Friday, August 23, 2013

Vamos a Bolivia!

After a great breakfast (desayuno) at the hostel, we headed to the bus station for a 5-8 hour ride to Puno. It's insane to me that the bus could either take 5 hours or it could take 8, but that's just how it works in Peru.

The bus station itself is a crazy experience because there are people who work for each bus company, and they just constantly yell out the destination of their company's bus. That's the only way to determine which bus is right for you.

Once on the bus, there was a child in the seat directly behind us. Luckily, we had slept a good 9 hours already at the hostel, so we were in much better spirits when the baby was crying, even when we found out the entire highway in Arequipa was blocked off so there was an hour delay. One interesting thing that happens on the bus is that at every stop, people hop on to sell random foods and drinks - everything from corn on the cob to a bag of nuts to apple juice in a plastic baggie. Often, they give a heartwarming story to the entire bus (about growing old or something) or they talk about various herbal remedies, and then they walk through the bus selling something or simply asking for money. My patience was short for the people yelling on the bus when I just wanted to stare out the window and listen to Bon Iver in peace. This was especially true when a very smelly man came on the bus and read an entire book for 40 minutes while standing directly above me arm stretched out over my head and across the back of my chair.

When we were about an hour drive from Puno, our bus popped a tire, which had to be replaced roadside, causing yet another delay. We began to worry that we wouldn't make it to the Bolivian border in time to cross. We wanted to be there in daylight, and worst case scenario, we needed to be there by 6pm when the border closed. Unfortunately, we still had another two hour minivan ahead of us before we could get to the Bolivian border.

Around 3pm we decided it just wasn't a practical idea to continue traveling on to Bolivia until tomorrow. We decided to stay in Puno at Hostal Uros. Puno has an altitude of 3,800 meters, so it is super cold here. The hostel was a great choice, albeit a little chilly. It costs 10 extra soles to get a portable heating unit in your room, but we decided to steal blankets from the empty beds in our room instead. The room we are in is set up for 4 people, but we have it all to ourselves, which is wonderful.

We figured out our plan for getting to Bolivia tomorrow, and headed out for a walk. As soon as we exited he hostel we saw a parade of children dressed either in authentic Peruvian garb or Halloween outfits like a superman costume. It was confusing. Meanwhile, a woman we met at the bus station followed us to our hostel and tried to trick us into signing up for a bus trip to La Paz. Luckily, our hostel staff intervened and later told us people on the street sell tours, take the money in advance, then they give you a fake address to meet the bus the following day.

After that ordeal, we went to a street market where we bought a ton of fruit, bread, avocado, and dulce de leche for breakfast tomorrow. Then, we found a really cheap restaurant where Ali and I shared rice and chicken (arroz con pollo) for less than a dollar each. The rice was really good, but the chicken was iffy. We have gotten a little more adventurous with finding cheap food options lately, and for the most part it has been pretty delicious. It's definitely a more authentic experience.

There were a couple of things I forgot to mention about yesterday. On the ride back from the canyon, we stopped at a hot spring that overlooked the mountains and a nearby river. We had the opportunity to go swimming there. The experience of swimming in a hot spring is not very different from swimming in a kind of dirty heated swimming pool, but it was a nice view and good company. Ali had forgotten her bathing suit, so she went for a walk by a river and Inca ruins while I hung out at the hot springs with people from our tour.

Also, we stopped for lunch on the way back to Arequipa at the definition of a tourist trap - an "international" buffet. This is code word for imitation American food (burgers, etc.). Instead, we joined forces with our new friend Alex (from Texas, but moving to Boston to go to HBS) and walked as far away from the buffet as possible until we reached a genuine market (sin gringos). Alex's knowledge of how to find the cheapest possible meal and his courage to eat unidentifiable street food was impressive. In anticipation of the buffet, I had already purchased street food (espagheti picante con pollo), so I only bought a mandarin orange and a bag of popcorn at the market. Combined, they cost 1 sole, or 35 cents. At the market, we also came across a woman with various herbal medicines, including a bright yellow tree trunk that she shaved pieces off of so that you can make tea from it. It's supposed to be good for your kidneys. I didn't try it.

Right before the market, we also stopped at a small plaza, and each tried Colca Sours, the Colca version of a Pisco Sour. Instead of using lime in the drink, they used san dayo because Colca is the region where san dayo is grown. It's similar to a kiwi, only more sour.

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