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Peru-Bolivia Travel Report Part 2

Coming back from Machu Pichu left us with so many different impressions and feelings. We used the next day to sleep in and explore some other ruins in Ollanta. After breakfast we hiked up the mountain across the famous Inca site, to get a nice overview. There were also some ruins along the way, according to the guide the other day these houses were used as storage sites. But why have food storage so high up the mountain? I don't know...Up the hill we had a nice view on the whole Inca site and also Ollanta. It confirmed our first impression, that houses in Ollanta have a real roof and not just unfinished floors. It looked very nice!

Unfortunately we couldn't stay there forever, so we were heading back to Cusco with a private cab and had two very interesting stops along the road. First we visited 'Salinas', where a very salty spring is lead into a terrace landscape to win salt. Looks pretty cool. We learned that Lamas were used to bring the salt to the factory nearby. But it is very important not to overload them. 25-30kg max, or they sit down and do nothing! Next stop was Moray, another Inca ruin where they constructed some terraces in circles. They still don't know why they did it, but the best assumption so far is that there is a special micro climate within these circles, and the Incas may used it to test and develop different kinds of corn.

Back in Cusco we visited the Inca museum, to see some old tools, pottery, mummies and other archeological stuff. Unfortunately there isn't much of the famous Inca gold left, because the Conquistadores took it all, melted it and put it back in churches. Which leads me to the fact that it is not allowed to take any pictures in churches. I would understand that they don't want to have flash. Fine, I can deal with that. But no picture at all?! Totally annoying. So I am not able to show you any details of the interiors, that have huge altars, usually baroque style, all covered in gold. A little cheesy, but nevertheless pretty.

In the evening Bruno had his dinner highlight: cuy. For the people who don't know what it is, well, it is a guinea pig. A specialty in Peru, you can actually buy grilled cuy-to-go-on-the-stick on every market. There is not much meat on it, but it is very tender, a little bit like rabbit.

Leaving Cusco behind, we continued our journey to Puno and Lago Titicaca. With a surface elevation of 3810m, the lake is often called the highest navigable lake in the world. It is surrounded by mountains, so Puno is a town with very steep streets, and you start breathing heavily again when climbing the narrow streets.

Whereas Puno itself is a nice town but not particularly special, it has one main attraction: the floating islands of the Uros. The islands, the houses and even the boats are made of totora reeds which grow in the lake. Of course today it is mostly to attract tourists, so most of the Uros don't live on the islands anymore, even though they kept telling us, but there is still a small part of the Uros population further into the lake who live the traditional way.

From Puno we continued our way to Copacabana. No, not Brasil, this is actually in Bolivia. A very nice little town also embedded partially into the mountains directly on the lake with a nice sandy beach. However what we didn't know is that on Good Friday the town is filling up with pilgrims coming from La Paz and other regions of Bolivia. The little beach was crowded with tents. There were people everywhere. And so was the party!

The next morning we were heading to the Isla de Sol, one of the lake's largest islands. In the religion of the Incas, it was believed that the sun god was born there. We started on the north side of the island, visited a small museum and continued our way to the famous ruins on the very north part. From there we hiked up and down and up and down towards the south part of the island, with some amazing views in between, and spent the night in a very cute little hotel. After breakfast we started hiking again towards the very south end. The little village Yumani looked like it saw a lot of construction the last few years. It would be very interesting to see pictures from 5-10 years ago. I bet there was almost nothing.

Back in Copacabana the tents were gone and the town much quieter. It was Easter Monday and we decided to explore the hills around town. Up there we got some amazing views on Copacabana and Lago Titicaca. We also followed the 'Stations of the Cross' to do our tribute to Easter.

From there we really didn't want to go to La Paz. A huge, dirty city compared to this charming little beach town? But we had no choice as they days of our trip were coming to an end.

We spent a whole day in La Paz, which has, I have to admit it, its very own charm. It is a huge city, sitting in a bowl surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano, resulting in varying elevations from 3200-4100m. I think there is no even street in this city, it always goes either up or down.

