After a wonderful weekend. It started on Thursday evening with my first experience of a long-distance night bus journey. As I expected, I didn't sleep much, but on the whole it was pretty comfortable (which is more than can be said for the return - see below). Puno, the major Peruvian town on Lake Titicaca, is an uninspiring, dirty place with an unfinished look. However, it did give us a beautiful and silent sunrise over the lake.
Crossing the Bolivian border posed no problems, at least for the Europeans among us. Americans have to pay $135 just to get in (apparently Evo's revenge for what Bolivians have to pay to get into the US). The ticket collector on our bus offered us a sort of package, including a hotel, return to Cusco on Sunday, and boats to the Isla del Sol. Since this was what we wanted anyway, we accepted to avoid hassle for ourselves. There is always a degree of concern when going for this kind of deal, but in the end it worked out fine. I was however glad that the two Americans didn't accept his offer to get them across the border more cheaply (perfectly legally, of course!).
Copacabana is a very small, quiet Bolivian town in which, although touristy by Bolivian standards, gringos are a definite minority. The non-residents were mostly other Bolivians or South Americans - it has a local seaside resort feel (complete with pedalos). And the lake is so enormous it does feel like the sea.
The relief at escaping from touristy Cusco was offset by the fact that there was considerably more begging, more visible poverty here. The town has a stunning white Moorish cathedral, in whose courtyard the old and infirm sit and stretch out their hands. It was quite upsetting to see. Things were cheaper here too, including the food. I had trout from the lake twice, and it was equally delicious both times.
On Saturday, we got a boat to the Isla del Sol. This is supposedly the birthplace of the Sun and the first Incas, and given the heat that day, it was easy to believe. The island itself looks incredibly similar to southern Italy or Greece - bleached rocks, shrubs, white sandy beaches. We got off at the north end, visited the Inca ruins, then walked three hours to catch the boat home in the south. The walk was very beautiful, though the fact that the path went right over the top of all the hills was a bit frustrating. No one feels very fit at 4000m.
That evening, there was the most enormous party in Copacabana. I think it was due to a combination of labour day, and the feast of a saint - in any case, it resulted in brass music, enormous glittering costumes and drunken dancing well into Sunday morning. I was very impressed by the Bolivian stamina. There was a slightly more poignant moment when a (drunk) old woman in traditional dress came up to me and said "No quiero tu dinero! (I don't want your money!)" An insight into resentment of the foreigners? Who knows. It was an interesting comment anyway.
As I mentioned above, the bus back to Cusco was not much fun. In fact, it was not very different from the ones we get in the Sacred Valley (except we spent 7 hours on it, not 1). Still, when you're paying about 6 pounds for the journey, I don't feel you have much right to complain. It was certainly an authentic Peruvian experience, too, summed up by the box of squawking chickens on the roof.
After all that adventure, it's back to the normality of teaching. Which is not that normal here, to be honest, but I will write more about it another time.
Ciao for now - my photos are at http://picasaweb.google.com/paulmerchant1
I'll put the Bolivia ones up soon.