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QUICK UPDATE: 09/25/2011

posted Sep 25, 2011, 6:25 PM by Matthew Gorzlancyk   [ updated Sep 25, 2011, 6:28 PM ]

21,765 kilometers and 451 days and Matt and I are now in Bolivia. It wasn’t the best entrance into a country, let’s hope up it’s all up from here!

The ride from Puno, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia. Killing a monster and entering our new temporary home.

            After spending a little more time in Puno than we had originally anticipated, we finally got back on the ole’ bicicletas on the morning of the 23rd. It wasn’t easy, due to the return of the monster that seems to have taken up residence in my stomach, but we advanced and did the job of a good bicycle tourist for a couple of days. I just left little pieces of the damned monster scattered along the path leading to Bolivia. Goodbye Peru…

*Enough about the stomach and monsters. Only please use antibiotics when you get these problems. It really helps to treat it right away.
            The ride from Puno to Copacabana was a good one. It is really quite humbling and quiet, with the exception of the ever-present car and truck horns. This section of road is bordered by simple houses with stacked rock fences that are commonly accompanied by chickens, hogs and dogs. Also on this route, you will find either indigenous women (commonly equipped with small children wrapped up in a towel of sorts on their backs) or small, responsible children tending to their family’s sheep or llamas with handfuls of rocks in one hand, and a whip in the other. There are also men and their families tilling land with cows, and an increase in people riding their bicycles for pleasure and as a means to commute. There are still many pedicabs (bicycle taxi), and you will also find that you have not yet escaped the land where if you are a young, or eternally young male, mototaxis rock!
            The ride was no more than 150 kilometers in distance varying in altitudes ranging from 3800 and 3900 meters. There is really very little climbing due to the fact that for much of the ride you are following Lake Titicaca, and when you are away from the lake it is purely pampas (which means to a cyclist, actually flat). It only took us two days for this section and it really should not take much more. We did find that a few things did change as to our surroundings and attitudes about ‘the big lake’.
            Our impression of Lake Titicaca improved greatly as we traversed the South side of the lake. In Puno we had thought, “hey, it’s a big lake, big whoop?” Turns out it can be pretty beautiful, especially once you get the view of the snow-covered peaks as a backdrop to the monstrous body of water. At points the landscapes really are marvelous. Also, we have now entered the territory of the Aymara-speaking indigenous people and have left Quechua-speaking country.
            The only part of the journey that ground the hell out of my gears was the entrance into Bolivia. Now, I am not one who really likes to complain too much and I do have pretty thick skin, but the guys who were working on the 24th in the Bolivian migration office treated me like garbage.
            Matt had went in first, and because there is not too much bad blood between Bolivia and Canada, he did not need to worry about the $135 fee for the visa, or the abuse and hassle some of the agents apparently like to provide Americans with. He came out after a few minutes with a freshly stamped passport and told me the guys were great and ready for me to come in. Well, it turns out they were ready to entertain themselves at my expense…
            I was welcomed with a smile, then a couple of smirks between the visa agent and the stamp guy (separated positions, because it may have been too much for one guy to handle both jobs). I was directed to get a photocopy of my passport and then fill out the visa application, no problem. After photocopying the passport I was able to complete my form while listening to purposeful silly little comments made to a couple of French tourists about how French and Bolivians are friends and that things were ‘a little different with those Americans and George W’. No big deal. A couple of under-educated guys having fun does not bother me too much, I will get my visa and get out. I have dealt with wieners before at other border crossings.
            After the paperwork was completed and the French couple had left I was next to have my paperwork looked over and fee paid. That is when the carnival really began. First, my paperwork wasn’t quite correct. Then my twenty-dollar bills were not up to par (Apparently the bank wouldn’t accept them with a tiny tear or a slight blemish). After five minutes of conversation they decided that oh, they are ok, only you will have to pay an extra five dollars (for their pockets)… Well, I wasn’t down with that so I went out and changed some dollars (the ones they wouldn’t accept in the office and the moneychanger gladly accepted) with Bolivianos. I returned with the equivalent change and the game continued. “The application says dollars, not Bolivianos.” And then, “These Bolivianos are fake. We need to take and destroy these.” Obviously I immediately took the bills and told them they were just playing games with me and all I wanted was the visa.
            After another wasted five minutes of my life arguing about the ‘fake bills’ I was on my way back to the moneychanger guy to get dollars in correct change (with the supposedly fake Bolivianos in my pocket, not in the hands of my buddies).  The moneychanger, who was the only decent guy in the mix, did me the favor of giving me ‘acceptable’ dollar bills. He also was able to give me the correct change so I wouldn’t have to pay the stooges a five-dollar bribe. ***At this point the blood was really boiling over, but hey, what the hell is a guy to do? You just have to play the game and get the hell out with that stamp, even if you are at your wit’s end.
            So I went back in and it was close to over. I just had to listen to some snickering and wise-ass comments, along with the question as to whether or not I was riding alone (a question meant to sound threatening). They told me I better be careful with all the cash I was carrying around and that there was a lot of theft and robbery in Bolivia. Also, I had better be careful with those fake bills, blah, blah, blah. ***Thanks for the information guys. I hope this afternoon was everything you wanted and more. You are both definitely doing a great job providing ‘positive’ first impressions of what I believe will be a great country to visit.
            I finally received the visa and the stamps after the better part of an hour and a little rise in blood pressure. Although it was a pain in my butt, we were back on the road and now riding in Bolivia! Pretty cool! After riding the 8 kilometers into Copacabana with the new distractions it had to offer such as some good gringo watching, I began feeling much better and was able to leave most of the border experience behind me. Also, the hailstorm that lasted a good fifteen minutes was an interesting happening. We have seen some interesting weather and are now in colder conditions. I guess that’s what happens at this altitude around this time of year.
            In Copacabana we are, and it has been pretty good. We have eaten some trout, enjoyed a couple movies in our hotel that cost us each $3, and are prepared to hit the road again for La Paz after our day-off. Copacabana has really been a pretty nice place, but it is what you expect when there is a good amount of tourism. The residents and workers seem to see you only as a dollar sign, and things are a little more expensive than in the rest of the country (I hope that is the case here, though it is really still quite cheap).  That is just the way it goes.
            We are off in the direction of La Paz tomorrow. There I will get the remaining Peru photos up and we will get our planning done for our ride toward the salt flats. Hasta Luego!