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balance (2): to bolivia

Saturday, November 17, 2007

to bolivia

this morning i hopped on a bus from puno to la paz. it was a very long trip but i had some nice people on the ride with me. we stopped at the border to get our stamps. we were told we had to visit 3 separate immigration offices- 2 on the peru side and one on the bolivian side. i went to 2, for the life of me i couldn't find the 3rd one. but i did have both exit and entrance stamps which i figured was all i needed so i shrugged it off. i was chatting to a canadian kid who was in the same position while we waited for our bus, and suddenly an immigration officer came stomping up to me and demanded my passport. i handed it over, flushing with embarassment. he looked it over, said "no problema" and handed it back. apparently they thought because i lived in thailand that i was thai and needed a visa, but my passport is american. anyway, when my heart started pumping again i realized that whatever i was missing from office #3 must not have been too important because i got off scot free at that particular check. so off i went on the bus again, towards copacabana.

the shores of lake titicaca as seen from copacabana

copacabana is actually quite nice. i am not sure if it is the copacabana of the barry manilow song or if that one is in brazil, but nevertheless it feels cool to say i have been there. it is a small town set on the banks of lake titicaca (bolivian side). it was much more interesting than most of the parts of peru that i saw right off the bat- a lot of hippie artisan types perched on the curbs selling their wares, and lots of little chill cafes and bars. i had a couple hours til my next bus connection to la paz, so i stopped and had some excellent fried chicken and fresh squeezed juice at a little outdoor cafe with the canadian guy. he was more of a "backpacker" than i am- he stayed only in fleapit hostels and took local busses, etc. there are both benefits and drawbacks to that. by taking local busses and eating in local spots, he gets closer to the people than i do. but i do not envy him the dirtiness, loudness, and lack of privacy in the hostels. i think i prefer to be alone in a decent place actually! we debated about whether or not to mountain bike down the "world's most dangerous road" in coroico... which seems to be the thing to do. but really, i am not so much a reckless adventure enthusiast (i prefer to live), and as x says, if i haven't become any more coordinated in the past couple of years since he has seen me, he strongly would advise against it. so for now i have decided "nay". the canadian guy was unsure as well, as he read that something like 46 busses a year (almost 1 per week) go over the cliffsides there, sometimes taking cyclists with them.

on the way to la paz

anyhow, got back on the bus for four more hours towards la paz. the scenery was again pretty desolate, but a lot more beautiful than peru. lake titicaca is a gorgeous navy blue next to the soft brown hills and terraced farms. and then we came into la paz from the top of the mountain, which amazed and intimidated me. it is a pretty large city, and as we got more and more into the thick of it i was shocked at how crowded and busy it was! our bus stopped in the middle of all the chaos and the driver unceremoniously kicked us out. canadian guy looked terrified and was like "what do we do?"... i was no help to him. the streets were teeming with honking vehicles, men and women pushing carts of goods, little shoeshine boys in masks (who looked like 3 foot murderers), taxis, and stall upon stall of various goods. i am terrified of taxis here as a good percentage of them are fake and are paid to take you to an isolated place where you are mugged at gunpoint, but i sucked it up and caught a taxi anyway to my hostel. the driver was very polite and helpful and i felt a little sheepish. my hostel (naira) ended up being very nice... a big warm bed, cable, hot water and a balcony that opens up over sagarnaga street (a popular tourist area) and the gorgeously lit up san francisco cathedral. i was happy to be settled and slept deeply my first night in bolivia.



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