La Paz to Puno

Ruins at Tiwanaku, said to be the "Machu Picchu of Bolivia," but only 3% excavated

A monolith against the sky.

The Aymara cultural nation flag with 49 squares.

PCDR mini-reunion in La Paz.

The view of Valle de la Luna.

A musician plays his quena, broadcasting his wares.

Dave and his two new friends atop Mirador Killikilli.

View of Copacabana and Lake Titicaca

A purple-hued potato patch on Isla del Sol.

Resting in the Laberinto ruins on our hike across the island.

Time for philosophical reflection contemplating the incredible blue of the lake.

Enthusiasticly panhandling for coins and caramels, these kids good-naturedly block our path.

Hola a mi gente-- We had a fabulous time in Bolivia and have left today for Puno. From here we may see the islas flotantes or even the funerary temples, but then it is on to Cusco without further ado. Machu Picchu, put your pants on!!!

Okay, so about Bolivia, eh? Well, lemme think back now... we got into La Paz from Arica maybe eight(?) days ago, and stayed at a hostel in town. The next day we hooked up with Tom Wildman, who was travelling with Joe and Chrissy, all from Peace Corps Dominican Republic. Jose and Critter were up at Copacabana but we ran about with Tomás for two days in the interim. Day one we went by the big cathedral San Fransisco and headed up the hill towards the mercado de las brujas (witches' market) where all kinds of crafts were sold. Alpaca this and that, baby alpaca weavings, confections made for sacrificial tables and not to be eaten, dried llama fetuses for good luck (to be placed under houses), ceramic pieces, taxidermied armadillos, oh yes, and I actually bought something... a postcard.

Day two we went up to see the famous Bolivian ruins at Tiwanaku, which were fairly interesting. More interesting was the village itself, where we ate lunch and walked around the adobe houses. Dave and Tomás went off to take pictures while I sat down to talk to a lady named María outside her house in the shade. She made me cry contando her penas about her life and her family and how she had an opportunity to leave for the states but never did because she didn't want to leave her mother alone. I met her still-living mother, who is now over 110 years old, the oldest in the village, and only one of her friends remains from her generation.

María shared that it had been said that her mother was bad when she was young, which is why she has the punishment of having to live so long. I went over to greet her and understood that she was deaf, almost blind, and only spoke of how much she wanted to die. We held each other’s arms, and her with coca laves falling out of her mouth as she spoke, chewed to drive away hunger. I had offered María some bread as I had sat down, and when Dave and Tomás came back she said, espera un momento, te voy a dar un pato de barro. She came out of her house with an ancient shard of pottery that she had found while tilling her land, and I felt obligated to accept it, as is the custom. But speaking of customs, I am not sure if that is something that can cross the border with me, being a part of Bolivia's patrimony and all. But just another shard of pottery... and a way to remember that beautiful woman by, as she refused a photograph. That was my memory of Tiwanku.

That night we hooked up with José and Chrissy who where by then back from Copacabana, and another Peace Corps Volunteer from Bolivia who also had his sister visiting. The seven of us went out to eat at a steak place that yet another PCDR volunteer (Dooooglas) had recommended as he had passed through La Paz. There we reminisced and listened to bachata, which the restaurant happed to have a disc of. Then out to ice cream at Dumbo's, which is the best ice cream in all of Bolivia. We had to say goodbye to them all that night, as Joe and Critter were heading out to Oruro for carnaval with the Bolivian PCV and his sister.

The next morning the three of us went to La Valle de la Luna, up near a town called Mallasa, only about 30 minutes outside of La Paz. It is a crazy landscape, with piers of mud and soil fingering the sky in most outlandish formations. We walked the paths up, down and around the valley, with tons of photo opportunities, and also just really enjoying each other's company and talking about everything under the sun. We stopped to listen to a man in an orange poncho who mysteriously stood out against the celestine blue of cloudless sky on top of one of the tallest fingers playing what appeared to be a flute.

When we got up to the top where he was, we realized that he and his friend were advertising the instruments that they had for sale. The instrument that he was playing was called a quena, and is played upright like a recorder, but the sound is produced by blowing over a notch. We stopped to talk to him, and he taught me a few more words in Aymara, a very kind person. The quenas that they had for sale were nice, but had a touristy smack to them, what with the Bolivian flag colours and all. I really liked the sound and feel of the instrument, though, and of all the examples he had with him from his workshop, the one that he was playing was the one I found easiest to change octaves on. So he kindly sold me his own, sun-bleached, plain, original, and smelling fondly of the exotic wood it was made out of.

