September 3rd, 2015: The last steps of my Peru experience before I reach my #1 Bucket List destination of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
“Travel & wait day. My back is killing me sitting on the train from Machu Picchu, the van to Cusco, the dumb taxi that dropped me off at the wrong place & the bus stop I wait 7 hours at before my 10 pm bus to Puno.”
Good day to plan, charge the electronics and think about where I’ve been and where I’m going. Yea, Peru has been interesting to say the least. When the taxi dropped me off in the wrong spot and I decided to walk to the actual bus station, I see a man peeing on the side of the road. A young man offers me a taxi ride to the station, even though I know it’s blocks away. I give him a look of death as I ignore his futile attempt to rip another tourist off: Something very common amongst South American taxi drivers. Do your homework on transportation. You will save hundreds over a long period of time. As I get on the bus, they record my face and breathalyze everyone. Some local drunk is denied onto the bus. Good, don’t need another person puking on a bus that takes hours. The smell is awful. I’ll blog post later about the collective less glorious parts of traveling. My mind for now is excited to see Lake Titicaca and of course Salar.
I arrive in Puno and figure out where I’ll be staying. It is cold here. Very cold. The coldest I’ve encountered on this trip. I am gaining elevation and moving further south. The day after I arrive, I tour Lake Titicaca. As the tour guide notes, it’s not called lake titi-CACA, instead you say Lake Titi-HAKA. We visit these floating islands made by a very old tribe out of reeds that you can also eat. They even made boats and houses with these reeds. On the short boat ride, I stop the Elders little kid from falling off the boat. Being a lifeguard and swim teacher is something you take with you wherever you go. I was half watching her the whole time as I was worried she may fall in with no one paying much attention to her. So I sat on the side and made sure this little toddler wouldn’t go off the side. Good thing too.
After the island tours, we visit Taquile island. The arch gates on this island are beautiful. The lake appears so close to the clouds. They say it’s the highest lake in the world. There’s a unique kind of beauty about this place. The blue lake, the clouds, the gate arches. A top trip moment for sure. They say this island community has no need for police as all matters are handled internally. Children ask for money as they stand in the way of your pictures and offer to give you bracelets so I buy one. It’s amazing that a dollar can still go a long way down here.
After the lake experience I board a bus to enter Bolivia. Wasn’t this interesting. Border crossing took forever. They want $160 in crisp unbent, ripped or marked 20’s. Nothing else will do. Passport photo, vaccine papers, and a trip itinerary. I explain in the best Spanglish I can that I am a backpacker and am taking things as I go. After much talking they finally just let me in. I even met a guy who had no required vaccine shots. Just argue for 10 minutes, slip them a 20, and it’s all good. A whole lot of trouble for nothing. This is the blessing of being an American down here. Afterwards the bus crosses a river on a floating barge that looks like it was thrown together. I wonder if any ever ended up in the bottom of this river on a windy day like today. We drive hours into Bolivia all the way to La Paz. I’ve heard many things about La Paz & Bolivia. Watch your stuff, wash your hands, carry soap & toilet paper on you. Yea, couldn’t be more accurate. Over the course of about a week in Bolivia I never met so many people who either got food poisoning or mentioned that something got ripped off of them because they took their eye off it. For me, my camera is my life and my living memories. It’s on me always and God help the individual if anyone tries to take it. I won’t be having it. As we enter La Paz, I feel overwhelmed. Traffic is ridiculous. Backed up everywhere. A constant battle for feet of position. I decide to forgo a hostel in La Paz and book the very next bus that leaves the station for Uyuni. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that I’m not a city guy. I need space to relax my mind and here there’s too much going on. I’m constantly being harassed for money even if I have head phones in or sunglasses on.
On the overnight bus to Uyuni, it stops at 1 am to let on another bus load of people since we were the last bus passing them and their bus tire blew out. People crowd in and are even sleeping on the floor. The bathroom will not be an option here. It is cramped and crowded.
I arrive in Uyuni. I walk to a cafe for early breakfast and then find the tour company and book for the next day a 3 day tour that will leave me in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. For now I will spend a day in Uyuni. I buy another inexpensive Alpaca sweater. When I go to the atm to withdraw money I notice the people before forgot their card so I chase them down and get their card to them. I couldn’t imagine the head ache they may encounter if I had not been there. Later I visit a local pizza shop called Minuteman run by a man from Boston. I return to my hostel with blankets that are rugs. I charge up everything.
“I reminisce on what I’ve seen & people/things back home. Tomorrow, my dream comes true. Salar de Uyuni! A place of emptiness, peace, salt, sky & me. Why I don’t stay in cities. Why though I love to help people I need to get away & be alone. How will I feel tomorrow? Can’t wait to see.”