Mitch knew it. The ice in is sangria was laced. He could feel the poisoned water bubbling in his stomach and within hours it exited as streams of projectiles – one for the hotel basin and one for the bowl. La Paz tap water was not recommended at all to drink. We also had warnings about the ice – but that Sangria looked too good. Tam thankfully never drank any of it.
We sat on the minibus ride west to the Peruvian border. Mitch had downed a couple imodium tablets (orally) to hold it all together. We got to know our GAP travellers a lot better. Brandy was from Vegas and could hip-hop and swing dance. Lenka was from the UK, but originally from Eastern Europe and recreationally pole danced. Rob was like us. He couldn’t really dance to save himself! Luiz our tour guide had most of the smooth moves and he knew a bit of salsa, but more importantly, he knew his way around – finally after a couple weeks of floundering in Bolivia, we had someone to help us!
Arriving at Tiquiana, we crossed by ferry to the shores of Copacabana. Not quite the resort you would imagine in Rio, Brazil, but it had some resemblance to a beachside resort town, although at 3,800m the waters of Lake Titicaca were always too cold for a swim. Bolivians are landlocked and this small town, like it’s namesake served as the most popular pseudo-seaside resort. Swan paddleboats lined the beach looking dejected.
Onwards and into Peru, we passed several sculptures of Mountain Lions, Smakes and Eagles, the Holy Trinity of Incan mythology. We had seen several pictures of an eagle carrying a mountain lion in its talons, which in turn was carrying a snake in its jaws.
After some time we arrived in Puno, the city on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We went out for a few shots of pool and a few Pisco Sours – green cocktails with egg whites and had a dance with a few locals. The boys with their left feet had trouble keeping pace with the girls – who had a line of patient admirers with salsa skills.
Waking early in the morning, a small rickshaw was waiting for us, personal escorts to the harbour. Once on the boat, we waited for the other tourists to arrive. A busker took advantage of this – playing about 10 strums on his guitar, then promptly holding his hat out. We, in typical Kiwi fashion, don’t tip, especially for a bad and unsolicited job. Averting his gaze only meant he insisted more, glaring at Mitch. “No entiendo” was the best Mitch could do.
The Floating Islands of Uros, inhabited by the Uru people is a unique location on Lake Titicaca. Large flotillas of reed islands, bound together formed a safe haven from other tribes. This tradition continues to today and from tourism has done well. We were dressed up like the locals and paraded around the grounds. The reed held strong and due to heavy foot traffic, needed to be maintained regularly. You could apparently eat the inside flesh of the reed as well.
Moving further on to Isla del Sol for lunch we had the feeling we were being herded like alpaca. From one trinket store to the next the island was a beautiful path winding through the the terraces. Tilapia, or the lake special trout was the main dish on offer. On leaving the island, Mitch and Rob gamed a dip in Lake Titicaca. Jumping off the back of the boat, the temperatures of the lake rarely rise above 14 degrees – being at about 4,000m. Safe to say they didn’t last long in the water.
Descending the valleys towards Cuzco, we saw the houses were painted in bright reds, oranges and reds. There was an election coming and advertising involved a can of paint for their nominated party. Mitch finally caved and bought a jersey which seemed to shrink on sight before it even saw a washing machine. At the price he haggled, it was still a good deal and would go on to make a good gift for someone smaller.
At a small restaurant on the side of the road was the last port of call before we got into Cuzco. Small pens full of guinea pigs were on the menu. Some unlucky vermin were skewered and freshly roasting on the fire. Cuy, as it is known is a delicacy that is typically eaten on your birthday. Most families keep large stables of guinea pigs. We found it quite an intimidating meal when you can see the it’s face contorted in flames.
Once in Cuzco, we merged with a larger group for the Inca treks. With a bit of downtime from the travel we had the opportunity to stroll the local markets. Mitch picked up a pair of car tyre sandals and Tam got a bit squeamish watching a woman cleave a cows head with an axe. The nightclub in the main square opposite the large cathedral had salsa lessons. The dance instructors definitely took a few liberties with the fresh tourists – following their lead took on a whole new meaning…
Before departing north on the road through the Scared Valley we packed our makeshift hiking equipment and swiped a few extra bread rolls from the hotel buffet. Who knows when they could come in handy…