Puno & Peru Rail to Cusco – Peru

Hello!

We left Copacabana in Bolivia and crossed the land border to Puno, Peru. It was a four hour trip including the customs, but distance wise; its only 144km as Puno is still situated next to the massive Lake Titicaca. The main thing people do when in Puno is visit the floating Islands of the Uros people. These are man-made islands from reeds that are supposedly still inhabited today, though there is much debate as to whether the tours just show a facade or real people who live there. However, neither of us actually went. Dave had booked on to a tour the day before but unfortunately got projectile vomiting food poisoning after eating the local delicacy of guinea pig (karma?). I had never intended to go as I was now in my fourth week of being ill. Randomly, my Dad knew someone from Puno that he’d met sailing and she was able to recommend an English speaking doctor. We went again and after a few tests he just said that I was at the tail end of the stomach infection/parasites episode from Bolivia and put me on another strict diet (where I basically only ate bananas, plain bread and occasionally grilled chicken for 4 days). So unfortunately, we didn’t do much in Puno at all, and most upsettingly, don’t even have good food to report back. I did however drink a lot of the Andean tea infusion served in a clay teapot over a candle to keep warm; it has spearmint, coca leaves, eucalyptus and airampo (cactus flower) which gave the tea its vibrant majenta colouring.

Our next destination was Cusco and we decided to look in to taking a Peru Rail train called the Titicaca. We looked up the timetable and found the train that would suit us but every time we came to where you buy the tickets online, an error occurred (this becomes relevant, wait for it). So, we decided to pop down to the rail station and the ticket office. We asked how much (as we hadn’t been able to see the price on the website) and he said 384. We said, ah great, did the 384 Peruvian Soles conversion and said, £45 a ticket, great! We paid by card, and then I said, ‘hang on, I think that said US dollars, Dave?’. Turns out we’d just paid $384 USD (almost £150 each per ticket)! We felt like total muppets and had our first taste of a proper traveller error. With hindsight now, I can happily say that the hefty price tag was indisputably worth it! It’s a 338km journey taking 10.5 hours during the day. The train and service are luxury and the views are spectacular. We were seated at our own private 4 man table with arm-chair style seating, however, we were free to get up and walk around whenever. The adjacent carriage was the Bar carriage with more lovely seating and finally there was the Observatory carriage with not just panoramic windows like the rest of the train, but ceiling windows and even an open back with a railing which was lovely to be able to sit and get some fresh air on the journey. Have you ever been on a train where you can literally hang out the railings on the back?!

The train ride weaves through the Andes mountain range and it was very interesting to see so much of the “real Peru” which is vast farming landscapes with herds of wild llamas. We couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable viewing it from panoramic windows on a luxury train though. Mostly all the farming is done by hand and in the 10 hour journey we only saw 2 tractors, so it is serious back-breaking work. On the other hand, had we not taken the train, we wouldn’t have seen how so many Peruvians live and work at all. We also had a 10 minute stop at La Rays which is at 4319 metres above sea level; the highest point on the train journey (one poor guy had to be given an oxygen mask and tank because of the altitude). There were lots of vendors selling the traditional llama and alpaca wool clothing and trinkets. We were even being sold llama-wear by Peru rail as one of the bits of train entertainment was a fashion show performed by the staff! Although that was… interesting…there was far better entertainment in the form of song and dance. On the first half of the trip, we were treated to Pisco welcome drinks whilst they did a show with music and dance from the Puno region. The guy playing the panflute was particularly impressive. In the afternoon, we had another cultural session, this time with music and dance from the Cusco region. Dave was even given a maraca to join in with, which he valiantly did (predominantly out of tune). The shows really were of amazing quality and felt genuinely enriching, giving us a glimpse of Peruvian culture.

In the afternoon, the bartender explained how to make the traditional Peruvian drink, Pisco sour. We’d also been told various facts about Pisco and apparently grape trivia sticks in my head as I won a free cocktail in the competition for knowing that there are 8 different grapes used for Pisco. Dave was pleased too because I gave it to him to drink. Within the ticket price, aside from all of the entertainment and freebies, was the star of the show; the gourmet food. We had a delicious three course lunch consisting of potato & herb soup, followed by steak wrapped in bacon and finally, chocolate & praline cake. Lunch also came with wine which added to the value, and you could have unlimited water and coca tea throughout the day. We even got mini afternoon high tea with little sandwiches, cakes and lemongrass tea. Overall, an absolutely incredible experience, and in an ideal world, we’d travel everywhere by luxury train!

Join us next time as we explore Cusco and head up to Machu Picchu!

Sophie & Dave

Ep.25 – Bolivia

Hello!

Our time in Bolivia, or the land of extremely high altitude! We saw the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints in Sucre, visited the iconic salt flats of Uyuni and explored the highest navigable lake in the world; Lake Titicaca in Copacabana.

Don’t forget to watch in 1080p!

