Posted by: davesnewadventure | October 4, 2007

Nine Days on the Northern Route of Lake Titicaca: Part 2 – The Return to Bolivia

Dave´s New Adventure
Adventures from the South American Continent 4/2007-5/2007

Nine Days on the Northern Route of Lake Titicaca: Part 2 – The Return to Bolivia

The Journey to La Paz, through Lake Titicaca.

I had just two days left on my peruvian tourist visa, and the border town of Tilali lay out of my reach. I parked my bike next to a post. Surrounding me were the marshlands of the edge of the lake. The overcast day and morning mist covered the marshes with a thin, wispy blanket. It was Sunday, and even if I made it to Tilali, the customs and immigration office, if it did exist, was closed. Llamas grazed in the drier areas of the valley, and they stared at me as I pulled out my camcorder. Occasionally, people on classy, old, chinese made single speed bikes pedaled past. I finished my filming, and pulled out my map. I chuckled after searching it for a minute.

“Great, the town doesn´t even exist.”

Course, I knew this was false, since the townspeople I talked to said there was a town called Tilali, where I could get my exit stamp. It did´nt matter. I just needed to get to Tilali before night fall. I pedaled down the dirt road, along the marsh. The road lay north, and I traced its faint outline back up into the mountains again. I groaned. It was going to be another day of ascents, and given the road conditions and the angle, that meant more pushing and walking. But all of suffering has its rewards.

The high altiplano. Taken from 2nd trip, 2002, Fuji Sensia

After several hours of ascent, I rounded a corner, and before me, the lake opened up. I was one hundred meters above the shoreline, and the road wound around the lakeside cliffs. I was walled in on one side by mountain, and on the other, with the hundred meter drop, by glittering, sparkling, aquamarine blue. The mountains on this side were dark with thick forests of planted eucalyptus trees, which were planted in the thousand year old terraces. A breeze touched my face, as it churned and whitened the wave tops on the lake. The air was crystal clear at this altitude, and the lake was a giant, flat, rippling gemstone. The breeze swayed the tops of the totora reeds on the shore, which from a distance, looked like fields of wheat.

I descended into the beautiful placidness of the road, and grinned. This route was rarely traveled, especially by the bicycle traveler, or by any other traveler. I continued to cycle down the rough road, and after one too many vibrations from my front rack, I dismounted and pushed the bike into a village that lined the shores. Crude, wooded boats lay on the beach, while in the waters, square trout farms drifted in the water´s edge, anchored to the bottom. I pushed my bicycle through the town, picked up some fruit, and then pushed down the hill to the police building. One of the police came out. We greeted each other, and then I asked him about the immigration office. He shook his head. Tilali did´nt have an immigration office. He suggested that I take a bus back to Puno, all the way on the other side of the lake on monday. I pointed out the impossibility of this, since buses were´nt available, and that my visa expired tomorrow. It was a 12 hour bus ride, in good conditions, to the other side of the lake, and that´s if there´s a bus available. He shrugged his shoulders, and said there was´nt any other way. I then asked if it was possible they could stamp it. They weren´t equipped or authorized to do that. So, I asked if they could write a letter, something, anything that would show evidence of me exiting Peru.

Finally, his superiors came out, heard my story, and suggested that I ask the custom´s officials in Tilali for a letter. Tilali had a custom´s office, due to inter Andean trade, but no immigration office. I asked him what tourists did, and he said that tourists usually don´t go through the northern route. If they ever tried to, they were turned back from the border to go to either Puno, or Copacabana on the other side for their exit and entry stamps.

¿So what do cycle tourists do?
We´ve never encountered any. You´re the first. He replied.

I smiled upon hearing that. It made everything worth it. The officer saw me smile, grinned back, and said, you really like adventure. Good luck.

I waved goodbye, as I pedaled down the mountain, and stopped to dismount and walk the road along the shoreline. Soon, I pushed my bicycle through a forest of eucalyptus trees in the fading twilight. The 4:30 wind picked up on time, and powerful gusts spread over the lake shore. I continued to push into the night, as an almost moon lit up the dirt road. Well after nightfall, I spotted the shadows of several buildings. Finally, I arrived in Tilali.