We started to explore the different markets, they are a must see. On the witches market you can buy all kind of weird stuff. From lama fetuses (to bury under the corners of your house for good luck) to other witchcraft stuff, different herbs and teas to enhance certain activities of your daily life. On the negro market you can buy all kind of original-no-fake-whatever-brand-you-need clothing, tourist stuff, food, electronics, household stuff etc. It is fun walking through the stands.

Another new tourist attraction in La Paz, is the brandnew gondola, good Austrian technology, more modern than anything I have seen in the Banff/Lake Louise area. Awesome! And this in Bolivia! Unfortunately it doesn't open officially until May! No! Just a few days too early! The gondola brings you up from the central bus station to El Alto. This is the area high above La Paz where you get a great overview into the 'bowl'. Well, not for us this time!

As I said, for us one day in the city was enough. Now we had a special adventure in front of us. Downhill mountain biking on the well known 'Death Road' or the 'Worlds most dangerous Road'. Well equipped with multiple layers of clothing, helmet and good bikes our guide started to lead us down the road. The first 22km were pretty easy on asphalt road. Then the challenge began. 42km on gravel road, sometimes only 3m wide, with 300m deep cliffs. Our guide warned us, that his rope is only 100m long, because for deeper falls there would probably be no rush to get us. All right, got it! It was a pretty chilly morning where we started up at 4700m, but with every km it got a little warmer.

I noticed that a lot changed here the last 8 years. I was biking down the Death Road before and back then the whole traffic (buses, trucks, taxis, everything...) was still going up and down that road. Now, that the new and much safer road is open, it is actually pretty comfortable to bike down as it is much quieter. They also put a lot of railings along the most dangerous sections.

When we arrived in Yolasa, my arms were pretty tired, so was my butt. 64km downhill biking, a descent of more than 3600m, with incredible scenic variety, from snow-covered high-altitude mountain ranges down to the steaming Amazonian jungle. It was a fantastic day, we had a lot of fun, and were looking forward to relax the next two days a little bit at 'Senda Verde', an animal refuge. The refugee mainly takes animals that were either mistreated or found at customs. The whole place is dependent on volunteers and donations. We had a nice cabin in the refuge, basically in the middle of monkeys, parrots, turtles and whatever lives there. You cannot imagine how much noise the parrots and other birds can make during dusk and dawn, they 'talk' constantly. I was really surprised that it was actually very quiet during the night. We slept like babies. The next morning we woke up from a rustling noise. A little monkey found his way into our cabin. Thank god he didn't steel anything and found its way out right away! During the day Bruno and I got some tours through the refuge and were watching the animals for hours. Especial fun were the baby monkeys. Oh my god, you could watch them forever. They are so funny and playful.

I also loved the parrots. Some of them cannot really fly anymore because the tail feathers were cut buy some idiots. So they walk around a lot and climb all sorts of stuff instead of flying there. A little sad, but also funny to watch. A few also shout a happy 'Hola' at you when you pass by. It is hilarious!

It was hard to say good bye! But we had only two days left and had to get back to La Paz. As a little treat we booked a really nice hotel in the zona sur, the south end of the city. This is the part where the wealthier people live and all the businesses are. You can see the difference right away. It is cleaner, brighter, nicer cars. In fact, Suzuki must have a sale recently, I have never seen so many SX4s (which is actually my beloved car at home) at once. They are everywhere! Good taste! Well, on our last day we let us drive to the Valle de la Luna, a small valley, with bizarre rock formations. We walked through it and as we didn't have any further plans we started to hike back the 8km to the hotel. We came to a closed trail, but as usual we passed through. That doesn't look so bad, why is it closed? Approximately 1km later we knew why. There was a landslide blocking some sections. But of course that didn't kept us from going further.

Back at the hotel we had a nice dinner and started to think about tomorrow. Is it really over? Do we really have to go home? And what is home actually? We are not flying back to Chicago?

I have to admit, it still feels really strange. I got all the arrangements with my Dad picking us up in Munich. That is in Germany, not in the US. Weird...

But we had a wonderful trip, we got to know all kind of people, saw two very beautiful countries and we have a lot of fantastic memories in our heads.

Let's start a new chapter with more adventures in our lives! Visitors welcome!

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