Sophie & Dave

Copacabana, Bolivia

La Paz & Copacabana – Bolivia

Hello,

We left Uyuni on an overnight bus to La Paz, situated at 3,650 metres above sea level making it the highest capital city in the world. Technically speaking, there’s contention between La Paz and Sucre as to which is the official capital of Bolivia: whilst all of the governmental buildings are now hosted in La Paz, officially Sucre is still the constitutional capital and holds judicial powers.

Unfortunately, both of us got quite ill while on the tour of the salt flats so our first couple of days in La Paz were spent sat on the toilet. Dave, annoyingly, seemed to be back to normal the following day. Me on the other hand seemed to only deteriorate and so began three weeks of hell! Even though we stayed in La Paz for so long, it was probably one of the places we explored the least! After a couple of days of persistent fevers and not being able to keep anything down, we decided it must be something more than food poisoning due to the severity so headed for the nearby private health clinic. The doctor diagnosed a stomach infection, injected me in the bum, gave me a course of antibiotics and a strict diet of bland foods for the next 6 days.

After the week of antibiotics it was evident that it hadn’t really made any difference as I was still bed-bound with the fever and so perhaps it was something else entirely. We headed back to the hospital and this time we were attended to by a young male doctor dressed in batman scrubs (it was Friday after all). This time the doctor seemed much more thorough and after tests, diagnosed a parasitic infection which he said was often missed with a stomach infection initially. By this point, the doctor said I had to be put on an IV drip for an hour. I also got an anti-nausea injection to help stomach the first pill in the course of extremely strong anti-parasite drugs.

By this stage we had moved into an apartment so that we were able to cook in for my specific bland diet. Whilst I was recovering, Dave decided to go on the free walking tour with HanaqPacha. The most interesting part he said was that witch doctors were still prevalent in Bolivian culture and often perform rituals. He said that whilst visiting the witches market, located behind the San Francisco Church, they were told that the Yatiri (witch doctors) commonly sell dried baby llama foetuses as they are used for ceremonial purposes. The foetuses are buried under the foundations of a house as a sacred offering to their goddess. Apparently almost all builders will refuse to work on a property until such a ritual is performed! It is also compulsory that the baby llama died from natural causes, most commonly hypothermia, in order to bring the good luck.

The tour’s other main talking point was the Mi Teleferico, or cable cars. As the city suffers notoriously from bad traffic congestion, the government enlisted the help of an Austrian company in 2014 to help create an aerial cable car transport system linking neighbouring city El Alto situated 400 metres above La Paz on the highlands. It is estimated that over 80,000 people make the journey between the two cities on the cable cars everyday. The cable cars made for an interesting landscape, sort of like an out of place/climate ski resort! The tour guide also said that a few years ago, two of the major banks declared themselves bankrupt and it later came out that they didn’t have any insurance meaning that some customers lost their entire life savings. It now made sense why nearly all transactions in Bolivia were cash only.

After multiple visits to the doctors, an IV drip, injections and 2 weeks worth of medication, I was finally feeling a little better/ fed up of La Paz and ready to move on. We decided to head for Copacabana, a small town located on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the alleged birth place of the Incas. The buses from La Paz leave from the main bus terminal between 7:30-8:00. After enquiring with several companies we were told that the only bus with a toilet on board was Titicaca so we went with them. The journey is approximately 4 hours, costing $30 BoB. As we neared the lake, it became a really beautiful and scenic drive. Crossing the lake was quite the sight. We were told to disembark and take a passenger motor boat to cross the lake whilst vehicles went separately. We watched in disbelief as our massive bus trundled on to a tiny, wooden barge with the captain moving out of the shallows using a long piece of wood against the lake bed! And not just our bus, but double decker buses and trucks laden with goods! I sent a photo to my sister who said it looked like a Top Gear stunt – very accurate!

We arrived safely (somewhat surprisingly given the boat crossing) in Copacabana. The town is located at a staggering 3,800 metres above sea level, as you can imagine, any form of physical exertion was knackering in the altitude. We had quite a nice accommodation a short walk away from all the restaurants and our room had glass windows for walls overlooking the lake. Copacabana is the main Bolivian town on the edge of Lake Titicaca and a popular stopping point for people wanting to explore Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). Lake Titicaca, is the largest lake in South America and proclaimed to be the highest navigable body of water in the world!

Unfortunately, as illness persisted I wasn’t able to do much and Dave decided against visiting Isla del Sol alone as there is currently a dispute with the northern and southern inhabitants arguing about the effects of tourism, meaning you cannot complete the north to south hike. Instead he climbed Cerro Calvario, the mountain overlooking Copacabana, and came back with beautiful photos of panoramic views of Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol and the mainland.

After only 1.5 days we decided to move 4 hours round the lake to the Peruvian town, Puno, in search of better medical facilities on my long quest to regain full health, so join us next time in Peru! Spoiler alert, I finally get better!

Sophie & Dave