Route: Puno – Yunguyo (close to Bolivia border) – Copacabana – Isla de Sol – La Paz
Having spent a couple of rest days in Puno trying to get rid of a nasty cold we picked up we set off on a sunny day. Our hope was to cycle at least 100KM to get close to the Bolivian border. Not long into our cycle we stumbled across two fellow cyclists heading north. They were an older couple from France who were on a four month trip in South America. We chatted merrily for 15 minutes before saying our farewells – not before they offered to let us stay in their house in the South of France should we ever be going that way. Seed planted!
Traffic note: Up until this point in the trip we hadn’t many issues with crazy drivers, but we noticed a huge difference with the drivers on this stretch. Perhaps it’s due to the road being a nice, long flat but they didn’t give us much room as they sped past, and most blared their horns at us. Cycling the North side of the lake has less traffic, but dirt roads. Slower, but more peaceful. Maybe next time!
We had a beautiful view of the lake from our camp spot that night and a local farmer was very friendly and accommodating letting us pitch our tents on his land. Olivia got friendly with the livestock including a pig and a small bull. (Olivia’s input: full size bull actually!!) The bull seemed to enjoy being petted at first but after a few seconds decided to head-butt Olivia, knocking her to the ground. Billy and I were both in stitches of laugher once we determined she was ok.
The border crossing from Peru to Bolivia proved to be slightly more difficult than any of us had anticipated. First of all, Billy had over stayed his Visa by three days and had to pay a $3 fine. The problem was he had to cycle back 5KM to the local bank to pay it and also had to photocopy various documents, something the rather unhelpful immigration officer didn’t tell him until he had already come back from the town with the payment slip.
Olivia had to pay $135 to enter Bolivia – It’s free for UK and Irish passport holders. The immigration officer on the Bolivian side of the border was also being slightly picky and difficult. A few of the bank notes she had had a dot and some slight tears in them and at first he wasn’t going to take them. Thankfully, Olivia managed to sweet talk him round and it wasn’t long before Billy got through immigration control and we were on our way to Copacabana.
We were lucky to find a boat that was going to Isla Del Sol that evening (30 Bolivianos, £3 per person) – an Island in Lake Titicaca which is the birthplace of the Sun in Inca mythology. On the North side of the island we were excited to see many tents set up along the beach. However, shortly after unpacking our bikes, our expression of “wow, what an amazing place to camp” soon turned to “oh no, this is the worst camp spot we have ever chosen”. Once the local children/teens spotted our bikes they were constantly around them asking to take them for a ride – The older teenagers even went as far as to say they would just take them. This prompted us to u-lock them to a light post and strip everything off them – including the front wheel. It also meant that I had a horrible nights sleep worrying about them being stolen. Billy went even further than us by sleeping with his bike in his tent and locking his tent zippers closed on the inside. First thing in the morning, they were back, sitting outside our tents again and begging to use our bikes. We finally caved and spent the next couple hours supervising them ride Liv’s bike in circles on the one strip of pavement on the island.
Olivia found a comfortable, cheap place to stay (£2 per night each) while I took my stint supervising the kids using her bike. After safely storing all our gear we had a much more pleasant and enjoyable time on the Island – mostly thanks to the fact that we were away from the kids’ continuous pestering and the view we had was amazing. (Olivia’s input: Simon also rigged up the camp shower he brought – its first use on the trip!)
The cycle out of Copacabana was beautiful. It was a steady 10km uphill at a pleasant 2-3% gradient, assisted by some pumping music. The higher we climbed the more beautiful the scenery got. The only negative was my second flat tire of the trip – I also got one the next day probably from pinching the tube when I changed it – and I managed to fall over when stopping twice, hopefully there won’t be many more of either in the coming days.
Our cycle into La Paz was pretty crazy. We stopped off at an Internet cafe to figure out how to get to the ‘Casa de Ciclistas’ (house of cyclists) and headed off in a three bicycle convoy with Olivia in the middle. Our hand signals and shouting at trucks, taxis and pickups worked well and before we knew it we made it into the centre of the La Paz, mainly thanks to Billys GPS phone. La Paz is a beautiful, diverse city and we’re looking forward to spending some time here.