Riding around Lake Titicaca and into Bolivia

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We rode from Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia mostly along Lake Titicaca where the high-altitude lake reflected silver sunlight off the deep blue-green water. During the ride we saw villages harvesting reeds to make into mats, individuals making fishing nets, groups of people preparing the earth for the planting of potatoes, with mostly human power or oxen, but a few had the benefit of using tractors. The first night out of Puno, we outraced a tremendous storm and dove for cover in Ilave after riding 35 beautiful, flat miles. It was so good to be in a hotel room, dry, and safe from the blasting winds and pounding rain which lasted for most of the late afternoon and evening. The next day when we awoke the sun was shinning and the skies were clear. We rode another 49 miles enjoying vast open altiplano which was a wide open valley of dry flat fields. The closer we got to the Bolivian border the more we saw sheep and llamas grazing in the open valley. We even stopped for a photo shoot at the market in Juli where the livestock market was full of sheep and llamas. I saw live sheep hauled up on to the roofs of mini buses and lashed down. I watched as they stuffed live llamas inside the buses. I found it amusing to see a big bunch of live giant sheep on top of a van and a heads of llama sticking out an open window as the buses called colectivos drove past us. I was glad I was not one of those animals.

We stopped for the night in the last town in Peru called Yunguyo before we crossed into Bolivia. To our delight the town was celebrating the fiesta of its patron saint. Over twenty groups paraded around the town, playing incredible Andean music complete with panpipes, traditional folklore dancer in elaborate costumes and followed by marching bands. All the groups were from this one town and they all must have been practicing all year. The main plaza had bleachers for the spectators and the music went on for 4 days. While we were there the music continued all night and a new parade started at 6:00 in the morning complete with many marching band and dancers. Women and men, danced and drank beer during this celebration which I found ode because I have not seen alot of women drinking in South America. The young teenagers danced and played their instruments with passion and celebrated immense intensity.

Entering Bolivia was calm for the most part. I rode past the immigration check-in point by mistake. I was an illegal in Bolivia. When I passed all the houses, business, waiting taxis and was riding toward the countryside, alone without Randy, I figured I had missed a turn and went back to check in. One immigrations officer was keeping an eye on me. I found Randy waiting with our paper work and the astute officer. When we paid our $135 dollars each and turned in all the paper work, the man stamped our passport and declared that now we were no longer illegals.

After a short 5-mile ride, we entered into the lovely town of Copacabana. The weather was perfect, with a strong warming sun and the warming affects of the lake. The town has a huge, absolutely huge Moorish style church, dedicated to the Virgen of Copacabana. Why a small town would have such a wondrous church is very puzzling, but it does create a center master piece of this sleepy town.

We stayed in the Hotel Sonia, which I highly recommend for the budget minded traveler who wants TV, hot water, sunny rooms, good beds and a 5th floor terrace with extraordinary view. I visited a dozen hotels in Copacabana and most are either very expensive or very run down. Hotel Sonia is thumbs up in my book.

After two nights stay in Copacabana, we pedaled the remaining two days to La Paz. We arrived on Sunday which is the best day to ride into a huge city of over one million two hundred people. We took the autopista down to the center of town. The drop of 600 meters snaked down a few kilometers and took us from 4100 meters to 3500 meters into the historic center of town. Even though the sign on the highway said bicycles prohibited, the toll gate attendant motioned us down the freeway. There was mammoth shoulder which I rode down on. Because of some chunks of concrete and other missing parts, I cautiously made my way down to the San Francisco plaza, while Randy whizzed down in the traffic lane, going as fast as the all the cars and buses. Luckily there was little traffic and we both entered into La Paz fairly relaxed.

The main reason we went to La Paz was to have our bike front shocks serviced at Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, a bike tour group that specializes in the taking people down the most dangerous road in the world. My shock had been losing all the air every day. We would pump it up and at the end of the day it would be flat. Randy´s no longer had any oil. We had contacted them by email a week earlier via the Internet and they said they could work on our Fox shox, F80 rl shocks and had the parts in house.

Well dear readers, we were utterly amazed with this shop. We have not seen such a well run, mammoth, well qualified technicians, well stocked shop since forever. They were familiar with our shocks and knew what the potential problems were. If we had a ruptured chamber we were screwed. But if it was worn washers and gaskets we where in luck. The gamble was going to cost a total of $135 dollars for both bikes. Two days later we got the news. The gamble paid off. Our bikes were as good as new with replaced gaskets, two special washers and new reservoirs of oil.

While we waited, we took care of a couple of medical issues. I had my teeth cleaned at periodontist and got new veneer on my front top 6 teeth to fill on some ugly spaces. A special German-made ceramic was used. In Bolivia health care costs a fraction of what it costs in the United States. The dentist explained that since Bolivia is such a poor country that ceramic material was bought at reduced price of $35 but in the United States the same product would cost $400. After three visits and about 6 hours in the chair, I now have a new smile which I am very happy with.

Randy got his back looked at -- it's been bothering him for over a year. We walked into a clinic to make an appointment with a orthopedic trauma specialist. Well, no appointments was needed. Dr Antonio saw him immediately, examined him, sent him down the hall for an MRI, and read the imagery, and diagnosed his problem in less than two hours. Get this, the bill was $150, including doctor, MRI, and all. The diagnosis is that he has inflamed nerves in his lower back. To fix this, a is wearing an elastic custom made wrap for 2 weeks and he is to lay off biking for a couple of weeks. Basically the doctor says it's an overuse injury -- too much biking.

So with this in mind, we have decided to take a bus to Salar de Unyni and visit the salt flats and continue via bus to the Argentine border, then ride to Salta, Argentina and take a break until we are revitalized and are inspired to ride on.

We have stayed in La Paz for one week now and are very impressed with this grand city of many services, rich in culture, great Internet, and anything you could ever want. We have attended fabulous folklore performance at the Municipal Theater, La Paz football game against Santa Cruz, visited museums, watched hours of parades with traditional customs and music, walked hours after hours exploring the many streets filled with open air markets, business districts, plazas and people of all walks of life. It has been a delight, and today we move on. Hopefully- A huge march has arrived in town today. Thousands of camposinos from all of the country have marched on La Paz to protest their poverty and demand a change to the constitution. It seems the main issue is the need for land reform.The contrast between the rich and the poor is astonishing. The poor live without clean water, electricity, access to health care, food prices have sky rocketed. They need a change and they are coming to let President Evo (their main hero) and the current government know.

Our bus leaves tonight, I hope.