We left Valle de la Luna, and headed down the hill to the cactario, where we saw various kinds of, well, cactus, really. But we passed through a triple arch in the rock, which was just gorgeous. Then back up the hill past the valley of the moon to the town of Mallasa, where we were planning to hike up to La Muela del Diablo. Instead, after the world's best lunch of pollo a la leña with baked camote, potatoes, and ripe plantains, we just headed back to La Paz due to transportation issues. As we got into the Plaza del Estudiante, we were met with the full wrath of the caranaval-goers who tossed water balloons, shot out shaving cream from cans, and hosed people down with heavy water artillery.

We were soaked by the time we got up El Prado back to the street where Tom's pension was. Since we were already wet, and since the madness was inescapable no matter where one went on any street, we decided to join the melee. We invested in balloons and cans of foam, and headed back to the pension to fill the globos with agua. We then ran back into the thick of the ruckus, and exacted our vengeance on the adolescent males who had pelted us on the way up. Our weapons lasted us about an hour, and then we capitulated (hey... it was the three gringos against the REST of La Paz!) and headed back to our respective digs for hot showers and a change of skins.

The following day was a day of miradores and wandering around town. Dave sort of dragged me about (he is, after all, the logistics person) to Mirador Killi Killi, up on the side of the mountain overlooking the city. He met up with two little boys who invited him to come home with them and play Nintendo, but instead I taught them to whistle with a blade of grass and we spent the morning talking about school and places in Bolivia where they lived, and families. Turns out that the 11-year-old boy was the blood uncle of the 8-year-old. Huh. Then down the hill (I was feeling oh-so-crappy, sick, etc.) but we stopped at this lunch place that had live (terrible) music and sopa de mani (peanut soup) my new favourite Bolivian entrada.

We wound our way down past the stadium to another mirador/ parque which was amazing in its creativity for park installments for kids. There was a giant chess set, for example, with the pieces made out of metal. We watched a couple playing, and because there was a piece or two missing, the lady had a little boy stand on the board in lieu of a rook. "Get back here and stop moving!" she would tell him, as he would run off. It was strange to see all the cholas in their pollera skirts and bowler hats and heavy shawls taking the little kids out and pushing them on swings and catching them at the bottom of slides. Such stately women all with identical shoes and matching ruddy cheeks, from years of Andean sun exposure.

We then made it back to the Prado where we took side streets to avoid the main deluge, but in so doing, avoiding the parade and other high falutin' be-costumed dancing. We had seen carnaval in Arica and were not worried about missing anything cultural, plus I was feeling like shiznat. We wandered around and found our way back to the witches market (this was where we hung out with Tom on our very first full day in Bolivia) and this time we did a little more shopping. David came away with a miniature chess set, the españoles against the inca. I purchased a cloth case for my quena from this (blind as a mole) musician, as well as a nifty CD case made with similar cloth on the outside.

The Coca Museum was closed, but we stopped by their cafe anyway for a mate de coca and a game of Parcheesi (the world's least interesting game). Then, hmm, it's kind of a blur, but I think we met up with Wildman again for dinner that night, and we were to go our separate ways. Dave and I were going to Sorata for a night, and Tom was off to Copacabana for two nights. We thought maybe we could meet up near Lake Titicaca. But the following morning, after our sad adieus, unbeknownst to Tomás, Dave and I made a change of plans. Sorata would be for our next trip to Bolivia.

So we headed out to Copacabana, in public transport, and were walking down the cobbled streets ruminating on our lunch of trout with french fries and rice, when just walking out of a side street came none other than the famoso Tomás Wildman. He had already bought his ticket for the Isla del Sol on the morrow; so after checking in to our separate hostel, we went down to do the same with the same company. After which, we headed up a steeply stepped hill past fourteen stations of catholic crosses to the top of a hill overlooking Lago Titicaca and the town of Copacabana. Bright sun over the lake, and more time to talk about the universe.

It is always fun to meet fellow travellers and ask the redundant questions “Where are you from?” and “Where did you come from?” Which generally have very different answers. Travellers are the best types of people; we have yet to meet an uninteresting one. Even the chattering Argentinean girls with hair (identical bangs) from the 70's occasionally have something interesting to remark upon. We cannot escape has followed us over from Chile now to the Peruvian border. People wetting us in the street (and even today I got my butt shaving-creamed on our way out of town) But respite is soon to come, as we were to pass the next day on the lovely Isla del Sol.

Okay, our boat was covered in ch'alla (ribbons and balloons) and there were firecrackers at the port as we arrived, but at least we escaped most of the madness. We were let off the boat after a two-hour ride in the rain at the north end of the island. There we had a quick snack of salchipapas, (hotdog pieces with french fries) and started walking through the terraced hillsides along the lake. We walked right by a few points of interest without realizing it, but thought that might be a sign that they were not that interesting after all.

