27th to 31st March

Thursday 27 March

We get up at 6h30. After having gone to bed at 2h30, the night has been very short. And why get up so early? Because Cristian (so many Cristian around here, now it’s the owner of the Casa de Ciclistas) proposed to take us up to El Alto where he has a business appointment. In El Alto, after the breakfast, we start for Cusco. Finally!

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It takes us a long time to get out of the city and its booming suburbs. All the houses of the suburbs are in bricks, with no paint. This is the answer to the government taxing the painted house. And also, it’s a way to affirm that the city of La Paz is different from the Chilean Valparaiso, with its colourful painted houses on the hills. The traffic is dense on the road. We have to slalom between the vans (they are 90% of the traffic!), at our own risks, because the driver here in Bolivia will not stop for you. We try to masticate some coca leaves. The taste is that of dried leaves, nothing exceptional. We feel like ruminants, but we don’t get much effect, except that the part of the mouth where you have the leaves becomes numb.

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After so many days in the desert without any lunch, we are more than happy to find a restaurant open in the small village. Let’s go for a beef steak and rice. It’s enough for this afternoon, to reach the lake Titicaca.

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It’s moving to see this lake shining in the far away, as we finally see it, remembering our children dream of exoticism, or reading the stories of adventurers. The landscapes around us are breath taking. There are many clouds in the sky, high snowy mountains in the background, the green fields cultivated by the Bolivian, shelters built in adobe and soon after in ruins, and from time to time, we see cholitas in their everyday work!

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As we arrive near the lake, since the Sun is already low, we will sleep in the first town we find, Huarina. After a few unsuccessful attempts, we obtain satisfaction in the Hotel Maravilla, 6km away from the main road to Puerto Acosta (the border with Peru). We are the only customers of the hotel, apparently for a while, since all the water pipes have been shut. But we are treated very good by the two girls working here for the owner.

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Friday 28 March

It has rained strong tonight. And this morning, the weather is still looking bad, it’s going to rain again soon. As we get up, the girls come to explain us that they are going to school now (they are 7 and 10!), and that the owner will come soon. After a good breakfast, we get ready to leave, but it starts to rain again. We delay a little our departure, till the rain stops and the weather gets better. We have a nice talk with the owner. He had a very difficult life. In his childhood, his parents had to work in very bad conditions in the fields for a rich proprietary. Till he was 10, he did not wear trousers, but a typical woollen kind of skirt, he did not know the soap, nor the shoes. When he was going to La Paz, he used to be despised by the people over there, as farmer or as indigenous.

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Finally, we leave a little before noon, under the first rays of the Sun. So today is also going to be a short day. The next city after Huarina is Achacachi. As it is already 13h30, we stop there for lunch. After only 25km! we eat the typical dishes of Timphu and Sajta, mainly meat with rice and several kinds of potatoes (there are more than 400 types of potatoes only in La Paz!).

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In the afternoon, as the road goes close to the lake, we have wonderful landscapes. In addition, the sky is quite cloudy, with a lot of contrasts, creating a magical ambience. On our way, we see many cholitas (women dressed in traditional clothes). They are working in the fields, carrying stuffs, selling food, taking care of their children, !

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Contrary to what we saw before in South America, during all the route, the area next to the road is totally used. Sometimes for the village, generally for fields. There are houses very often, built in bricks for the better ones, or in adobe. Most of the times, in the middle of the fields, such shelters in adobe are in ruins. We also see many animals farming along the road. A lot of cows and sheep. But also some pigs, and donkeys. Generally, they are attached by a rope a few meters long to a pole planted in the ground.

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We arrive at the village of Ancoraimes for the night. After some investigation among the locals, we finally find a place to sleep, and we can go to eat dinner with a quiet mind. Just after we got back to our room, it starts to hail. A lot of ice balls of 1cm diameter fall to the city. We are so lucky to be inside for this storm instead of pedalling!

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Saturday 29 March

As we get up, surprise: the sky is totally blue. Today is going to be a great day. We eat breakfast in the patio of the hostel, enjoying the Sun, eating bread and cheese (quite good for Bolivian cheese: it has taste and is not too salted).

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Just after the village of Ancoraimes, there is a hill to pass. 300m to climb, just at the beginning of the day. But as we arrive at the top, the view is incredible: finally we can see the lake Titicaca from above. Its colour is of a strong powerful blue. Just in front of us, in the lake, we can see the Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, the most important islands of the mythology of the Incas.

