Everything up to Argentina

What happened after Cusco? I can’t remember…wait a minute. I think I remember. We might move fast here folks, to catch up on some lost time…

So, we said goodbye to the beautiful Cusco and Machu Pichu and headed by bus to the sunny but cold altitudes of Puno on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca. I can’t remeber what I ate on the first night, it might have been a pizza, I think Fion had trout…Any way we got a hotel and the next day went down to the dccks to organise a tour of the Uros reed islands and to find out about a boat trip to, and overnight stay on the island of Taquile (a must do on the lake).

We found some folks, or they found us, who could take care of our boating needs and so we headed off there and then to the Uros islands for a 3 hour tour.

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The islands are man made, and are constructed by piling layer upon layer of reeds on top of each other. Every 14 days a new layer must be applied as the islands slowly rot from underneath. The Uros people (about 30 families) have lived like this for a few hundred years. Well, our little boat flitted from island to island, stopping just long enough for us to consider buying some crap on each island. The people also make boats out of the reeds and eat them too. Here are some pics…

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At the end of the trip we were introduced to the captain (a shady and untalkative fellow standing under a wide brimmed hat) and the sturdy vessel that would take us to his island our overnight stay with a local family followed by a trip to the famous Taquile island.

So, we went home, ate, slept and returned in style for our trip.

After 4 hours puttering across the sunny lake (and a short stop at the Uros to buy some crap)…

dscn0504.JPG…we made it to our island (can’t remember the name).

The lake is so big that it behaves like the ocean and often the water stretches all the way to the horizon. Its huge, its blue and its about 4000 meters above sea level.

When we landed, none of the tourists (a few Italians, some Czechs, two Kiwis and us) really knew what was going on. There were supposed to be families on the dock that we could stay with. It turned out that we were all staying at the captain’s house (nice little industry they have going there). So we settled into our musty room on the second floor (the room below us was a guinea pig pen with wild eyed GPs scampering around in the dark. Of course this room was also the kitchen.) In the evening we played dress-ups, we danced and we listened to a very bad little band. Some pics:

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In the morning we got back on the boat and headed out for the famous island of Taquile, where the purpose of mens existence is to knit red hats (Simon Hobbs’s line).

About 15 min from dock I look back at our Captain as he crossed himself, kissed a handful of coca leaves and threw them to the ocean. 5 min later someone pointed out that there was some water coming through the floor boards in the front of the boat. The 1st mate leaped into action (sort of) and started to do a bit of casual bailing of water from the hull. Standard practice. Then someone pointed out that threre really was quite a lot of water coming through the floor coards in the front of the boat. We were still close to the island, but the cptn looked a little nervous. Very soon we had all cut the tops from our water bottles , formed a human chain and started frantically bailing water from the cabin as we desperately tried to make it to a place to dock. Ha ha good times. Of course, like all tourists worth their salt, we interupted the rescue mission to make a little vid of the event. (vid available at www.myspace.com/familymule)

We sat on shore for 2 hours being asured that another boat was coming. (Who would have believed that Fion had packed travel scrabble!! and that Maryanne could spell Epoch Epoque and get away with it. I’m not bitter that I lost.) After 2 hours we were told the boat was fixed and we could get back on. A multi-lateral diplomatic mission consisting of 2 Italians, an Australian and a Kiwi were deployed to tell the Captain: No.

So after some wrangling and walking we got another boat, got to Taquile for 1 hour and got back to shore at Puno, where our Captain was waiting to make certain we were okay.

