|Taquile Island, Lake Titicaca|
The next day we returned to Puno after a bit more island hopping. The strikes were in full force by the time we got back with protesters marching through the street, breaking bank windows all over town (another way to get the government's attention), and forming a full out mob in the main plaza. It made us a bit nervous, not because we thought they would turn violent, but because we had places to go dammit! Luckily we met the world's best 'travel agent', a.k.a. lady who lurks around the bus depot and smuggles tourists across the border. Now this may sound shady, but I swear to God she was the best damn person I've ever had working for me. Not only did she get us where we needed to go, but she came to our hotel room to give us minute to minute updates, scoured town looking for us when she needed to inform us of an urgent change (we were eating dinner, she tracked us down in a restaurant, in a town of over 100,000 I might add!), and was even there in the morning to make sure we were up and let us know our buses were going. She should win some sort of award for customer service, this woman. If you ever meet Betty in the Puno bus terminal, say 'yes' to whatever she tells you, and give her a hug from Jess, Hayley, and Jordan.
And so we entered into Bolivia. One of South America's poorest nations, it is bone dry, chilly, and so high in elevation half the country is oxygen starved. There's a lush tropical rainforest too, apparently, but I didn't go there, so it's the cold desolation that remains fresh in my mind. Bolivians haven't quite figured out hospitality in the way that Peruvians have. Oh sure, they'll happily take your money, show you around, feed you maybe, but they're not going to inconvienience themselves by pretending to actually like you. I guess if I lived in such a thin aired, parched wasteland like they did, I'd be a little grumpy too.
|On the salt flats|
Our guides were as lovely as most Bolivians and didn't bother to introduce themselves when they picked us up in their 4x4. To be honest, I'm not even sure they said hello. We were warned that they would not speak English, we were not warned they were going pretend that there wasn't six of us crammed into their back seat. And crammed we were. The first three seats were ok, but the trunk seats were made for Bolivians, a.k.a. for someone 4 feet tall. Since all of us towered far above that, the unlucky 3 whose turn it was in the back got so crunched their knees were practically in their armpits. Comfy. The 4 foot tall guide/cook rode comfortably in shot gun, the ENITRE 3 days. Bitch. Maybe it was the miserable bus ride, or the grumpy guides, the shit seats, or perhaps the altitude, but I felt ill the entire tour to differing degrees of severity. The first night I got heart burn that radiated burning up my esophagus until I puked, and this has never happened before in my life. As this was not a commonly occurring problem for me I had nothing to treat it. I rummaged through my bag looking for something, anything to help. Sure that a hole was about to burn through my chest, I desperately swallowed globs of calcium enhanced toothpaste. Miraculously, it helped. Still, I barely slept for the second night in a row and I chugged 'antiacido', purchased at the hospital the next day, for the rest of the trip. I generally felt exhausted, queasy, stuffed up, disgruntled. And it was fucking cold! Wind chill of minus a bajillion, I swear. Why the hell do I sign up for this shit, I wondered, irritated. I just wanted a warm bed, a good movie, and 5 gallons of hot chocolate. I did my best to hide it and felt bad for Hayley as I feared she was with me at the unfortunate moment I was coming down with a bad case of travel burn out. On the positive side, my lack of appetite meant that I didn't have to worry about not liking the food - I wasn't going to eat it regardless.