The Voyage: Roz Savage
Going for Broke in Bolivia
Roz Allibone
05 Jun 2003, Majes Valley, nr Arequipa, Peru

Above: Follow the yellow brick (Inca) road...

You know you're broke when you're trying to flog your flip-flops to a cafe owner to raise the bus fare home...

Last week, my friend Chris and I spent a couple of days in Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, where the Isla del Sol lived up to its name and I got burned to a crisp. Then, sated with the life of comfort, we decided to do a 3-day trek along the Inca road to Taquesi, outside La Paz.

Due to a minor administrative cock-up, we set out at 4.30am on Day 1 with only 104.50 bolivianos (about GBP 10.00) to our name.

Payment for hostel room: 40 bolivianos (64.50 left)

Taxi to bus station: 15 bolivianos (49.50 left)

Find bus has already left, and hire another taxi to set off in hot pursuit (incentive scheme - the sooner our driver catches up with the bus, the faster he earns his fare): 20 bolivianos (29.50 left)

Collectivo bus fare for 2 hour ride to trail head (me squashed between wide campesino woman, and a man who falls asleep on my shoulder. Something wet and cold is soaking up into my trekking pants from the bus seat. I choose not to investigate.): 10 bolivianos (19.50 left)

Day 1: One tough day's clamber through spectacular scenery, across a high mountain pass - eagles swoop, llamas and alpacas gaze in supercilious bemusement at this sweating, red-faced gringa: free!

Wake on Day 2 to another blindingly blue sky, and a man shouting 'Buenas Dias'. Somehow we suspect he hasn't dropped by just to wish us a good day... campsite fee: 2 bolivianos (17.50 left)

Day 2: Another beautiful day's walking, down from high altitude, into lush valleys gorgeous with wildflowers and butterflies, past scattered houses with gardens full of lilies and aubretia: free!

Wake early on Day 3, and strike camp before anybody can ask us for money: free!

Day 3: Chris has a seriously bad knee, and is hobbling like an old man (it's his age, poor lamb, he's all of 24 years old). We think we only have 2 hours to go before we can catch the bus, but we get to the village only to find that the bus no longer runs on Monday afternoons, and the next one isn't until 6am the next day.

Manage to hitch rides in the back of assorted pickup trucks to get most of the way to a better-connected village: free!

Bus fare back to La Paz is rumoured to be either 11 or 12 bolivianos each... giving us a shortfall of at least 4.50. So I rummage through my rucksack. I thought I'd packed the bare minimum for our trek, but it's amazing what becomes disposable in extremis.

Our only potential purchaser, a cafe owner, looks unimpressed with my offerings of a sunhat and pair of flipflops, but perks up when he sees my combination padlock. 20 minutes later, he has almost grasped how it works, when the bus rolls up unexpectedly early.

Chris confesses our shortage of funds, the driver impatiently nods us to get in anyway, as if poverty-stricken gringos beg favours from him every day of the week. So I grab my padlock from the bemused cafe owner's hands and throw rucksack, flipflops, self, etc into the bus, and we trundle our way back to La Paz, weary, hungry and broke, but curiously elated after our 3 days in the beautiful wilderness of Bolivia.

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Peruvian Protesters and Bolivian Bribery
Roz Allibone
30 May 2003, La Paz

Above: Our bus gets a ferry ride across Lake Titicaca

Strikes, rockslides, breakdowns, numerous bus changes, stroppy border guards, bribery and corruption... it was quite a day.

Have made a little detour into Bolivia to renew my tourist visa, but this simple plan was easier said than done.

President Toledo has declared a state of emergency in Peru, which is currently in the grip of six separate strikes... including the police. The disruption caused by the strikes meant that I was becalmed in Arequipa for 2 days, as no buses could run. Finally the military broke the blockades, and I was able to catch an early morning bus towards Puno and the border.

Half an hour into the journey, the bus came to a rockslide. Luckily, they'd already cleared it enough for us to squeeze past. From where I was sitting, it looked as if our wheels must be nearly hanging over the steep drop on our left. I hope it was just a trick of perspective...

In traditional Peruvian fashion, we ground to a halt a couple of hours later, with a puncture, and there unsued much panting and grunting from a couple of guys replacing the tyre. At last they succeeded, and we were on our way again.

I had to change bus at Juliaca, get a taxi, get a minibus, get a tricycle taxi, get another bus, get another taxi, and at last I made it to the Bolivian border sometime after dark (blissfully unaware that in Puno, where I'd originally planned to spend the night, a striking protester had been shot dead that day by the military).

Unfortunately, with the one hour time difference between Peru and Bolivia, the Bolivian side was already closed. But my guidebook said it is never totally closed, so I tracked down the immigration officials having their chicken supper in a nearby cafe, and they said they would let me through if I came back in 15 minutes when they'd finished eating.

So back to the Peruvian side, where unfortunately one of my temporary travelling companions had managed to upset the border guard, who was refusing to let any of us through because 'You don't show me enough respect'. I don't know if it was my letter of introduction from the Peruvian ambassador that swung it, or huge amounts of grovelling, or most likely the fact that he couldn't think of another way to get these four gringos out of his office, but eventually he stamped our papers and let us through.

