The Three-Day Bus Marathon

After spending a couple days in Trinidad, we decided that the whole jungle adventure sounded a lot better than it actually turned out to be.  After spending over a week to get away from it all, we found ourselves again at the bus station looking for the fastest way back to civilization.  We wanted to get straight back to La Paz from where it’s a quick jump back to Perú and new and exciting things.  This turned out to be harder than expected.  There are three roads in and out of Trinidad.  One heads north to the Brazilian border, a journey of unknown hours that drops you off in the middle of the jungle.  The second is the road to La Paz.  This road is about a two days’ journey and at the time of our inquiries was passable only by 4×4 since it is destroyed every rainy season.  The third highway is the main way in, but involves backtracking all the way to Santa Cruz, an overnight trip, and then taking another overnighter to La Paz from there.  After some research, the 3rd option, though boring and backtracking, turned out to be the shorter, cheaper, and easier adventure.  So we decided to come back later that night and try to pick up a cheap ticket for the next day.

We had noticed the hundreds of motorcycles in the center of Trinidad, blocking up the main square, and sure enough when we got to the bus station the news was bad.  “No hay bus a Santa Cruz.” “Mañana?” we asked.  “No sé.” The Bolivians were again taking up their favorite hobby which is protesting things by blocking the main roads with rocks and angry mobs.  We had encountered these protests before while en route from Coroico to La Paz.  Our van left us off at the edge of the blockage and we had to walk 4km through lines of boulders placed every block or so.  The protesters were angry about that cost of minivan rides or something, but we were super annoyed because we had never had to walk that far with all of our stuff before.  On the La Paz side of the blockade, the police were showing up armed with huge bottles of pepper spray and the protestors were starting to get loud.  We jumped into the first taxi we found and were happy to be out of that mess.

So, after a night of not knowing how long we would have to endure Trinidad, we walked back to the bus station and were happy to hear that we would be able to take a bus to Santa Cruz (50 Bs each) that night.  So we stashed our big backs and took the cameras, journals, and books to the park where we sat all day waiting for our night bus.  These days sitting around are sometimes nice times to catch up on writing, but after a few hours we are usually pretty bored.  Usually we end up getting ice cream, and sometimes a beer helps to pass the time.  Our bus left at 7pm so we arrived at the terminal the usual 30 minutes before, and the bus left the usual one hour late.  We were tired and the seats reclined, so as soon as we were on the smooth road, we feel right asleep.

At 5:30am we woke in Santa Cruz, feeling some deja vu.  The Santa Cruz bus terminal is the hub that we have spent the most time in this entire trip and we hate it.  But they do sell good cheesy bread which made a nice breakfast.  We were able to get right on a bus to Cochabamba (50 Bs each) after waiting less than an hour and fell right back to sleep.  When I woke we were still in the jungle, but the mountains were visible on the horizon which brought some hope that we might actually make it.  But this bus was super-slow!  We had hoped to make it to La Paz in a perfect 24 hours after leaving Trini, but found ourselves only in Cochabamba at the 24 hour mark.  The thought occurred that we could get a hostel and sleep for a night, but then we found a cheap ticket for a 10pm to La Paz (35 Bs each) putting us in the capital bright and early.  So we bought it and wandered across the street from the terminal to indulge in some of the best street food we have found in South America.  Good, cheap food always helps to cheer us up.

We woke at dawn with the lights of La Paz shinning below us. It was COLD, 0 degrees C read the sign, 5:30 am.  By now we were pretty much braindead as we sat in the terminal, feet going numb.  Eventually we decided that the best and cheapest route was to take the 8:30am bus to Copacabana (25 Bs each), which we did, where we ate a quick lunch then bought a ticket all the way to Arequipa (100 Bs each) on a bus that changed in Puno.  The ticket vendor proclaimed that it was eight hours to Arequipa putting us at our final destination at 9pm.  We had the fastest border crossing ever and but due to slow going and some more protests on the road, we didn’t find ourselves in Puno (where we had to change buses) until 4:30pm.  Getting into the second biggest city in Perú (Arequipa) at midnight didn’t sound like the best of plans, so we decided to end the marathon, switch our onward ticket, sleep in a bed, then continue at 8am.

So finally, the next day, we completed our trek to Arequipa at around 3pm.  That puts the total at 58 hours riding on a bus or waiting in bus terminals (after subtracting time spent in Puno).  This was the biggest bus marathon we have had or (hopefully) will ever have this entire trip.  Was it worth it?  Yes, because we are back in Perú which seems like a first world country after so long in Bolivia.  Yes, we enjoyed the fact that Bolivia is so underdeveloped, but after the extreme conditions of our time in the jungle, it was starting to get to us.  After such a crazy bus marathon, a few days rest in a beautiful and modern city were exactly what we needed.

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Peru’s Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Islands and Taquile Island

Puno is a great base for exploring some of Lake Titicaca‘s amazing islands on the Peru side, including the Floating Islands and Taquile Island.  We originally wanted to spend a night on one of the islands but it didn’t work out with our schedule.  Instead we opted for the more common day tour (40 Soles=$15, not including lunch), worried that it might be too cheesy and touristy for us.  While it was popular and touristy, it was for good reason and we still loved it!  The magical islands are just too cool to not enchant all who visit!

