November 7, 2005
Today I headed out of Copacabana with Matthieu and Julien from France, who I had met on my two-day island tour around Puno. We rode on a small bus with only tourists. This was not the type of luxury bus to which I had become accustomed in Peru; our luggage had to be put on top. At least nobody had to stand, which is the norm in Peru.
After riding the bus for an hour, we reached the ferry. I had been told about the ferry when I bought my bus ticket. We had to cross the lake to get to La Paz, so the bus would have to be loaded onto a boat to make the crossing. I had pictured something like what I had ridden across the Irish sea a few years back: a huge ship that could carry hundreds of buses and thousands of people. Man, was I ever wrong. When the bus stopped at the lake, I couldn't believe my eyes. The "ferry" was just a flat boat barely big enough to carry the bus, let alone any people. The bus drove forcefully onto the boat, causing it to disembark and causing the military that was overseeing the operation to scramble to jump onto it. I was told that there was an accident a few years back, so the passengers had to be taken across separately. Somehow, I still didn't feel too safe riding across the lake in a tiny, overcrowded boat powered by a 55 horsepower motor.
When the bus and its passengers all made it safely to the other side, we began our two-hour journey to La Paz, Bolivia's biggest city and current capital. When we were almost there, the bus driver stopped to let us take pictures of the city from above. La Paz is the world's highest capital at over 3800 meters, and looking onto it from even higher up, it actually looked rather serene. There didn't seem to be much personality to it, but it still seemed like a good place to spend a few days. I would soon find out how silly that thought was.
As soon as I got off the bus in the center of the city, I noticed how polluted it was. The car exhaust was almost unbearable, garbage was laying all over the place, and everything smelled bad. It turned out that the city was also very dangerous.
As Julien, Matthieu, and I walked to try to find a hostel, a police officer insisted on accompanying us. When we got to the hostel, she gave us a lecture for ten minutes about how we should never walk alone, never carry anything valuable with us, and basically never leave the hostel because the whole city was too dangerous to see. When I suggested that I would take a taxi instead of walking, which I thought was a good piece of advice, she gasped in horror. She said I should always write down the number of the cab, never get into a cab that already had passengers, and never allow more passengers to join me or I would surely be murdered. I had broken all of these rules in the more laid-back cities I had visited, so this was a big change of pace for me. Suddenly, I wanted to get out of La Paz as soon as possible.
It turned out that several other people from my bus were trying to score rooms in the same hostel. After some haggling, Diego, from Argentina, talked the owner into a group discount of 30 Bolivianos(about $4) each per night. Once we were settled in, we all decided to get dinner together.
One of the people in the group was Lloyd, from Thunder Bay, Canada. He wasn't afraid to take his camera out for all to see in the middle of the street and take lots of pictures. Every five minutes, somebody would remind him to hide his camera, but he kept taking pictures anyway. I thought he was crazy at the time, but later he showed me his results. Many of the pictures of Puno and La Paz on this website were actually shot by him.
On the way to dinner, we passed the witch's market. The main item for sale was llama fetus, but there were also plenty of other folk remedies available. Everything was clearly displayed for all to see, and none of the locals reacted with any degree of surprise upon seeing any of it. Clearly, we weren't in Peru anymore.
Eleven of us went out to dinner together. Between us, we represented six countries: France, Argentina, USA, Singapore, Peru, and Canada. We also represented a wide range of ages: 25 to 70. It seems like a diverse group, but traveling brings together people from all walks of life.
Later at night, I basically just socialized with several people at my hostel. One guy had just bought two new guitars for less than $100. He was so excited at the great deal he had gotten that he played for us the whole night. It was a bit difficult for me to communicate with others, though, because of the massive amount of French people who were there. I think I'll need to learn some French at some point. I've already missed out on many conversations because I don't know the language.