From Peru to Bolivia, via Lake Titicaca

I was a little dazed returning to Cusco and being around so many people in a dorm again, so I found a quiet corner of the hostel and tried to be as invisible as I could so I could maintain a little of the downtime I’d enjoyed so much in Pisaq. My plans were foiled though, when Marko, a young guy from Montenegro, came over to join me to tell me all about his experiences in the Peruvian jungle. A little later, Mila joined us – she’d sold her café in Poland to travel the world and seek a new direction and was keen to tell her story. We chatted for hours and then they went for some food and I had some quiet again until Juan came over, an Argentinian musician who was looking for an empathetic ear about some troubles he’d been having with a friend and also to talk about the recent success of his band, Che Parce, which had just reached the semi-finals of La Banda, a Simon Cowell-esque reality TV show. I wasn't invisible it seemed - I enjoyed all my new friend’s company, though, and it was probably what I needed to get me out of my solitude.

My german dormmate Christian joined us, telling us about a great burger place in town - Papachos - and so I went with him for dinner. It was indeed great. When we returned, Marko, Mila, Christian and I went to the bar to hear Juan and Che Parce playing – and they were excellent: my favourite blend of slightly folky, slightly joyous acoustic music.

Mila and I were heading in the same direction, to La Paz, via Lake Titicaca, and we decided to go together – with Christian too, at least until Copacabana. After another wander around Cusco town, including the San Pedro markets, we gathered our things and took the overnight bus to Copacabana. I slept, as I always do, throughout, and without any problems, until we arrived in Puno at dawn. We got out and I had my first glimpse of beautiful beautiful Lake Titicaca, shimmering like gold as the sun’s first rays began appearing upon it. Startlingly beautiful even for me, bleary eyed after a night on a bus.

We carried on, crossing the border into Bolivia and ending up in Copacabana around 930am. It was an interesting little town, and Mila and I dumped our backpacks, after getting our tickets across Lake Titicaca to Isla del Sol later that day, and wandered. I saw my first cholitas, the indigenous Aymara ladies of Bolivia who wear these incredible outfits of layered, colourful skirts, tight tops and a bowler hat on their heads, balanced masterfully depending upon the marital status of the wearer. It’s such an incredible look and, I'm told, they wonder why others across the globe don't follow them in this.

We took the two hour boat ride to Cha’llampa on the Isla del Sol, marvelling at how beautiful the lake was: the great expanse of water, the green green islands upon it and views of snow capped peaks in every direction. At Cha’llampa, we weren’t quite prepared for how rural it was – but loved being there. Children ran up to us on the pier asking “hostel?”, “hostel?” and we chose the nearest one – a very basic, very cheap room for us to share. It was almost dusk and we went out to explore the area. Famers and families were driving their animals by the lake – parades of sheep and pigs and cows went past us, against the backdrop of the water and the snowcapped peaks. Such beauty. We had some quinoa soup and some fish and rice and went to bed at around 8pm: there were no street lights on the island – indeed, there were no streets – so the island fell completely into darkness after the sun went down. And then the stars came out – in abundance and so very bright. Ah, how I'd missed them. 

We were up to watch the sunrise on the pier near the hostel and while is was beautiful, I’d been spoilt by the sunset the night before. And it was so very cold - bitterly cold. After a coffee and a redress with more warm clothes, we went on a slow walk up to the ruins near the main village area, winding our way up the hill, past people’s houses and farms and imagining how it would be to actually live there. 

By midday we left, taking the boat back to Copacabana, and then a local bus to La Paz. I was sitting next to Elvira, a cholita, and we had a great chat about her tienda in Copacabana. She was on her way to La Paz to get some more things to sell. I explained I was going to be staying in La Paz for a while and she invited me to come back for a visit and to stay with her. She had four children and her husband had left her – she worked every day but her children occasionally helped when they were not at school or university. She was very proud of her children, and rightly so. When I asked for her details, she drew me a map of where her tienda was – she couldn’t write. We said goodbye and I promised I'd visit.

Mila and I finally got to La Paz a few hours later, late in the evening, and we checked into the Hostel Milenos and went to bed early. The next morning, I went to visit Artesania Sorata for the first time to meet Diane, the owner who had set it up 30 years previously, in person. I walked up the hill of the Calle Sagarnaga, completely out of breath – the altitude was a killer – and met her in one of the stores, looking like Joni Mitchell and talking in a soft American drawl. At that point, I was so excited about being there and we discussed all the things we’d achieve over the next month or so.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with Mila, wandering around La Paz and ending up in Lanza, a multi-storey market area that looked a little like a carpark, but was filled with tiny market stalls. We went to the top for the food area and dined on huevo and queso sandwiches and hot, sweet coffee. Mila was such a great person to hang out with – a little older than me, which I’ve found is a rarity on the road – great company, self reliant and endlessly interesting. I have the sense she’ll do incredible things with her life and I’m looking forward to hearing all about them.  She was off to Uyuni and so we said our goodbyes.

The next day I moved into the workshop and my life living in La Paz began.