Day 79 – La Paz, Bolivia

We finally left Peru yesterday after 18 days – the longest we have spent in any country on this trip.  Even still I would have gladly stayed longer if I had the time.  The ever changing landscape was always spectacular, and the people were incredibly friendly everywhere we went.

How many places can you ride from one inca ruin to the next while being treated to some of the most stunning scenery on this planet?  We ended up staying 4 nights in Cusco, which is the longest we’ve stayed in any place the entire trip.  This is because we wanted to go to Machu Picchu, and we had to wait a few days to get train tickets.  This gave us time to explore the sacred valley and to spend a day white-water rafting on the Rio Urubamba.

On the bus on the way to the rafting launching point, I said to Ted that I hoped we got the crazy guide.  It seems there is always at least one, whether it is the cloud forest of Monteverde or a boat in Panama.  My wish was granted.  We lucked out and got the craziest guide there.  There were only 4 of us on the raft designed for 6.  Ted, myself, and a young couple from Holland.  The woman seemed like she didn´t want to be there, and this amused our guide who took every opportunity to crash us into boulders and send us sideways over rapids (I fell off the high side into the bottom of the boat).  At one point, he positioned the raft so that the front was continually submerged under a giant rapid.  I was right at the front, and despite my wetsuit, the water was shockingly cold.  I was underwater for so long that by the time he finally pulled the raft out, I was short of breath.  A little further downstream, he stopped the raft so that we could jump 10 metres off a suspension bridge into the frothy current below.  What a rush.  Later that night when Peru was rocked by an earthquake, my first thought was that I was back on that raft.

The next day, we took the train to Machu Picchu.  Or rather, I took the train.  There was an incident with Ted’s ticket, which apparently was not valid, and he was taken off the train minutes before departure.  I didn´t see this because we were on different cars.  At Agua Calientes (the village at the end of the line at the base of Machu Picchu), I couldn´t find Ted.  The good news is that after going through quite a gong show involving taxis and buses and another train, he finally made it.  For a detailed account of the debacle, check out the entry entitled “Agent T”.  I stole Ted’s diary long enough to copy it out.  I hope I put it back in the right place…

Machu Picchu was recently elected one of the new 7 wonders of the world http://www.new7wonders.com/index.php?id=633&L=0 (although no great pyramids at Giza? Bollox).  Machu Picchu.  What can I say?  Go see it.  The pictures don´t do it justice.  You have to walk through the city to get a sense of it’s immense size and to appreciate it’s supernatural quality.  The setting is spectacular – the city sits on the top of a mountain with breathtaking vistas of the Urabamba river valley on two sides.  Machu Picchu was definitely a highlight of the trip.

The ride from Cusco to the Bolivian border was yet another spectacular ride through a desolate valley framed by snow capped mountains.  I could tell the road went over 4,000 metres based on the performance (or rather lack thereof) of my bike.  That and the frigid wind.  Emerging from the mountains, we rode along the shore of the brilliant blue lago titicaca.

We took an 85 km wrong turn near the Bolivian border and did not think we would have enough gas to get back.  There was nothing but mountains, grassland, and llamas.  We stopped in a village a few kms off the highway and bought gas out of a barrel to get us back.  A group of locals, all of whom were adding to the collection of empty beer bottles growing outside the town store, wanted us to join their festivities.  In the end, they settled for my autograph.  Yup, I guess I am famous.

The Bolivian border crossing involved a lot of demands for money.  As a verteran border crosser who had already been through the mill in Central America, I have become adept at smelling the bullshit.  Before leaving Peru, a man stopped us on the bridge (getting right in front of Ted’s bike).  He asked for 5 soles per bike to cross.  He had an official looking book of tickets for some sort of road tax.  A customs official standing there nodded in agreement with the self-proclaimed toll collector.  But he said we had to pay 10 soles per bike.  I told to Ted to just keep driving.  We did just that.  The Peruvian police immediately stopped us and I was whisked inside the police station.

An officer took me into a private room and demanded that I pay the bogus road tax.  I kept insisting that motorcycles did not have to pay (which is true in the case of the highway tolls in Peru).  Eventually the policeman gave up and we crossed rode over the bridge without paying.

Once there, the a Bolivian policeman took me into a private room in the police station and wrote out my name, destination, passport number, and license plate number in a log book.  When he was finished, he asked for $20.  I asked “for what?”  He replied that it was for entering my information in a book.  With confidence (real, not faked), I told him that tourists did not have to pay this fee.  He kept trying to get me to pay, and I kept insisting that I did not have to pay.  Eventually he gave up, and I walked out of the police station without having paid a cent.  This whole process was repeated at another police check point about a kilometre down the road.  In the end, we did not pay anything to cross into Bolivia, other than to give out some money to the group of kids who had been our “helpers”.

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