jueves, 17 de diciembre de 2009

Arequipa Arequipa!

It is now summer time and there is finally sun in Lima!! To celebrate the end of classes Elly and I took a 10 day trip to Arequipa, Puno, Lake Titicaca and La Paz, Bolivia. What a crazy and unforgettable south american adventure! We left from Lima at 8:30 at night taking a taxi to the bus station where we found out that we were being upgraded to the "Exclusivo" bus, meaning that instead of having a seat that reclines only 160 degrees, we would be enjoying a 180 degree reclining "semi bed." Needless to say we did not put up too much of a fuss about having to wait an extra 45 minutes to board our bus to Arequipa... we decided we were ok with it.

After the 15 hour bus ride, for most of which we were sound asleep in our ehem.. beds.. we arrived in la ciudad blanca: the white city of Arequipa. We spent a couple of days walking around the beautiful city enjoying it's famous queso helado (iced cheese), alfajores - cookies filled with manjar blanco - a kind of caramel like goo, and alpaca textiles galore.

Next stop was Puno, not the most beautiful city in Peru but home to the breathtaking Lake Titicaca at 3,812 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level - the highest navigable lake in the world.

On the lake are the floating islands made from reeds where we made a pit stop and met the president of the island and got to ride in their "Mercedes Benz" reed boat.

I decided to have a go at rowing the boat and found it more difficult than I had anticipated. I guess that is to be expected when the experienced driver decides to take a nap on the job. He was making me do all the work!

Here is a cute little girl - probably 7 or so, rowing her boat to school.

On our way to the island of Taquile soaking up the sun on the top of the boat.

The island of Taquile is the biggest island in the lake. The sights were incredible but the island has become completely over taken by tourists. Every local person that we saw had in their hands a spindle and thread making all kinds of tourist merchandise from hats, gloves and ski headbands to bags and belts. I had read about the tourism industry on this same island in one of my classes this semester which made the experience all the more interesting yet at the same time all the more uncomfortable. When tourists first started coming to the island the only way to access it was on the boats of the islanders themselves. Since the boats were so slow and not especially comfortable it was necessary for the tourists to spend the night in the homes of the locals which offered a substantial profit to those who opened their homes to foreigners. Now the people of Puno have opened up their own small businesses for tourists, offering trips in quick speed boats which allow tourists to visit the island for a few hours and return to Puno in the same day. Although this is much more convenient for the tourists who have set aside only a day or so in Puno (like us), this has really impacted the lives of the people who live on the island.

Crossing into Bolivia was a whole new adventure. Leaving Puno we hopped on a mini bus which would take us to the border. Nearly all of the people on the bus were dressed in traditional clothing and inspected us - two giggly gringas - as we marched to the back of the bus with our backpacks and tomato and avocado sandwiches, excited to get another stamp in our passports. When we reached the end of Peru, we hopped out of the bus and walked across the border to Bolivia... just far enough in to enter the customs office.

Now, Elly, being a citizen of Switzerland, only gets to talk to one person at the border of Peru and Bolivia. In contrast, I, as a north American, get to talk with several. It turns out that relations between United States of America and Bolivia are a bit shakey and as a result, Bolivia requires North Americans to jump through lots of hoops in order to enter their country... as well as pay a fine of 135 dollars. So instead of getting only one new stamp on my passport, I now have a full page of stickers, stamps and signatures... courtesy of the 4 Bolivians who assisted me in crossing into their country.

All of this craziness was well worth the time spent at the border as Bolivia I think is one of themost beautiful and exciting countries I have visited. It is located in a canyon which is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and giant red rocks used to construct brick buildings

THIS would be illegal in the U.S.... I think.
The beautiful plaza near our hostal where Elly and I spent the sunset watching the kids play chase with the pigeons.

Here is me. Again at the border of Peru and Bolivia. Not happy to be leaving the best trip thus far but ready to put on a clean change of clothes.

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