I checked into an alojamiento, picked up supplies, cooked dinner, and did an equipment check. I had to repair the rack attachment. The other side now popped off, and there was no way it´d last even half a day in the punishing terrain. After building another jerry rigged rack holder, I changed to sleep, and discovered that my 50¢ sandals had disappeared. I looked up at the ceiling, and said out loud, “So what´s the point of that?!” I couldn´t wait to get out of Peru.

The next morning, I cycled down the road ,and spotted two women who tended their sheep. I asked them where the custom´s office was. They pointed out that it was up the road, but it wasn´t open yet, and it wouldn´t open until 9A.M., since the custom´s official didn´t show up yet. So, I sat down to eat a breakfast of bread, cheese, jam, and juice. I then gave them my sugar, flour, salt, and baking soda. I wasn´t taking any chances.

Several boys crowded around me, so I engaged them in a game of hide and seek. After playing with them for a several minutes, one of the ladies alerted me to the custom´s official. I watched as he pushed his yellow mountain bike up the road. He was dressed in a a gray sweater, wore dark sunglasses, sported a graying mustache, and a receding hair line. I greeted him, and explained my situation to him. He said to meet him in thirty minutes at the border station.

Thirty minutes later, he had me remove and open my bags for an inspection, and explained that he wasn´t authorized to write even a letter stating that I was exiting Peru. He suggested that I talk to the border police just across the crude wooden gate. He also added that I was the first cyclist he´d ever seen in forty years.

After waiting in the police station for an hour, the police chief finally arrived, and I explained my situation to him. He explained that they wold get into trouble with the central office for giving me a letter stating that I passed through the border. He suggested that I lie to the bolivian authorities, that I passed through the village of Milalia, and that there was no border station to apply an exit stamp. Regardless, none of the peruvian authorities were going to give me a letter for evidence of exiting the country.

I pushed my bike up to 4100 meters, and after 15 minutes of getting lost due to the multiple vehicle tracks, I finally navigated my way far above the tree line on top of a mountain, where the buildings were constructed of rough stone, roofs were held down against the wind by large rocks, and two border monuments marked the frontiers of Bolivia and Peru. People passed by me with burros laden with cut shrubs, and I pushed higher into the rarefied air. At the barren top, the aymara build stone walls to create wind breaks for their crops and animals, and I rested next to one as I gazed over the entire north eastern section of the lake. A giant expanse of steel blue opened before me. In the distance, clouds lay below my feet. A strong wind stroked my face, and hundreds of mountains dotted the horizon. Far across the lake, I spotted the Island of the Sun and Moon, the fabled birth place of the first Inca, Manco Capac. To the east, I saw the faint glimmer of the Cordillera Real´s snow capped peaks, standing tall above 6000 meters.

I cycled down the mountain, and at the true border, encountered a piece of barbed wire that stretched across two posts. I rode over it, and asked an aymaran if I was in Bolivia. He said yes. I was back. Finally, I was back! After three long years, I came back to Bolivia.

Back in 2001, but back then, I rode through the conventional way, the easy way, on my bicycle through Copacabana, along well built, asphalt roads. I stopped to celebrate with a toast to all the names of the One, and then to thank the peruvian people, families, friends, and everyone who helped me on my journey. I then cycled, pushed, and walked through the difficult terrain to Porto Acosta. The road changed from dirt, to piles of loose stones. In fact, I wasn´t even sure if it really was a road. I passed through water cascades, streams, and enormous expanses of wind swept, high altiplano prairie, that glowed in the setting sun. The occasional bolivian aymara greeted me with warmth, smiles, and encouragement.

