Tuesday, 12 June 2012

From the Chilean to the Peruvian Border, Bolivia

The next morning, we set off from Sajama in our frozen hire car. The windscreen was icy, so I asked why Herman did not put on the heater. The response was that we did not have enough petrol. The vehicle was delivered with very little petrol and it was a miracle that we managed to drive for 1 ½ hours to a restaurant/lorry stop that fortunately had some emergency petrol. Two canisters later we were on our way, just in time for a cold and quick breakfast stop. Sandro’s quote of the day was “For me, this is like another planet”. The emergency fuel fortunately got us to the first petrol station we saw, almost three hours from the lodge.

The plan was that we were meeting another vehicle in El Alto, on the outskirts of La Paz, on the way to our afternoon destination, Lake Titicaca. The demonstrations that delayed our original arrival to La Paz were continuing and due to road closures, we were held up in traffic. Eventually, we met up with our new vehicle which turned out to be the vehicle from Sadiri Lodge (Rurrenabaque), which happened to be in La Paz. Next stop was a quick exhaust repair and then purchase of fuel canisters to get us to Apolo the next day..

By the time we arrived at the Lake Titikaka Hotel it was 2.45pm and we were all tired. The hotel had a fantastic location on the south east shore of the lake, with enormous panoramic windows and a massive log fire. After a quick order for lunch, we ticked off Titicaca and White-Tufted Grebe from our bedroom window, before heading back to the dining room to quickly eat and head out to catch the last two hours of light. We managed to see Plumbeous Rail, Wren-Like Rushbird, Yellow-Winged Blackbird, Black Siskin and Peruvian Sierra-Finch.

It felt sad not to carry on the 1 ½ hours drive to Copacabana, where our good friend James’ brother lives and owns a bar. After the stressful day of driving for Herman and a long drive tomorrow, we did not feel we could ask. Next time.

The next morning, we made an early start for Apolo, north east of our hotel, back into the Amazon Basin. We first drove for 2 ½ hours along the east shore of Lake Titicaca, passing close to the Peruvian Border. We passed through many check-points, each ensuring that we were carrying no extra fuel, for smuggling. Once past the checkpoints we filled up our canisters in a small village. By now we had caught up with the supposedly common Bare-Faced Ground-Dove and the very rare Black-Faced Ibis. We had headed north east away from the Lake, higher towards the Cordillera Real. Here there is trekking to compete with Nepal, but without the permit costs. 6 ½ hours after starting our journey, we passed through the mountain town of Chuzani (3,250m) on the border and after a riverside lunch stop carried on towards Apolo. A local told us that it was another 6 hours to Apolo. I commented that surely the driving would be easier as we would have to be dropping down in height. However, at this point the road became more narrow and steep. The condition of the dirt roads did not seem too bad, which I again commented on. Shortly after this, the road became more rutted and was muddy where it seemed to have rained recently. We then came across lots of people by the side of the road. It did not look good. About 15 men were trying to pull a double-decker coach out of a muddy ditch by the roadside that it had slid into from the very muddy road. At least it had not slid off the road in the other direction and off the cliff edge. This did not work and after creating some friction for the front wheel by digging up the road, they managed to haul it out.

All hands needed to pull this bus back onto the road

From here, the last 2 ½ hours of the journey was very difficult.  The road was very, very muddy, with the 4x4 sliding from side to side on some stretches, with sheer drops, bendy and narrow mountain road in the dark.  To add to this, the mist turned to think fog and our car seemed to have no front fog lights.  I strained to see out of the tinted windows and wondered what Herman could see.  I wound down my window, freezing Chris and Birdgirl, so that I could see out of the window at the road ahead and alleviate my anxiety by seeing that we were still heading for road.

14 hours after leaving the hotel in Lake Titicaca we arrived in Apolo, at 2,000m,  Here we were on the edge of Madidi National Park and Apolobamba National Park, which runs along the border with Peru.  Our accommodation for the next 4 nights was a monastery for nuns, which turned out to be very comfortable and friendly.  It had been here since the 1920’s and the present buildings put up in the 1950’s.  Apparently, there was a 92 year old German nun who had been there forever.  Sandro explained that it was a 5 day walk north along an Inca trail through Madidi to his community and that his grandfather was from the Apolo area.  The Inca trail then continues from Apolo to Cusco, near Machu Picchu in Peru.

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