Backpacking For Miles Part 1

As the bus glides out of street lit Potosi and is swallowed up by the darkness that had recently settled all around it, a small treat soon became clear up above. The Southern Hemisphere has something that the North simply doesn’t, the glorious sight of the Milky Way!

As it beams out, working in partnership with the Moon, shadows are cast everywhere. You really could wander anywhere without so much as a torch and it wouldn’t be a problem at all. As I settled back into my reclining chair, I couldn’t help but stare up at the universe whilst it was so intrusively staring right back at me. I twisted my neck sideways to ease the strain that was building from looking directly above my right shoulder, but within seconds I was looking back again. In hindsight it was quite worth the sore neck, it was quite a sight.

9 hours and a poor sleep later I was arriving at my first destination, Cochabamba. Definitely one of the prettier cities of Bolivia, and apparently the home of the world’s tallest Jesus. Some people find Jesus through church, some through prayer, but of all the ways one may find Jesus, I managed to do it using my phone’s GPS. Not that it’s hard, he is standing on San Pedro Hill making a ‘T’ gesture, and he is massive! After climbing the 2000 steps or so (the cable car queue was about 2000 people) I discovered that for a mere pittance you can even go inside him and climb up. Today not only did I find Jesus but I was even able to work my way through him like one of those worms models digest to lose weight. His shoulder was the limit of the staircase. Small holes dotted everywhere allowed people to peer out into the light. It was quite a view.

Hello Giant Jesus

After popping out of Giant Jesus I glanced to my left and spotted another oversized cable car queue. Sighing, I glanced to my right towards the 2000 steps I’d laboured my way up earlier and began to make my descent. The sun was now blazing and I had preparations to make for the next leg of my journey, to La Paz.

La Paz was a bit of a mixed bag really. It’s impressively gigantic, it holds some absolutely spectacular views of the Andes and for a Capital city, is surprisingly cheap. On the other hand it is overcrowded, extremely dirty and like many parts of Bolivia, displays varied levels of poverty from the poor to the “I have nothing in the world” poor. Not a pleasant thing to imagine yourself in their overly worn out shoes that’s for sure.

On a lighter note the first contact I had in La Paz was a barber who decided that I was scruffy enough to almost demand that I enter his barber shop for a haircut. It was still only about 7am. I was hungry, sleepy, travel weary from yet another long night bus from Cochabamba, but then I had time to kill before my hostel would let me check-in so I thought “what the hell” and stumbled in. One conversation-less haircut later, it was a quick check in, a breakfast of eggs and rolls on jam and then out to explore. La Paz has a fair few places worth visiting. Two I have now been to. One is ‘Iglesia de San Francisco’, a giant church. The other is ‘Plaza Murillo’. This was slightly more interesting, as it is where the world’s highest seat of Government sits. It’s also a beautiful square to wander around in. If you think Trafalgar Square has many pigeons, try this place!

Flying rats! flying rats everywhere!

As this was another quick pit stop it wasn’t long before I was on the road again. Perhaps I should mention that I had left Potosi with the goal of arriving in Cusco within 7 days for what would be a 3 day tour to Machu Picchu. With this deadline in mind I was keen to keep moving. Of course I couldn’t let this or anything get in the way of the World Cup. With Brazil due to play Germany in the semi final, it indeed seemed fitting that my next stopover would be a little town aptly named ‘Copacabana’.

Located on the shore of the highest lake in the world, ‘Lake Titikaka’, Copacabana is no a bad wee place I suppose. It is very touristy, more so than anywhere else I’ve been to in Bolivia. Lining the long curved beach are around a billion stalls selling ‘trucha’. Trout to you and me. In true Bolivia fashion it seems somebody opened up one and it was followed by another, and then another, and then, well you get the idea. This is very much the case all over the country. If somebody opens a shop selling one particular thing, a whole village of identical shops will open up next door. Need a new light bulb? No problem, just look for light bulb street, where 50 shops will all sell the same crap. Titikaka, to be fair, is well known for it’s trucha, and if you try it, you would quickly taste why! 

Having climbed a giant hill in Cochabamba, it seemed only polite to climb the giant hill in Copacabana. This time however, I failed miserably in locating the steps leading up it. Well, I did find some steps, but after about 30 or so they just sort of evolved from stone into dirt and rocks, then into a steep path, and before I knew it, I was standing amongst long grass and bushes with no Scooby as to where I should go next. “Up I guess”. Oh how a brilliant mind works. So I carried on. I was too high to turn back now, part lost, part exhausted already from the steepness of my ascent, I knew if I turned back I’d end up in in a pub or somewhere, and that was for later. So after much climbing under the punishing sun, over what had fast become a brand new route up this mountain, I reached the summit. Tourists and locals alike casually strolled around, having barely broke sweat from the proper way to get to the top. I wiped the sweat from my brow, downed the last of my warm bottled water and perched myself on the edge of the stone clad viewpoint. What a ridiculous way to get up a hill, but not to worry, I managed it (finding the ridiculous route that is) but it was more than worth all the effort, believe me!

A heck of a climb but a decent view!

It’s all history now, but watching Germany, the team I had backed to lift the World Cup since 2006, and whose domestic league I rate as the best in the world, absolutely tear Brazil limb from limb, whilst having a cold beer next to the beach in Copacabana was pretty sweet as far as sweet days go. Firstly, Bolivia’s Copacabana was the original one. It’s, in my world anyway, the first and therefore the real Copacabana of South America, and that’s where I sat, in a bar watching Brazil.

What was even more fun was the ever enthusiastic German fans that graced the premises. From the first to fifth goal, they were ecstatic, the sixth and seventh were only met with some sort of silent disbelief. How an you celebrate the impossible? Germany were an incredible 7 goals up against Brazil and all these fans could do by this point was to look all around themselves. I think they were convinced that this was some sort of dream, a cruel prank that was soon to end. “Look for the signs that you see in the Matrix” they were thinking. Ripples in the window, cats performing a de ja vu, maybe brick walls appearing out of nowhere or some shifty looking guy wearing a suit and glasses with a curly wire hanging from his ear. As they glanced sideways, upwards, downwards and outwards towards the lake, they saw nothing, not even the poor Brazilians who had left at half time, nope, this shit was real!

With no time to spare I was off again, this time to cross the border into Peru. I have always felt a tad of excitement when crossing a border. Especially into a new country. Whether it’s crossing the African continent, or simply hopping from Scotland to England, it has always been met with a sense of occasion, and this was no different. First, I had to deal with the backward corruption that Bolivia possesses at her borders, (Brits and Irish in the queue were told to pay a fee that was promptly put into the officers pocket). I say officer, corrupt bastard would be more apt! Welcome to South America I guess…

Whilst entering Peru, it was now Wednesday, and I still had a fair trek ahead of me if I was to get to Cusco on time. With two days remaining and many miles ahead, there would be little time to relax. Onwards into Peru, onwards to Machu Picchu!

Peru was certainly greener than Bolivia

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