The sun sets on Lake Titicaca, Huatahata From first trip, 2001 Fujia  Sensia

I descended through rivers, and water carved cascades to Porto Acosta. I arrived in the central plaza, where I entered the bolivian police office. I explained my situation with the visa to the officer there, and the officer immediately typed a letter stating that I entered the country on the 29th, exactly the day my visa expired from Peru. He then notarized it, signed it, and said that Porto Acosta didn´t have any immigration office, and that I´d have to go to La Paz, to the American Embassy, and then to Immigration to fix my visa. But, he had no problems writing a letter to demonstrate evidence of entry. Then he gave me directions to a nice hostel in town. I grinned as I left the office. I really was back in Bolivia.

As I walked to the hostel, I smelled a scent of soap that I hadn´t smelt in three years. The town´s tranquility, and the kids playing in the square brought flashbacks.

Her black hair flowed down past her shoulders, and our lips caressed each other. Her large, dark, cafe eyes lowered to my lips, as we held each other. Then her face became sad, as I held her, and I looked into her beautiful, bronze face.

-I could write a book about my life. She said.
-¿How so?
-Because. Because I had to endure so much.
-Tell me.

I shook my head as I knocked on the hostel door. The owner wasn´t there. I walked to another one, where a brown ornate door was open, and a little girl in a pink dress and coat stared at me.

We´d do this so many times. Her in the doorway, and me at the doorstep. Every time, we tried to kiss good night, it turned into thirty minutes of kisses, where we´d attempt to separate ourselves, and end up in playful farewells.

-See you in five years. She´d say.
-No, ten.
-Six months?
-¿How about tomorrow?
-I love you.

A little boy with a camouflage, soldier´s fabric hat greeted me, and helped me bring in the bicycle. I spoke with his grandfather, and we moved my things into the first floor room. I washed my hands, and looked at a poster of a Magnifica, holding a beer, on the wall. The beautiful model was dressed in a red bikini, and smiling in the harsh light of the Uyuni desert.

-Relationships aren´t just about sex. She said.
-No, they´re about communication. ¿Why do you always shut the door in my face every time I ask you what´s wrong, or what´s going on?

She was silent.

-We want to get married, and you can´t even share with me what´s bothering you. ¿Why?

I looked at the poster of the Magnifica I posted on my apartment wall. The thin air of La Paz, but especially Sopocachi made me dizzy. Or was it our fight that made me dizzy?

-¿And what about Katty? She angrily asked.
-She´s just my friend, you know that. You know I tell you everything that happens with me. But you never want to tell me anything. You still don´t trust me. ¿Why? ¡My God, I´m not like your deadbeat father, you know!

Her eyes flashed with rage.

I spread out my mess kit, and cooked my meal. The little boy came in my room with his little sister. We started drawing pictures with my colored pencils, and then I played chess with the little boy. He played well for his age. Afterwards, I checked the shower. The electric water heater didn´t work. Three days without a shower wasn´t bad. At least the bolivians made an effort to install an electric shower. I then lay down to sleep.

Her skin always felt cool to my finger tips, and I would feel her temperature, as I slid my fingers on her soft skin, from her long, slender legs, up over the curve of her hips, down the valley of her slim waist, and then up again over her shoulders.

She always drew pictures on my face and chest. And then she´d pluck my leg hairs.

But it was that scent. Not the scent she always wore, the perfume of flowers that she never showed me. I loved to inhale that scent, from her ears, to her neck, to her breasts. No, it was her hands. I always took her hands, her small, thin hands, and whether we were in bed, the plaza, in the cafe´, or at Kaypicchu, I put both of her hands to my face, and inhaled.

I drifted between fitful slumber and intense dreams. Dreams of deliciously warm skin, long, soft, dark hair, dim visions of sensuous kisses, and a slender, curving body. When I woke up, I looked at the poster of the Magnifica. Was it the poster? Bolivian women were among the most beautiful women I ever met.

I washed up and made breakfast, and prepared to leave. As I exited, I noticed how several buildings were unlocked. This was small town Bolivia. During the rough ride, the rack bolts that I rigged up snapped. The terrain was too much for the thin steel. I spent an hour lashing everything together with rope, before heading down the road. The road to Escoma was blockaded by the aymara during the weekend to protest President Evo Morales. They reopened the road the day I arrived in Porto Acosta. They didn´t completely reopen the road though. Large boulders were left there, and I watched a bus make the deft moves to maneuver around them on the dirt road. As it passed by, a wake of dust settled low in the air.