Back on the Bolivian side, the border official was happy to help, no doubt mellowed by a good supper... or at least, that's what I thought, until he asked us for 20 bolivianos each 'because it is outside usual office hours'. To be honest, after 14 hours of travelling, and a lovely hotel waiting for me in Copacabana, there isn't much I WOULDN'T have done by this stage to get across the border. So I am now probably an accessory to bribery and corruption. It's a fair cop, guv.

La Cupula in Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, was well worth all the hassles of the journey - an idyllic haven, with the most amazing views over the awesomely large, deep blue lake. I haven't calculated this accurately, but I reckon it would take literally months to walk all the way around its shore. And if you think it's got a silly name, you probably haven't heard yet of Lake Poopo...

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Petroglyphs, Bugs and Bones
Roz Allibone
23 May 2003, Majes Valley, near Arequipa

This is all a bit of a contrast. From hobnobbing with New Romantics to being eaten alive by mosquitoes in one of the remoter parts of southern Peru. Never a dull moment.

I'm now in the Majes Valley, a green oasis surrounded by huge dusty mountains, to study petroglyphs (carved pictures on great big lumps of rock, to the uninitiated). My host, Julio Zunigo, has a small lodge here, and is very generously giving me board and lodging in return for me helping him to document his interpretations of the images, created by the Wari tribe about 1000 years ago.

Had my first encounter with a mummy the other day (if you exclude the badly dubbed version of The Mummy Returns they were showing on the bus from Arequipa). Julio pulled up at the side of the road, and pointed down the embankment towards a field. 'Look there'. I clambered down, and (after an understandable hesitation) picked up the small skull and upper torso of a mummified child. The back of the skull was covered with short, coarse hair (hair conditioner presumably in short supply in the aferlife), and scraps of cloth wrappings had more or less melded into the bone over the years, covering the mouth. Some substance I didn't want to examine too closely lurked in the eye sockets. I couldn't quite believe what I was holding in my hand. And when I did believe it, I put it down in a hurry.

These bones are lying around everywhere here, like so much roadside rubbish. They recently built a new road along the valley, uncovering a whole load more bones, which just lie exposed to the bleaching sun. It's unusual, you could say.

I really feel like I'm living in the real Peru now. I've just taken public transport down to the seething metropolis (pop 3,000) of Aplao - the transport consisting of 9 of us crammed into a very small car, 2 people in the driver's seat alone. And can you believe it, they have speed bumps here - vague concern that the overloaded car wouldn't quite make it.

So lots of dust, bugs and bones. It's been a steep learning curve of adaptation, shall we say, but it's been really fascinating to switch into a different lifestyle. Or maybe not SO different.... Julio has a small vineyard, and makes his own wine and pisco!

(Photos to follow, but not sure when....)

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Spandau Ballet and Roast Guinea Pig
Roz Allibone
17 May 2003, Cusco

Above: I get matey with Tony Hadley

Our end of expedition party was a huge and somewhat surreal night, featuring two roast guinea pigs, a total eclipse of the moon, and Tony Hadley, the lead singer of Spandau Ballet.

Roast cuy, or guinea pig, is a Peruvian speciality, so it seemed an appropriate menu choice for our celebratory dinner. When we arrived at the restaurant on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Antonia nudged me and hissed, 'That's Tony Hadley over there'. And sure enough, there he was, large as life, and barely changed from the New Romantic days of 'True' and 'Gold'.

Fuelled by a bit of dutch courage and a dinner of roasted rodents (dished up intact, complete with feet and ratty little teeth, not a lot of meat but quite tasty), she and I wandered over in starstruck manner to introduce ourselves. And Tony (first name terms, note!) could not have been nicer. He was in the restaurant with a huge bunch of people who had just completed the Inca Trail in aid of the cancer charity Action Research, a change of plan after his celebrity bout with political reporter John Pienaar had been vetoed by the boxing regulators.

We got chatting about our expedition, and he seemed genuinely interested in what we'd been up to, asking lots of questions about what we'd done, seen and discovered. He introduced us to his friends, and we all got very matey.

Several glasses of wine, a couple of cigars, and one lunar eclipse later, the charity organisers had finally finished presenting awards to all the trekkers for everthing under the sun, from the basic well-done-for-finishing award, to most glamorous hiker and celebrity lookalikes (Tony Hadley nominated for his striking resemblance to Tony Hadley).

Tony rounded off the proceedings by getting up to sing - a hilariously under-rehearsed rendition of 'YMCA', followed by a faultless version of 'True', the voice sounding as good as ever. And despite his trekking war wounds (a bleeding blister on his heel) he still made it to Ukuku's, the nightclub round the corner, where the party continued until the wee small hours.

Woke up the next morning wondering if I'd dreamed it all in some bizarre altitude-induced state. Not every day you get to boogie on down in Peru with a 1980's pop idol...

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