Upon consulting our map, we found that we were right in front of the rock Titicaca where the sun was born, as well as the first Inca. It was apparently shaped like a titi, or puma (different animals), but I was unconvinced. But the Laberinto ruins were very interesting, indeed. We stopped to take photos and lounge on the walls, gazing out across the unworldly blue of the lake. We then started on our hike from the north end of the Isle, to the south, where hostels and restaurants were available. The trail curved dramatically along the crest of the ridge, and we had views to both shores. We stopped for almost two hours to talk about life again, this time looking out over a small bay, where the island rather curves.

The aromatic plants along the way made the high altitude journey that much more breathable. We made it into the south end village in time to find a decent hostel and watch the sun set through clouds and lightning while enjoying mate de coca. That night we found dinner at a little restaurant that served... (!) trout--but this time with rice and french fries, for a change. We almost got lost in the dark getting back to the hostel, the paths are all footpaths and there are no cars or lights on the island.

The next morning, Wildman took off on the early boat, on his way back to La Paz to bike the World's Most Dangerous Road up through Coroica. Dave and I stayed, poring over the geology of the land on the crest of the ridge again, walking among eucalyptus trees, little flowers and cactuses, and hypothesizing about the origins of the most curious imbedded geodes and beach fossils. We walked towards another town along the cultivated terraces supporting what appear to be the four major food groups: potatoes, quinoa, habas (a fuzzy bean), and maize. We encountered a troupe of little kids who wanted us to take their picture, saying "¿Fotografía? ¿Fotografía? ¿Caramelo? ¿¡¡Caramelo!!? No pass. ¡No Pass! ¡Pagáaame!" and were then hit with more water balloons as the youth who spent the previous few days getting their rocks off with beer stumbled about the footpaths half soaked and delirious.

We got lunch at another small restaurant on the ridge, and ate, get this: trout, but THIS time it came with rice, and, well, french fries. On our way down to the port to catch the afternoon boat back to Copacabana, we saw the Fuente del Inca and the steps of the Inca from so long ago. The three artificial channels carrying the water down the hillside represent the motto of the island "Don't steal, don't lie, and don't be lazy" So another long boat ride back to the mainland and we were in Copacabana. I felt like good trout for dinner, but wanted to avoid any and all french fries, so we sat down in a schmancy restaurant that was actually 50% cheaper than the trout places. Had a little lomo, spoke a little German with fellow tourists, and headed back to the bar for mate de coca and another game of brisca. The carnaval hadn't let up. People were dancing in the streets to the beat of marching drums and whining whistling flutes (train-whistle style).

So we left this morning for Puno, which is where I am writing this missive from, as there is nothing else to do because the tours to the two things we wanted to see have already left. We crossed the border on foot with no problem, after a short bus ride, and then took another public transport to Puno. The woman who got on next to us was a New Zealander who lives in Australia who wants to get into the States for her screenplays that she is writing. She spent a month and three weeks in Copacabana just writing (and falling madly in love for five whole days) and shared most of her life with us. We talked about politics and life and love and the fact that the person she had been with before the mystery Ecuadorian for five days was this Islamic woman who wore a veil... for two years. And that she was the best and only woman soccer player on the continent and that she had actually hooked up with this other chick in Lima. Which got Dave really interested in finding the gay bars that she had frequented in that city, which I am actually interested in seeing myself.

Strangers share so much of themselves when they don't think they will see you again, and I was inspired to give her a bracelet that Cousin Susie had made me, for no reason, just because. And this woman, Josie, was giving us advice on our respective love lives, and said something about all the lovers we would enjoy in life and how many lovers she's had, and just really too personal things for normal fresh friends. We had lunch together here in Puno before she headed out to catch a plane in Juliaca, and we talked up a storm about stuff, and she got out pictures, etc. She was about to leave when we launched into a whole new discussion about being hypoglycemic, and she and I have a lot of symptoms in common.

I think she may just have inspired me to cut out sugar completely from my diet for a week to see how I feel. It is just so hard when we are travelling constantly to *not* eat bread and rice because it is a safe cheap thing to eat that is available everywhere. And I just can't bring myself to trust the greens in restaurants here, not after my long bout with the squirts since Arequipa. I don't confio in the sanitation or water sources. We are only drinking bottled water and teas, and ¡verduras me hacen mucha falta! As I switch to Spanish, I notice that I am *still* in Puno, despite having written this letter mostly in English and thinking about you guys and remembering Bolivia. Okay, back to being in Peru. Love to all, and to all, Love. Molly