I climbed back up to 4000 meters again, this time, through rocky dirt, stones, and river beds. In the evening, a full moon sat above the hamlet of Escoma. I stopped on a bridge to look at it. The mountains sat behind the small town, and the moon hung over the mountain and over the cathedral, which was the center of the town.

We met in the plaza, as we always did, in front of the cathedral. It was a full moon again, which meant one thing.

-It´s that time. She groaned.
-You´re like a calendar.
She grabbed my sides, and squeezed hard, digging her short nails in.
-¡OW! I yelped.
-I´m sorry honey, but you know.
-Yeah, I do. So, that means no, tonight.
-Yes. You know.
I sighed, and then grinned,
– Let´s go to Kaypicchu then. I said.
-¿Do you want to go home?
-No, I want to be with you.
I held her, as we sat on the park bench, amongst the palm trees, in the cool dry weather of Sucre.

I checked into a newly built hostel in town, and I was their very first customer. I then followed the owner to her home, where she let me access her shower. Fire works exploded into the air as I left her house. There was a festival in town, and many of the aymara women were dressed in their best cholita dresses, with elegant bowler hats. All the women had on dresses that shimmered in the dim light, as they danced with their men in a drunken revelry. I ate fried cheese, empañadas, and rice at the festival food grounds. Afterwards, I passed by children playing in motorized go carts, carnival rides, and shooting games, before going to sleep.

The sun sets on Islas del Sol and Luna. From first trip, 2001 Fujia  Sensia

Next morning, I washed and lubed the bike before leaving. The front rack was in bad shape, and I hoped that I´d last until La Paz. Except for a few sections of flat, packed dirt, the road was asphalt, and at the end of the day, I rode past 60 kilometers. I camped out along the shores of the lake, and watched the sun set over the placid waters. A light breeze touched my lips. The next morning, I watched as flocks of water fowl flew and swam along the lake shore. After packing up, I decided to do something I wanted to do ever since I first saw the lake in 2001.

I stripped down do my bike shorts, and in a furious dash, ran into the lake. The icy cold water shocked and numbed my toes. As I waded in further, stringy, tough, and smooth aquatic plants caught my feet, toes, and brushed my sides. Then I plunged in, and the shock was complete. I got up, and sprinted back to shore. My skin was numb as I walked into the thin air, and let the sun warm me back up again.

After drying out, I mounted the bike, and cycled past the giant, snow capped peaks of Illimani, and the Cordillera Real. By nightfall, I reached Huayna Potosi, and stayed in an alojamiento. After cooking dinner, I went to call an old friend, Chyang and his wife, Claudia, a bolivian couple I met in 2001. It´d been too long.

Cordillera Real and Illimani. Taken from first trip, 2001, Fuji  Sensia.

¡Hey Chyang!
!David! ¿Are you here?
Almost, I´ll arrive tomorrow.
¿Where are you?
In the town of Huayna Potosi.
¡Good! I´m glad you´re safe. When you get to La Paz, call me on my cell phone. I´ll pick you up.
Great. ¿Oh, Chyang, are you ready for a chess match?
Yes. ¿Why?
Because I´ve been practicing to beat you this time.
I could feel him smiling over the phone.
You´re obsessed. I´ll see you soon. Take care.

I smiled as I hung up. I looked at the phone in the booth.

My hands shook the phone as I listened to her crying.-¡I don´t deserve you! ¡I don´t deserve you!- I heard her scream. The scream chilled my body, and I shook as I listened to her.

I swallowed hard. There wasn´t a thing I could do. I was in New Jersey, and she was half a world away. I crumpled down on the kitchen floor, and all I could feel was death. The tears came in bursts.

But I never cried again after that.

Sucre. Taken from first trip, 2001, Fuji Sensia.



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