Feb. 27 – Puno to La Paz

2009 March 4
by joe

We both sleep in, and then work to get our bikes out of the dinky cochera at the hostel. We walk to the market, and have a great breakfast of fruit and juice. I buy a couple of alpaca hats. We drive down to the lakeshore for pictures. This is really a lovely town, all built on hills with a beautiful waterfront on Lake Titicaca. We find the way out of town easily, but immediately get diverted for construction, and have to drive around in the town forever before we get back onto the autopista.

It is a fast ride to the border, through a mostly traditional area. Small farms with rock or adobe walls, adobe houses with thatched roofs, lots of traditional dress. Sheep, lama, cows, livestock of all kinds everywhere.

This border is a zoo. Hundreds of people crossing back and forth, on foot and by bicycle taxi. Almost all of the women are in traditional dress. It is a madhouse of traffic on both sides of the border. We have little trouble with the Peru exit requirements, then we start with the Bolivian stuff. Really it is pretty simple, except for the $135 USD we have to pay just for being US citizens! Everyone else gets in free, but not us. Does that tell you something about how Bolivia feels about the US? Once again, they send me out to get photocopies; this time of the stamp they just put into my passport themselves. Being Sunday, it is not an easy matter to find a copy store open, but I manage. Then we go searching for the aduana (customs) building to get the bike permit, of course not at the border itself… we follow the directions given to us, but when we get to the place we cannot believe it is the right place. The windows are smashed and missing, the place looks abandoned, there is no sign. I tentatively push open the broken door, and sure enough, there are two guys sitting inside behind desks. They are actually helpful and friendly, and we get done with all the paperwork fairly quickly – only about 2 hours total! Somewhere along the line I manage to loose a pen I borrowed from Levi, that was a gift from a friend.

Once we clear the border, we are on a very good road and make great time towards La Paz. Until I break down about 10 mile from the city. It is fuel supply/carburetor again, but now the opposite from before; instead of gas not getting to the carb, too much fuel is flowing into the float bowl and choking the engine. I manage to get it running, though poorly, and we limp into La Paz. We actually enter a suburb of La Paz named El Alto (the high), and it is awful. Traffic is unbelievable, and we cannot find a hotel anywhere. It is just nuts! Finally we find a fancy-looking hotel, with parking, and we take it out of desperation. Bellhops in formal uniforms help with our ‘luggage’.

The hotel has a disco on the second floor, and after dinner we stop there for a complimentary drink. It is very weird. Terrible DJ playing mostly American music, and some young people who dance but not well. I down two quick tequila shots to try to get over the crazy ride in. The staff of the place tries their best to push American brand cigarettes on every patron, but we notice that no one is smoking!. It is pretty awful.

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