We left Puno’s dock around 7:30am in a group of 25 in a slow boat that thankfully had heating and comfy seats.  After about 30 minutes we arrived at the famous Islas Flotatantes, or Floating Islands.  These are exactly what they sound like…islands that are floating on the lake surface!  They were built by the Uros people several hundred years ago in an attempt by the tribe to isolate themselves from other cultures (kind of like the Amish).  The islands are made by lashing together a bunch of totora reed roots, and then layering cut totora reeds over and over again on top.  The islands are about 2.5 meters thick and they have to add a new layer of reeds every two weeks!  The ground kind of squishes when you walk on it and you can feel the motion of the water.  In all there are about 70 floating islands clustered together, each with five or six families living in one-room houses, also made of reeds.

Peru's Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Villages
One floating island and one of their awesome ceremonial boats.

The residents of the Floating Islands we visited are totally dependent on tourism–they receive visits from the boat tours every day (making money from the tour companies) and also sell handcrafts to the tourists.  It made me happy to know, however, that there is another group of Uros on other floating islands further out on the lake who are still living traditionally, untouched by tourism.

Peru's Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Villages
Uros woman showing off a tapestry she made.

At our stop on one floating islands we watched a demonstration of how the islands are built, looked inside one of the houses, looked at the handicrafts for sale, and learned more about the Uros culture.  A couple more interesting tidbits:

The Floating Islands in Peru are usually staked because “we don’t want to float to Bolivia without passports,” we were told.  However, for certain events which require more space, such as weddings and football (soccer) games, the people will push two or more islands together!

Peru's Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Villages
One of the houses on the floating island.

Titicaca is .08% salt.  Our guide blamed the salty water for the Uros women being “a little bit round.”  He said this out loud in English and then whispered it in Spanish so they wouldn’t hear him!

Peru's Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Villages
Row row row your boat.

At the end of our time on the floating island most of the group took off in one of the crazy boats for 5 Soles extra.  Zach and I opted not to, and we were glad we did because we ended up getting to talk to some of the Uros more casually.  One lady even gave us some reeds to eat after we saw her munching on them and asked to try.  She said they were “muy dulce” (very sweet) but after trying them and finding they tasted like nothing but water I felt bad for her for probably never trying any real desserts!

Next we took off on a three-hour trip to the center of the lake to Isla Taquile.  Good naptime with the noise and vibration of the boat!!!  Taquile is a real island (not floating) inhabited by a group of Aymara people.  We got off the boat and walked 400 meters uphill on a beautiful stone path.  Others in our group were struggling with the walk (remember Titicaca is at 4000 meters altitude!) but we charged up the hill, thankful for our Inca Trail training and one month of acclimatization in Cuzco.  The views of the lake from the main plaza were stunning.  Isla Taquile is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the intricate traditional knitting done by both the men and women.  We browsed through knitting museum and shop, full of amazing hats, gloves, scarves, and sweaters, but only bought seven cool little bracelets for 7 Soles ($2) from some kids.  Knitting and clothing is obviously a huge part of the Taquile culture.  Everywhere we went kids and old people were spinning thread on spools or knitting something.  Their beautiful handmade clothing also has cultural meaning: men whose hats are all colored are married while men whose hats are white on top are single.  Likewise, women who wear dark clothes are married and those who wear bright clothes are available.  The kids of different ages even wear different colored hats.

Peru's Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Villages
Lake Titicaca from Taquile’s main square

Walking around the narrow stone streets of Taquile was so refreshing-no cars, no pollution, and gorgeous turquoise blue lake in every direction!  After lunch we continued walking across the island looking at the simple houses and hills terraced with stone walls for farming.  We got to the other side of the island and walked down 100-ish steps to another dock to our boat.  Three hours back to Puno had us snoring away again.

Peru's Lake Titicaca Islands: Floating Villages
We had to pay this man 1 Sole to take his picture. Then he had his eyes closed. Still a great face.

Despite the inundation of tourism, I was impressed with how authentic the island cultures of Titicaca seemed.  Between the craziness of the floating islands and the gorgeous tranquility of Taquile, the island tour was downright magical.

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Coca Museum – The Quechua Culture in Puno, Peru

We had some time to kill so we decided to stop by the Coca Museum (Museo de la Coca) in downtown Puno, Peru.  Once through the front door, we made our way up a flight of stairs and into the museum.  There were three rooms, one like a gift shop where you paid the 5 Sole entrance fee, one full of pictures and information on the history of coca and how it has affected the culture of the surrounding areas, and the third dedicated to traditional dancing and dress.  We started in the third room, surrounded by crazy and colorful dancing costumes.  They played a short documentary for us, in English, explaining the different dances and what they mean.  After the movie, we got to try on some costumes!

Coca MuseumCoca Museum

Well worth the 5 Soles (under $2) just to play dress up, the Coca Museum was informative and interesting.  Did you know that coca leaves have more protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin A than corn, wheat, rice, barley, quinuoa, or yucca?  It’s too bad people have to go and do bad things with an amazing plant.  To close, here’s a quote displayed at the museum that proved chillingly prophetic:Coca Museum

Enjoy this post about the Coca Museum in Puno, Peru? Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and our subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

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