Cusco & Valle Sagrado

Era hora de cambiar de pais otra vez.

Tome el bus de Copacabana, Bolivia a Cusco, Peru en la manaña a las 8:30 por 80 BOB. El llego a la frontera despues 30min y no tuvimos que esperer mucho. La Imigracion incluso me pregunto cuando dias en Peru necesitaria – el maximo de 90 dias claro 😉 En Puno necesite cambiar el bus por Cusco y despues una pausa de una hora continuemos el viaje. La naturaleza en el camino nue fue tan espectacular como esperaba. Llege al terminal de autobuses en Cusco muy tarde a las 22:30. Felizamente, podria hacer autostop en el shuttle del hotel de una pareja holandesa de mi bus 😉

Termine el dia con un Thai Green Curry y algunas cerverzas de barril en el bar KM0.

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El proximo dia necesite cambiar el hostal porque no hubo disponibilidad por la noche siguente. Luego compre un chip de Movistar porque encontre una pagina en el internet que dijo que Movistar tiene el mas rapido velocidad de Internet. Por Cusco la decision fue bueno pero la cobertura en otra partes del pais no es tan bueno como con otras empresas (Bitel o Claro son mejor).

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Despues fue a algunas agencias para consultar sobre el Salkantay trek a Machu Picchu. El tour es tipicalemente cinqo noches y cuatro noches y tiene 75km. Decidi seguir la recomendacion de otra viajero y comprar la caminata con Machu Picchu Reservations. La resta de la tarde visite lugares populares de Cusco como por ejemplo la Basilica Catedral del Cusco (que acepta mi tarjeta de estudiante transcurrida 😉 ), la Iglesa de la Compania de Jesus, la Plaza de las Armas, los Mercados de San Pedro y San Blas y la Iglesa de San Cristobal que tiene una vista fantastica sobre la cuidad.

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El centro historico de Cusco es muy lindo! Me encanta las calles apretas con piedras pavimentadas. No es dificil imaginar que esta fue una vez la cuidad Inca mas importante!

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La proxima mañana tome un Minivan por 4 Soles a Pisac, una cuidad 30km de Cusco. Pisac tiene dos atracciones populares: Primero, el Parque Archeologico Inca de Pisca y segundo un famoso mercado artesenal.

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Compre el boleto turistico por 70 Soles que fue valido por dos dias. Esto boleto incluyo tres otros sitios Inca. Hasta los primeros edificios Incas iba a la montaña por una hora y media. Durante el ascenso podria disfrutar algunas miradores espectaculares del Valle Sagrado y de las terrazas Incas. Despues dos horas llegue a los restos del asentamiento de Pisac – un buen mortificador para Machu Picchu.

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Estaba contento que no participe en un tour en el Valle Sagrado porque la gente que encontre en Pisac tenia poco tiempo por la visitacion – la ventaja de un tour solo y independente 😉

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Lo que me encantanda mas en Pisac es que hay una gira y entonces no tiene que retornar en el mismo camino. Particularemente, las vistas del cerro de Pisac son marveillosas!

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Pase cuatro horas en total en el sitio archeologico y despues visite el famoso mercado de Pisac. Alli puede encontrar muchos articulos artesanales de la region como ropa de Alpaca, instrumentas de musica, comida tipica etc. Compre un souvenir por la hija de mi hermano.

Antes de regresar a Cusco visite el jardin botanico (10 Soles) que no es espectacular y aprobe ricas empanadas del “Horno de San Francisco”, una institucion en Pisac. Pase un muy bien dia en Pisac – puedo recomendarlo!

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Si el boleto turistico era todavia valido visite las ruinas de Ollataytamba el proximo dia. El Minivan costo 10 Soles y necesito una hora y media para llegar. Las ruinas son mas compacto que en Pisac. Las structuras mayores son terrazas a los niveles diferentes. Tambien aqui las vistas del Valle Sagrado son grandiosas! Para mi dos horas fue suficiente por la visita porque no hay algunas explicaciones en los signos alli. El mismo tema como en Pisac. Entonces, estaba descansando un poco y mirando futbol en un restaurante (el final del Copa de Alemania!). Al final del dia tome un bus a Chinchero para ver el sitio archeologico alli (tambien incluyo en el boleto). No tenia mucho tiempo por la visita pero no era malo porque Chinchero no es especial – me gusta mas Pisac y Ollataytamba.

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Me redone las dos noches con una cena fantastica: Parrilla de Alpaca en salsa de vino tinto la primera noche en Organica y Parrillas de Bife Chorizo, Alpaca y Puerco servido en una piedra caliente a auto-asado 😉

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Lago Titicaca

The bus ride from La Paz took 3.5h to Copacabana, the main Bolivian town on Lago Titicaca, and costed 30 BOB. When approaching the lake after 2.5h the views from the bus were really beautiful and it made you wanna see more of it. We also crossed a small passage by ferry until we eventually arrived at Plaza Sucre. I immediately walked to my single room apartment with shared kitchen and bathroom (55 BOB a night) which was just 7min walking distance.

