Do the Hop

Tuesday, July 23

Our friend Laura’s description of her Green Tortoise vacations had gotten me interested in that style of travel, so I signed us on to the Bolivia Hop bus from La Paz to Lima.  It went to places that I wanted to see (Nazca primarily) and it would put us with different people than you meet on a private guided tour.  You see the people who have your budget.

“They only want to drink Chardonnay at ten in the morning, and talk about their surgeries.”

— cousin Johan, describing Queen Mary Round-The-World passengers

Recently, Laura told us that Green Tortoise is in financial trouble because nobody wants to, or is allowed to, come see Trump’s America.  They always had had a lot of foreign tourists.

Our guide met us in our hotel at 6am to take us to meet the Bolivia Hop bus at a centrally-located hostel.  It was a pleasure hanging out with him in our trip through Bolivia, he spoke good English, and knew everything about Bolivia and all the birds and plants we saw.

The Bolivia Hop bus finally arrived, and took us to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca.  At one point, there was a strait that we crossed, people going on a little boat, and the bus floating across on a raft.  A tour from Copacabana went to Isla Del Sol, getting there late and telling us we have to leave early.

Skip the Isla del Sol tour, even though Copacabana is a fat bore as well.  If you take this trip you will see on the island:

  1. Your own feet, one in front of the other as fast as you can, mounting rocks on the unmarked trail from where the boat leaves you off to where the boat picks you up. 
  2. There is no 2.

It seems this is a lovely little island, looking past the gauntlet of sellers of Chinese-made souvenirs. You cannot see it in forty-five minutes. You could not see your own front porch in 45 minutes. The recommended Bolivia hop boat leaves after 1300, arrives at 1440, and you must be at another place at 1530 in order to meet the boat which returns you to the bus at 1700. This is not an island tour. This is a boat ride and a high altitude sprint. Maybe this is what you want. Maybe there really isn’t anything to see in Copacabana. In the first two hours we were there, I didn’t see anything.  (Reader responses are welcome.  You know our addresses.)

We returned, got back on the bus, went 15 minutes to the Peru border, and said goodbye to the Bolivia Hop bus (They use a different bus from the Peru Hop.  Maybe there is a problem with gauges and they don’t feel like swapping bogies).  

We boarded the Peru Hop bus which took us up to the city of Puno, on the west side of the lake.  We checked in to our hotel, after some dodging of street demonstrations in a shuttle (Peru Hop offloads you to a shuttle and takes you to your hotel), then had dinner at Mojsa, a nice restaurant overlooking the square, currently surrounded by blue tarps for renovation.

And so to bed.

Wednesday, July 24

We put the big pieces of luggage in storage, and took the smaller ones with us as we were picked up for the Island Homestay tour. That started with a visit to the Uros floating islands, where 4600 people live on 120 small islands made out of mud covered with totoro reeds, as they have for 3700 years.  They have ceremonial boats made out of reeds, which they push with a little motorboat.

The islanders don’t like tourists much, but the ones closest to the shore appreciate the hard currency and conduct their PowerPoint presentations, with prefabricated jokes and facts such as: they can’t play basketball here because you can’t launch off the surface of the reeds.

Our guide speaks Aymara and Quechua after mother and father. Then Spanish, English, and Italian. But in December he will become a lawyer.

We then continued to head for Amantani Island, but at one point the tour guide was concerned by the wind on the lake, and we turned around to head back to Puno.  Before too long we turned back around, and the tour guide said that it would be safe to go to the peninsula in front of the island, and that we could do our homestay there.  So we did:  we had lunch, and were assigned to a family who were in the process of building a little hotel.  We had a private room with a bathroom, which missed only a toilet seat and a shower head.  I’m sure they’ll finish it eventually.  We walked around the neighborhood, saw a couple men making mud bricks for a building they were constructing, and watched some ducks.  There were llamas and sheep all over, including baby ones.

One of the tourists was having a birthday, which gave an awkward excuse to dance. For this they passed out brightly colored Native Shawls which might not even have been made in China, since the wages are so much lower here.  It was awkward.  We did not dance.  Introverts are kind of like Jesus; we feel awkward for the things that extroverts do that they ought to be utterly humiliated to be seen at.  Dancing in native costume is the same as putting the skulls of your defeated enemies around your roofline, or wearing the skins of animals you have slain.  Making the defeated culture participate is even more demeaning. It is blackface.

It’s cold at Lake Titicaca, as well.  There wasn’t heat yet, in the hotel under construction.  Nor electricity at all, after a time.  The shawls helped with the heat.  For all the lack of utilities, we hadn’t regressed to the neolithic: a car alarm sounded about three in the morning.

Thursday, July 25

In the morning, we were to go to Taquile Island.  But the previous day high winds had overturned five boats there, and a captain had been injured.  So the police said no, and we just returned to Puno.  There were Titicaca Grebes to watch, when we were close enough to shore.  They skitter cutely across the water.  The captain goes slowly past the reed islands, because of reed mats in the water that might foul the blades.

When we got back to Puno, our guide told us that the whole city was on strike and we could walk to our hotels, starting with walking over four boats to get to the dock.  Others had more suitcases than we did.  But somebody rustled up a minibus.  It wouldn’t have been that far a walk.

Strikes were a continuous problem in Peru.  The miners were also striking, and one of their actions was to block roads.  They were more serious about it than the blockaders in Bolivia.  When a road was blocked, nobody went past, and a bus hasn’t the option of driving on the little dirt roads.  As a result, many of our departures were delayed by hours, or threatened with delay, which requires the same amount of contingency planning.

We were able to get a “day room” in our hotel, Suites Antonio, allowing us a base to walk around as we waited for our 9pm departure to Arequipa.  They must be used to this.  It wasn’t expensive.  The night room was $27.

We walked around Puno.  Up to a viewpoint with a graffiti-covered statue.  Peering into stores and cafes.  It was warm.  High deserts can be nice during the day during the winter.  I bought a paper describing the winds the day before, with pictures of the wrecked boats on the island we couldn’t go to.  Buying a paper seems as esoteric as buying an Andean hat doll.  Far from normal life.  Something only seen at the antipodes.