So, then we caught a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia on the other side of the lake. HELLo BOLIVIA! We relaxed, we fought with the hotel about hot water, we visited some other islands. Then…

It was the weekend for our last night or two in Copacabana and it was also an annual religous festival that is celebrated with a vengeance. After dinner (I think I had steak, or maybe a cream pasta) we headed into the streets that were absolutely filled to the hat brim with people getting drunk, with processions of marching men and women in outragous uniforms all doing syncronised dances down little alleys while being follwed by 12 piece brass bands playing the one song over and over (vid available at www.myspace.com/familymule). The streets were raucous with big drums, tubas, trumpets, distant fireworks and shouting. We walked up to the main square and caught up in some street dancing to one of the many brass band troups that were wondering around town (about 15 in total). Later we followed the sound of the fireworks and found the place were all of the bands got together (there were over 100 more tubas, trumpets, trumbones and thumping bass drums on a hill side continually playing that same, rowsing tune). There were guys holding poles with fireworks on the ends of them, flying into the air and then back into the crowd, and their was drinking and dancing. We eventually headed back to the hotel, but the party went on all night and in the morning when we got up to catch our bus at 10am the bands were still processing down the street with dancers in tow.

Then what happened?

With only a little time in Bolvia we realised we needed to get south as quickly as possible. We caught a bus from Puno to La Paz, then realised we could get another bus from La Paz to Oruru, then when we went to the train station there was a train leaving in 15 minutes for Uyuni, our destination. So we got on it. In all we travel for 17 hours straight and arrived at Uyuni at like 2 am.

We went on a 3 day trip around the salt desert of the Solar de Uyuni. Here are some pics…

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Of course we visited a number of fascinating places as we weaved our way back up to the capital of La Paz. Some of the places we passed along the way include:

Potosi, where the mountain behind the town is a river of silver that was discovered by a fellow lighting a camp fire that made the ground bleed liquid silver (that must have been a big fire), where the silver was plundered by you know who (the Spanish) and where most of the locals start work in the mines in their early teens and their life expectancy is then only about 10 years.

dscn0693.JPG Potosi (with the mountain behind)

Sucre where we got the most amazing fresh fruit drinks in the little market below, where Maryanne walked into a tree branch and continued on with only one lense in her sunglasses without knowing and where I may well have hit travelling degeneracy by playing a couple of games of Tecken 2 in a Bolivian Pinnie Parlour (you know, comptuer games).

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But we made it to La Paz, bought a couple of fashionable hats, bought juice on the street (fantastic, I may set up a wondering juice cart when I get home and only make juice for myself, no customers) and still had time to earn a free-ish t-shirt for completing a ride down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road”. As you can see in the pics, the road is small and on the edge of a mountain but the main danger is the fact that this is the main transport route between Bolivia and Brazil. So there is a lot of traffic and lots of buses and trucks squeezing past each other. The ride itself is not really that dangerous but the metholated spirits you are made to drink as an offering to who knows what, at the beginning is life threatening as Fion and Maura found out. Oh, I also had to wear Fionn’s pink sunglasses all day because I had broken my own. For this reason I can’t show any pics from the mountain ride!

Then we flew to Santiago in Chile again for some fine, fine seafood soup and to return Fionn’s watch which had stopped working since she bought it there 2.5 months earlier.

Then we got on a bus into ARGENTINA! We stopped at a town called Mendoza, which sounds like a comic book super villain (did I spell that correctly?) but is actually the wine making capital of Argentina. So we went on a wine tour on our bicycles and now we won’t drink anything that isn’t a roble. That means aged in oak. Well, until we leave Argentina where the wine is very cheap and very nice, then its back to the rot gut.

So then we went to Buenos Aires where we rode bicycles, bought clothes at markets, went to an Argentina soccer match at River Plate stadium and made our mark at the local Parrilla. A parrilla is a restaurant that has a big charcoal grill BBQ where they roast all sorts of steaks, ribs, chorizos and offal meats. Indeed, as Argentina is reported as producing the best beef in the world Fionnuala decided she had better try it. So she chowed down on a char-grilled Bife de Lomo (like a porterhouse but bigger) that was washed along with a fine bottle of Malbec, roble from the Mendoza region. Actaully, she liked it so much she had another a few days later, and then a third! But don’t tell anyone.

Today the girls have flown to Iguazu falls on the border with Brazil and I am updating the blog. Go figure…but that takes us up to now.

love John

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