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We continue the road, along the lake. We have lunch in a small town with a beautiful colonial church. Next village is Escoma, and from this town, the asphalt disappears. We find back the dirt road. We still have 25km for Puerto Acosta, and a couple hours before sunset. It’ll be tough. After a few kilometres on this road, we arrive at the village of Iquipuni, where there seems to be a party. We are invited to drink and eat with them. Some beer, and a plate of fricasé. The women are all typically dressed, in Cholitas. They are celebrating the return of the young from the one year of military service.

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We finally leave at 17h30, the Sun sets in one hour! and yes, we finish by night. On the dirt road, we are with the small lamp in order to avoid the holes and stones. We arrive at Puerto Acosta, it’s totally dark. We find easily an hostel and go to eat dinner.

Sunday 30 March

We go to eat breakfast at a restaurant in the main square of the city. They don’t have bread, nor marmalade, nor cheese! so first we go to buy what we want for breakfast in the city, and we bring it to the restaurant. Then we’re ready to leave, but we have to do one more formality: as we are in the last big village before the border, it’s here that we get our passport stamped for leaving Bolivia. So we go to the migration office. There is no problem for both of us. But for Nata, it’s a little tricky: when he entered Bolivia, the customs who stamped his passport did not write the number of days he could stay, just told him that it was ok for 90 days. So he spent two months in Bolivia, and now, it appears that he could have stayed only 30 days, and would have needed an extension. The officer cannot let him pass like this. But he is an understanding person and does not want to send Nathan back to La Paz to obtain an extension, so as he says, he can help Nata “con la voluntad de Nata”. The price of this “voluntad” is of 20$. So with this arrangement, Nata gets his passport stamp, and we continue.

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After the village, the road climbs a hill. And on the other side comes the border with Peru. There, we can get our passport stamped. But as the officer says, he does not work for free, and want 1$ per person for the stamp. After some negotiation, we will buy him a soda, and he accepts we use bolivianos. The first 7 kilometres in Peru are in a dirt and stone trail. It’s great for Mick, but difficult for Ju, with the fragility of the Vaude panniers.

When we reach the asphalted road, it’s already 14h30, well in fact 13h30 in Peru time, and we have cycled only 15km today! It’ll not be possible to go as far as we had planned. We arrive at Comani some two hours later, and we are lucky to find a restaurant that accepts to cook for us.

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Then we continue our route, till Moho, a bigger village. The road is all along the lake Titicaca, sometimes going a little in altitude. The views are again marvellous.

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And today too, we arrive at our destination at night. We find a cheap hostel (with some weird owners, never smiling, very rude). We expected a bigger town, but here, there is no internet, the bank is closed! finally, we manage to change some dollars for Peruvian Sol in a shop.

Monday 31 March

We finally leave early today! At 9 we are pedalling. Probably the atmosphere created by the owners helped us to start as soon as possible. We start with a pass, at 4100m high, but with a good road. On the way, we say goodbye to the Titicaca lake, that we may not see anymore. Now that we are in Peru, we see some differences with Bolivia. The most visible is that people look very much politised here: all the houses have a painting on a wall inciting to vote for one candidate or another during the next municipal elections. And with the name comes the symbol of the candidate: an orange, a red rooster, a coca leaf, a tree, a pick-axe, !

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We arrive at Huancané for lunch time. There are some stalls in the main street where we eat fish from the lake: trout and pejere. All the fish that can be eaten around the lake comes from aquaculture, the lake being nearly empty of fishes now, after the introduction of the rainbow trout in the 30s, which ate most of the local aquatic faun! a little the story of the Darwin’s Nightmare, but on another continent! the human being never learns from his mistakes.

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In the afternoon, we join a bigger road, to Juliaca. A little boy coming back from school stays wwith us for a few kilometres, explaining us the surroundings.

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We cover the 50km on a strait flat road at high speed, but in the company of lorries and many vans passing us fast and quite close. Bolivia was so nice, with the drivers leaving much space when they were passing us! Tonight, we’ll sleep at the house of Geovanni, a member of warmshowers.org, in Juliaca. We cross the city, that finally is quite big and very messy: there are many rickshaws, it looks like India, with less animals in the streets. We are delighted to arrive to Geovanni’s house. He and his brother receive us very warmly. After so many days of difficult roads, and rushing to find an hostel before night, it’s so good to be here: we also have internet and hot shower!

Here is the video of this wonderful route: