We have spent a few days in Puno exploring the town a little and taking walks down to nearby Lake Titicaca. For the third time in a week we bumped into James and Kate, both from London but have been backpacking in the Americas for the last year. We first met them in Casona National Park in Costa Rica eight months ago. It’s a small world really!!
Still, with our final preparations made for our border crossing into Bolivia it was time to move on again. We have loved Peru and will be sorry to leave but our temporary import for Landy expires on Tuesday and we don’t want him to get into trouble.
Heading south from Puno we followed the winding road that led us around the edge of Lake Titicaca. The shifting scenery gave us views of both the mountains and the lake that shone Mediterranean blue in the sun. We could not help but be captivated by the beauty and vastness of this huge lake so high in this mountainous region – we are still at around 3,500m (12,000 feet).
Before reaching the end of the lake we turned left towards Yunguyo, which would take us through the border crossing that is on a peninsula in the lake itself.
The border crossing was fairly quiet. Leaving Peru took 10 minutes while Landy’s temporary import document was taken and our passports stamped out of the country. A quick drive across the bridge that makes up no-man’s land and we were at the Bolivian customs. First job, as usual, was to get Landy’s paperwork done. It took a while to find someone on duty to do the paperwork but within half an hour Landy had his 90 day temporary import into Bolivia. On to immigration to see if we would be allowed in with him and ten minutes later we were cleared through too.
Final stop was a visit to the office of the tourist police before we could pass through the gates and out on to the Bolivian roads. Here we encountered our first ‘problem’. We don’t have ‘international insurance’, we should go back to Puno or Lima to get this or we cannot drive in Bolivia – with much miming about the risk of a right hand drive car to children and animals and the need to drive ‘tranquilo’. Paul called their bluff and said OK, we’d go back to Puno, and got up to leave, which was met with indications to sit down again. Where could we get this insurance, did they sell it at the border? No, the alternative would be to drive to La Paz, 120 miles away. Hmmmm. That means entering Bolivia first and driving without insurance. However the police came up with an idea. They could authorise our permit to enter Bolivia for the sum of 10 Peruvian Soles. We didn’t have any Peruvian Soles, we’d already changed all our cash into Boliviars. OK, they could do it for 15 Boliviars. I proffered a 20 Boliviar note, which did not elicit any change or receipt, and our documents were stamped, we were reminded to be ‘tranquilo’, hands were shaken and we were waved on our way. £2.00 bribe paid. Without it they would have stopped us as we drove away from the border and fined us for driving without insurance instead, even though there was nowhere and no way to buy insurance at the border.
In crossing the border into Bolivia we have shunted east on the map a little and lost an hour on the clock. The roads were good quality tarmac (unlike we had been led to believe) and we were soon at the end of the peninsula and in the middle of Lake Titicaca, at the back of a queue of traffic entering San Pablo Tequina. Looking down to our right we could see a flotilla of small barges ferrying two cars at a time back and forth across the kilometre gap between the land. As dusk fell we inched our way forward in the queue, until, with darkness fallen, we reached the dockside. We were pointed towards a barge being held against the quay by a man hanging onto a thick rope. Paul drove forward, on to the barge as far as he could. The barge stayed in place. Another car pulled up behind us. The man jumped on board and pushed us away from the quay with a long wooden pole. Once out floating on the water he started up a small outboard motor that strained with all its might as the barge moved out into the deeper waters. The street lights of western San Pablo Tequina shone out across the water in front of us, as the shoreline slowly receded. Feeling the rocking motion of a ship was surreal while sitting in a car, but it only lasted about 15 minutes before the engine was cut and the barge manoeuvred onto the quay with the long wooden pole, we reversed back off the barge and were relieved of 50 of our new Boliviars (about £5, which we strongly suspect was a tourist price), and off on our way again.
The eastern side of the small town of San Pablo Tequina did not feel like the kind of place where we wanted to stay the night so we headed deeper inland from the lake. Although we like to camp as much as we can, not least because we have our own roof tent, we have developed a policy of staying in a hostel the first night in a country. Often it is late, especially when border crossings have been long winded, and it gives us a chance to get our bearings if we find a small town with a local hotel or hostel. It wasn’t long then before we reached the moderately sized town of Huatajata, where once again we found ourselves staying in a place called Pachamama, very different from the warm friendly backpacker’s atmosphere of Hostel Pachamama in Cobanaconde! A strong pine bed greeted us, with a foam mattress where the middle was about a third of the thickness of the edges!! The heavy blankets and hot water were welcomed though.
So, for now, night night from our first night in Bolivia!! Tomorrow we start to find out more about this new country on our itinerary.