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The next morning I used the opportunity to prepare myself a hearty breakfast which I had missed doing. Then I explored around town for ferry tickets to Isla del Sol and for bus tickets to Cusco in Peru. Since Copacabana is very easy to walk it did not take a long time and so I was able to use the afternoon to visit some close by Inca sites.

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Frankly, they were not spectacular. For the Pachataka (10 BOB entrance feer) I walked up for 15min a small mountain and found a small altar there. That was all. Much better were the views of Copacabana and Lago Titicaca!

And for the other Inca site, Baños del Inca, I rented a bicycle for 3 hours for 35 BOB and cycled east of town where I reached the site after 30min. Again I was a bit disappointed: The most interesting thing in the museum (10 BOB) was a mummy. From the small water channels around the museum, and the terraces on different levels one could derive that the Incas used to use this complex for agricultural purposes. The bathing apart from the running water was not as obvious.

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On my way back, I stopped by at one of the floating islands – basically a recreation area with a restaurant, trout fishing and pedal boats. I enjoyed the lake views while having a Pacena, a local Bolivian beer.

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The highlight of the day though was the ascent to the summit of Cerro Calvario (free) where one gets rewarded with 360 degrees view of Lago Titicaca and the area. Here I could see as far as Isla del Sol.

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In the evening I had a freshly grilled trout which Lago Titicaca is well-known for. I had it at one of the food stands at the shore. It was good and cheap (25 BOB) and came with rice, fries and salad.

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The next day I took the boat to head to Isla de la Luna and Isla del Sol (30 BOB one way). Both islands were considered holy by the Incas and they believed that their god Viracocha called the sun and the moon from the two islands. The boat ride to Isla de la Luna took us 2h and we were allowed to spend 50min on this small island.

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We visited Inca ruins which looked much better than the ones in Copacabana (10 BOB entrance fee) and enjoyed the views from the mountain top. 27 families inhabit this small island – all of them are Aymaras and they basically live off tourism and agriculture.

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After 45min on the boat we reached Isla del Sol where I stayed for two days. This island is much bigger than Isla de la Luna and has a much better coverage of hostels and restaurants. Plus it has a lot of hiking treks to offer.

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Upon arrival everyone had to pay an arrival fee of 10 BOB. My hostel, Hostal del Sol, was located at the top of the steep hill and it took me 50min to climb the 1.5km. Luckliy, I had stored my big backpack in Copacabana!

The views from the hostel’s backyard were very beautiful so I enjoyed them while taking a rest from the climb. I used the remainder of the afternoon to hike to two different lookout points in proximity of my hostel. The vistas were just amazing!

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After a good breakfast I headed in the same direction as the day before. I followed the “official” hiking trail towards the town of Challa which lies northern of Yumani, the town where I stayed. After 45min of walking I ran into a small hut with a sign saying “Boleteria”. An old Aymara woman approached me and told me I cannot pass since this is the red zone. When I asked why she was mentioning something about a conflict which I have heard before from other travelers. I asked whether tourists are part of the conflict and she said yes. When I asked what the conflict was exactly about she refused to answer. Anyhow, I had to turn around and pursue my plan B, namely hiking the southern part of the island.

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And that’s what I did for the next three hours. First, I visited two small beaches on the southwestern side of the island. These were one of the most tranquil spots on this journey and a great place to relax from noisy La Paz. Afterwards, I headed towards the southern tip of the island were I could spot the village of and as well Copacabana.

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On the way back to my hostel I passed by another Inca ruin (again no information available as in all other Inca sites in Bolivia!) and a small forest. Then I saw to my surprise one of the famous Aymara ships which had a lot from a vikings boat!

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In the evening I had an excellent Filet Mignon and went to bed early in order to return to Copacabana with the earliest morning boat (30 BOB). Back in Copacabana I prepared everything for my next day’s journey to Cusco, Peru. Hence, this was my last full day in Bolivia – what an action-loaded country!

Lago Titicaca does not seem to be overrun by tourist and it’s nice to spend a couple of relaxed days at the highest shippable lake of the world. Day temperatures were nice for hiking th ough the nights got quite cold (around 5 Celsius). I’d say it’s worthwhile a visit if you have enough time and wanna get out of busy La Paz. But it is not as spectacular as I had expect it to be.

La Paz

I took an early morning bus from Arica, Chile, to La Paz, Bolivia, after having arranged all the paperwork with the car dealer in Arica about Oscar’s sale. It was nice to enjoy the views from the bus as passenger. We passed by two beautiful national parks with several volcanoes on the Chilean and Bolivian side en route: Parque Nacional de Lurca and Parque Nacional Sajama. Bolivian customs were straightforward and I received 30 days. At the border I donated most of my food to an Aymara women.

