked if I wanted to stay for coffee, but I was ready to go. Though my stay here was a bit rocky, I reflected upon how Juan Carlos took a personal interest in correcting my Spanish, always teaching. And I was touched by his subsequent unsolicited offer to discount my bill as a result of the theft.

Left Cusco at 8:00 a.m., easily finding my way out of town. A beautiful day for riding; chilly with some clouds, but mostly deep blue sky.

Anne was right: 84 octane is the only gas available in most stations south of Cusco. Even the stations that advertise 90, didn’t have any in stock. Anne had found a couple offering 90 octane, but her notes were on my computer, and I didn't want to unpack it. I used 84; it seemed fine.

Many towns and cities in Peru, don't seem to consider the traveler, someone who may simply be passing through. The highway dumps into these towns, then you’re on your own to find the way out. There are no signs, and no obvious "main road". Two good examples today were Ayaviri and Juliaca. The latter is a thriving center, a festive town, full of color. The streets are jammed with tricycle taxis and I found myself paddling along with my legs through crowds of them.

In Puno, a popular tourist hub, I didn’t even enter downtown, but took the “circumnavigation” route. By now, I had little interest in the typical tourist attractions: the reed islands and boats on Lake Titicaca. I wanted to be beyond Peru at the end of the day.

The afternoon grew brisk and windy and I added a fleece layer under my riding suit. Over the deep turquoise of Lake Titicaca, white thunderheads rose, beautiful in the afternoon light.

At the southern edge of Lake Titicaca, I paused to take some photos of reed gatherers. After I took the pictures, several ran over to me, asking for platita (coins). I gave them a few Soles, but they demanded more. “Lo Siento. No mas,” and I drove off. Peruvians have been particularly aggressive, elevating pan-handling to an art form. But I have grown weary of it. “Bunch of mercenaries!”

Reed gatherers on Lake Titicaca's south shore

The reeds are used for animal feed, I'm told

Pulled up to the Bolivian border around 3:30, a sleepy little crossing, unlike any to date. All the offices are conveniently clustered there at the crossing.

The first stop was immigration. Reviewing my passport, the officer said “you only had 30 days in Peru.” He looked at the calendar and counted out the days elapsed since my November 7th arrival.

“This is a problem.” Then he said there is a dollar per day charge for overstaying the visa. $17. He said I could pay here, or at the immigration office in Puno (an hour and a half behind me.) I wasn’t about to drive back to Puno.

Suspecting that this was just a scam (the scribbled “30” he pointed to on the passport just looked like somebody’s initials to me), I agreed to pay, but added “if I pay you, I need a receipt showing your name, the date and the amount.” (I figured if it were a scam, he wouldn't want to provide a receipt.)

He said that if I wanted to get a receipt I would need to go pay at the bank in nearby Yunguy. Oh, and "the bank is closed," so I’d need to do it tomorrow. I was losing my patience and decided to go talk with the police and the customs officers, to see if this sounded legitimate to them.

They said it wasn’t their business, but yes, there is a penalty for overstaying a visa, and the best way to handle the situation was to pay at the bank (tomorrow). Not what I wanted to hear. I went back to the immigration officer and said “okay, I’ll pay here, and I don’t need a receipt.”

But now he had reversed his position and obstinately said I had to go to Puno. He wasn’t going to sign my passport.

“I don’t need a receipt!”

“It’s too much of a problem. I can’t help you. Puno!”

I followed him around. ("What do you want me to do, beg?" It was becoming clear, that is what it was going to take.)

Finally, two of his buddies showed up and clarified the rules; in order to pay here, I must pay the $17 plus 25 Soles (for their “services”, I assumed). Okay. They had me. I didn’t want to stay in the dismal town of Yungay, nor was I driving back to Puno. The thought occurred to drive south to the Desaguadero crossing, but there was no guarantee I’d have any better luck (or that the price wouldn’t be higher) there.

The officer’s stubbornness disappeared, and he processed my documents, walking me over to a nearby store to get copies of the stamped passport. I thanked him for his help!

Then I quickly passed through customs and the police check. The police officer added with a smile “poquito para gaseosas?” He wanted some change for sodas. Geez! Holding out my last Sole, I complained about those other guys taking all my money. He took it, saying “just a small soda.”

At the store, I took out my last 10-Sole note and bought candy bars. The proprietor asked if I needed Bolivianos. I asked the rate: 7.90 per dollar, not a terrible rate of exchange. So I changed $100.

Walking back to my bike, I noticed oil on the ground beneath the right cylinder. The epoxy patch was not holding, and a fair amount of oil was leaking.

Is it my imagination, or is the Bolivian countryside in much better shape than Peru's? In just the first few miles, I sensed more of a respect for the land.


babycondor said...

"I complained about those other guys taking all my money..."

Ah, Bolivia! Temporary refuge and last stand of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as I recall.

"Who ARE those guys??"

Dicky Neely said...

In Mexico paying off cops, customs and other officials is referred to as "mordida," which translates to "little death." It does seems that suffering all these "little deaths" usually greases the path.
Fascinating pics and stories.
Buena Suerte! Y un buen y prospero ano nuevo!

timtraveler said...

Like i said, about the only thing I fear on this trip is corrupt officials and military.

Anonymous said...

2 comments (relocated here due to consolidation):

babycondor said...

Wonderful color!

Did you know that the Andean people have considered Lake Titicaca sacred for thousands of years, and that "If someone falls into the lake, like a fisherman, it is traditional not to rescue them but to let them drown as an offering to the Earth Goddess Pachamama."


Just to be on the safe side, don't fall in!

timtraveler said...

I'm glad I read this AFTER the ride on the rickety ferry.