The past week has been mostly dedicated to visiting La Isla del Sol, the Sun Island, in the middle of the lake, and pay the 5 different tolls on the Inca Trail linking the Island North and South harbours. I nicknamed this island "La Isla del Toll", and the appellation got a certain success among the Copacabana tourist crowd. I hope it will stick. I also notice that the main business in Copacabana was renting paddle boats to La Paz residents during week ends. Hardly the Lake Titicaca I was dreaming of during my childhood.
After resting for a week in Copacabana, Bolivia, not the one in Rio, but the village on the shores of lake Titicaca. I decided that I had enough, and started to open the "Book", aka the Lonely Planet, to weight my options.
Back to the Book. My first option is to go by foot to the border [5km], then take a bus on the Peruvian side. The second option is to to take a tourist boat direct to Puno, the Peruvian regional capital.
The catch is that Puno region is an Aymara region, the Indian tribe of Bolivian President Evo Morales. And Aymaras are famous for being restless. Aymaras leaders decided to put the whole region in total rebellion against the Peruvian government, 1 month before the Peruvian presidential election.
The reason being, not the elections at all according to Aymaras I talked to, but a protest against a mining project by a Canadian company.
Due to violences on the Peruvian side, including a few deaths, destruction of roads, trucks and governement property, the border has been closed.
Copacabana tourism hawks immediately saw this as an opportunity and put the boat trip to Puno, the only city on the Peruvian side with an "appearance" of order, at 50US$, one way .
Of course, I took the risk to cross the border. As you'll see, it was rather risky.
Between COPACABANA, Bolivia and PUNO, Peru, I have passed through a region in full rebellion, it looked like Chiapas in Mexico, during the civil war.
This should be a good story for the foreign media, but I was surprised that only local media were involved, and that no european intellectual have asked to meet the local equivalent of the Subcomandante Marcos: indigenous protest leader Walter Aduviri.
The whole crossing was incredible, I've been the only traveler attempting the crossing this day. As the border offices on both sides were closed, I got no immigration stamps and got some problems later with the Peruvian immigration police, but it was worth it.
After walking 2 hours in a deserted road covered with large stones. I met a group of sitting people, all Aymaras, looking hostile. With my best smile [as a rule, Aymaras seldom smile], I asked them how to go to Puno. They told me to go back to Bolivia!
I started to sit down, eat a few things with them, wasting an hour, when suddenly a truck appeared in the distance. In the ensuing chaos, roughly, half of the "trade-union" group was in favor of me taking the truck, and half of them against. I heard some of them saying: "no tourist". I started to explain that I was a traveler, not a tourist [see fascinating discussion on the subject here], but gave up and jumped in the truck.
It took me 7 hours to do 150 km through smoke and stone barrages, with picket lines every 500m
I had to "pay" my passage in a truck full of strikers by removing hundreds of stones that blocked the road. and singing in choir:
"Aymara (Indian) unidos, jamas seran vencidos"
"viva el paro"
"Viva la lucha"
I murmured softly: "viva la ducha" (shower), as i was feeling exhausted and at the end, I even shouted "viva la trucha" (trout) as I was hungry. Exhausted too, my companions didn't have the courage to kick me out.
It was crazy but we made it!!!!
During this trip, I had ample time to try to know my unsmiling neighbours, and their leader, Jorge [see pic]. Spotting many walls covered with elections slogans, I asked them for whom they will vote, Ollanta Humala, brother of a famous indigenous terrorist or Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the late dictator. All said: For Ollanta, of course! We will never vote for a woman, and moreover a foreigner! [Keiko is Peruvian and born in Peru, but with Japanese ancestors]. All over South America, I noticed, politicians are called by they given names, as if they were close friends.
The following day, I was imagining in my exhausted mind that I would take an organized lake tour to rest a bit, and that with a bit of luck, I will be able to spend a night on a famous TITICACA floating island. I was only dreaming.
It was pitch dark, the city was in fire, electricity cut, all transports have been destroyed by the rebels. I saw police cars burning, some rebels even brandishing the Bolivian flag! Later, I would tell this story to friends in Lima, they would not believe me.
After hours of wandering through endless and sometimes violent demonstrations, where strikers were running & shouting, not walking, I found a hotel and a bed to sleep straight away.
The day after, I tried to take a boat to the islands, but the strikers managed to close the harbour, bad for Copacabana business I thought, so I couldn't even rest as planned. Lets go out of here, I thought. But still no transport, in fact, I will have to repeat the same exhausting scenario as the day before, just to reach Cuzco and Macchu Picchu!
Later in the day, I saw only one policeman, hidden in the immigration office, near la Plaza de Armas. I asked him how to get the entry stamp. In return, he asked me how I came, and I told him. Oh, he replied, they made you pay a 100 US$ "rebel fine" I guess, that's what "they" do to tourists. No I said, I paid not one dollar, but they put me to work, they were almost "friendly", I said. I saw incredulity in his eyes, and I was curious to know, what "they" do to policemen, but didn't ask, he looked already desperate enough....He gave me my stamp.
Trekking Santa Cruz (Peru). June 2011.
Allow 4 days/3 nights (120 US$ all included) for this VERY popular trek , 1 night away by bus from Lima
It is an easy way to discover the Andes glaciers, its condors and donkeys....