I arrived at La Paz’s bus terminal in the early afternoon and headed to the closest hostel – The Adventure Brew hostel and got myself an empty 8-bed dorm for 69 BOB. The room was clean and the bathroom as well and there was free hot coca mate available. Also there was a pool table and an on-site bar available. However, there was too much party going on at night time and my room was just above the bar ;( I immediately bought ear plugs the next morning 😉

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La Paz is a busy city with a lot of traffic and emissions. Due to its altitude at 3600m the air is already quite thin and it has to breath when walking up La Paz’s steep streets. Talking about steepness: It is just breath-taking to see how the entire city was built into a valley and houses are clustered are clustered onto steep hills (“boiler”).

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On day one I walked around the barrio of San Pedro where most of the tourist agencies and Alpaca shops are located. I booked the Death Road mountain bike trip with No Fear Adventure on Calle Sagarnaga since they had good reviews and did not overcharge single persons as other agencies did (380 BOB per person). Further, I decided not to head to Madidi National Park in the Bolivian Amazon since the itineraries were to similar to the ones I had in the Brazilian Amazon and Pantanal. At late afternoon I walked up to Parque Mirador Laikakota (3 BOBs cover) to enjoy amazing view of La Paz – highly recommended!

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My dinner choice this evening turned out to be a very bad one. After nearly eight months of travel I was starving for a different food flavor. Hence I picked the successor of Delhi Curry Lounge (don’t remember the name) where I ordered Indian food: Naan, a yogurt based cucumber dip, a chicken curry and a mango lassi. It tasted well but was a bit overpriced (105 BOB). However, the worst thing happened afterwards. I could not sleep all night and had to spend half of the night on the toilet – food poisoning! I should have heard to the one Tripadvisor review which talked also about food poisoning!

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Fortunately, I was able to postpone my bicycle trip by one day.

The starting point for the Camino de la Muerte (Death Road) was at 4700m, ca. 1:45h outside of La Paz (northeast of it). I was picked up at my hostel at 7:50 and got all the equipment (pants, jacket, helmet) provided by the agencies. We were a group of 11 in the minivan. At 4700m we became our instructions about the road and the bikes and took some pictures of the beautiful valley.

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Then we headed down the first 18km of the road which was paved and was not considered being officially part of the Death Road. We stopped here and there for pictures of the surrounding mountains and hopped also for 10min on the bus to avoid an uphill sections.

After 1.5h we reached the gravel part of the trip which was also the official start of the Camino de la Muerte. The trail started off relatively wide such that two cars could fit next to each other. But after 8-10km we reached the narrowest parts of 2.5m – unbelievable that this path was the main route to connect the Yungas with La Paz until 2006! It’s not hard to understand why the Development Bank named this road the most dangerous road of the world!

During the ride downhill we had to stick most of the time close to the sharp drops on the left-hand side. This rule was introduced such that cars going downhill could see their left front and rear wheels better when passing by traffic on the opposite site. Quite a scary undertaking!

Among the highlights of this trip were the multiple waterfalls on the way and the magnificent views of the valley when going downhill. The double suspension bike were reliable although my breaking pads had to be replaced twice on this 50km trip. However, the guides were pro-active and careful enough to take care of it before I brought it to their attention.

After around 6 hours our trip ended at 1200m at a restaurant where we were served chicken, rice, fries and salad to refill our energy. We also got the chance to jump for a couple of minutes into their pool. This was very refreshing but also not too cold at this altitude. At the end of the day everybody received a “Survivor Death Road” T-shirt and everyone was happy that no one got injured or died. These things still happen as one could see from the amount of crosses on the way down. The bus brought us back to La Paz in around 3h. For me it was a fun day and I liked the company and can recommend them.

The next day I joined another tour: 3 days and 2 nights to climb my first 6000er – Huayna Potosi. I booked it with All Tours Operator (1000 BOB for the trip plus 50 BOB for a good sleeping bag) since they also got good reviews and had already a group scheduled which I was able to join. The agency provided all the necessary clothes and equipment. This included in particular snow boots, crampons and a helmet.

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The trip started off with a breakfast at an adjacent restaurant which was nice (eggs, coffee and cereals). Then we tried on clothes to ensure proper fit and stored most of our stuff at the agencies’ storage room. I brought the big 100l backpack and a small 15l one. We left in a minivan towards the base camp and arrived it after two hours.

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The base camp was a very basic hut with two dorms and dining room with a table and chairs. The six of us, Matt from Scotland, Rory from England, Marjolein from the Netherlands, Christin from Germany and Eran from Israel, moved altogether into one room. First, we were served chicken and rice for lunch which was ok. Then we went off with our guide Felix to train with the equipment on the Glacier.

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It was a bit disappointing that we had only one guide for this as we were promised always a ratio of two persons per guide. Anyhow, we walked around 30min in foggy conditions to the glacier where Felix demonstrated to us how to walk uphill and downhill with the crampons. All of us figured it out pretty quickly. Also we learned how to use the ice ax. After spending 45min on the ice we returned to the base camp. We were served a yummy dinner (vegetable soup, llama and noodles) and sat around with hot mate de coca to get to know each other better. Around 9pm we put on multiple layers and hopped into our sleeping bags. Outside temperatures were at -5 Celsius! To my surprise I slept pretty decently.

The next morning we had breakfast and packed our big backpacks to hike up to the high camp which sits at 5200m. The bag was very heavy (15kg) and the air got thinner and thinner with each step. The views of the glacier and the mountains at the horizon were really rewarding though. 15min before the high camp we even had to use ropes and climb some rocks in order to reach the sleeping place for next night. This was a tough part but we all made it.

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The lookout was very beautiful here and we enjoyed the free afternoon to acclimatize. Immediately, a strong headache hit me – the high altitude effect! Rory helped me out with some painkillers and I chewed on my coca candy. After an hour or so I had overcome it. We had lunch and dinner here and were joined by two more guys – a Swiss couple who intended to climb Huayna Potosi in two days. At 18:45h we went to bed since the next day was supposed to start at midnight.

We “overslept” and were woken up at 0:30am. I did not sleep at all – I assume it was the height and the cold feet I was fighting against for hours. Not the best preparation for the next 900m in altitude!

We went up pairwise accompanied by a guide. My partner was the Dutch girl Marjolein and the guide’s name was Herman. Rory felt really bad this morning and started to throw over shortly after we started our ascent at 1:30am. I felt bad for him since he hiked so well the prior day! But to all our surprise he forced himself to continue! What an attitude!

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The ascent was steadily steep which was super-exhausting. I was hoping permanently for flat parts which hardly ever came. It was a struggle from the first minute on. Initially, we just stopped every 40min for a short break to drink water and eat some chocolate. After 4min the guides forced us to continue to not get cold and to make it in time for the sunset to the summit.

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I wore 5 layers in total and was fine with it. The only freezing parts were my feet (I wore two pairs of woolen socks, no thermals though) and from time to time my fingers – one glove layer did not help against an outside temperature around -10C. The moon and the head lamps were our only sources of light and hence good pictures needed to wait until sunrise.

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After two hours the first hikers started to give up and returned to the high camp. So far no one from our group was among them. The climb up to the summit was supposed to take around 5-6 hours. After 3.5 hours we reached the “middle mountain” at 5750m. I was already super-exhausted and the first serious thoughts about returning came to my mind. I continued. And all the others from our group as well.

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The next 150m in altitude I was struggling so much that I had to stop every 5 meters to take a deep breath. I was not the only one struggling, however I was definitely slower than my partner. At 5900m I decided to quit: It was another very steep ascent of more than one hour and my battery was completely discharged. It was much more pain than pleasure and that’s why I took the decision to give up.

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Marjolein got attached to Eren’s and Matt’s group and I started to descent with Herman. On the way, I met Christin and Rory who still fought to reach the top – amazing! Just at that moment the sunrise started and finally I got see what crazy ascent we had brought behind us in the last 4.5 hours.

Initially, I was very sad that I was not able to make it to the summit. While descending though I said to myself that this was a good test to test your personal limits. And this was part of the idea why I actually participated in this tour – to see what my body is able to accomplish. Ultimately, it was the first time in my life that I made it over 5000m and up to 5900m – still a good reason to be proud.

After around 2h we reached the high camp and I lay down for an hour to relax. After another hour my group arrived at the high camp – they all had made it. What an accomplishment! They were very proud of themselves which they should be. After another hour we started the descent to the base camp with the heavy backpacks. We reached it within 1.5h and were brought back to La Paz by bus where a nice farewell lunch awaited us. For me personally, it was a great experience to learn about myself.

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The last morning before leaving La Paz I passed by the beautiful Plaza Murillo surrounded by some government buildings. Then I visited the Coca Museum (15 BOB) which is quite informative if one is interested in this topic. The exposition is a little bit confusing but the German guide book which I was offered helped a lot to follow the history and development of coca leaves in Bolivia. One of the things which surprised me was the name Coca Cola stems from the coca leaves and that it’s still nowadays a flavor ingredient to it. I completed the visit with a yummy coca beer 😉

Overall, La Paz is a really good base for diverse activities in the region and hence it is definitely worthwhile visiting. The city itself overs programs for a couple of days such as riding the impressive telefericos 🙂 And sometimes you even get the chance to bounce into traditional Aymara dancing 😉