Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Race to the Election





After a days rest and a bit of fiesta (happy birthday Loki and many greetings to those far away on a truck!!) the focus turned to Bolivia. On Sunday 18th December Bolivia was set to hold presidential elections. In the recent past such occurrences have to say the least caused some interesting situations and so it seemed perfectly natural that we would do everything in our powers to reach La Paz by election day. This even meant leaving a number of sick and wounded behind (Arnie was not leaving his bed) but they could catch up in good time - road blocks permitting. So Mike took Arnie's ticket joining Mik, Dave and I on a night bus down to Puno, Lake Titicaca and the border. After a surprisingly good nights sleep considering my gammy knee (a consequence of running up and down Wayna Pichu), we arrived in Puno and felt immediately satisfied that we had decided to skip through what appeared to be quite a dump. So after a two hour wait and a couple more hours on a new bus skirting the beginnings of the great lake, we crossed the significantly lax frontier into south America's poorest country.

Copacabana - no not a Brazilian beach but a small chilled out port and backpacker hangout overlooking the vast expanse of the highest navigable lake in the world. Was it not for the immediate magnetism of La Paz, I could of happily spend a long time relaxing in the cafe's and eating freshly caught truche staring out into the blue, but time afforded us just two action packed days. The sun was out and the lake sparkled. After a few beers (the 4 day alcohol prohibition over the election was shall we just say successfully circumnavigated by us throughout) some energy welled up in me and along with Mike decided to climb one of the peaks overlooking the town. It is strange, but when spending a significant amount of time at altitude one starts to think less of doing things like climbing 4000m peaks in flip flops but this is what ensued. From the top the view was just spectacular. The sun was gently descending into a bank of cloud on the horizon with the faintest reds and oranges dashing the backdrop. And there it was, a lake at some 3,800m stretching as far as the eye can see and as flat as a village pond.

It was not just the four of us that were trying to reach La Paz in time. Quite a group of people mostly originating from Loki had the same goal in mind. In fact our next week or so was shaped by the time spent with such others. There were the Swedes, the Aussies (I look forward to our big London weekend in Feb) and notably Claudia and AK who had left a bunch of people on a bus to reach the city on time.

After a small night out in Copa and a consequently lengthy breakfast process the next morning, another spurt of energy grabbed me. The two Swedish gals and I embarked on the climb of the picturesque peak which juts out into the lake and forms the cove in which the little port is set. Most people tend to take the steps but the face looked relatively unchallenging and hence took our vote. Unfortunately this turned into a marginally treacherous ascent over steep piles of rubbish and glass (in flips again I am afraid) and at times it is fair to say it was closer to climbing than trekking. Arriving unscarred and only one Swede down, this made the view from the top even more rewarding. In basking sunshine the lake glimmered with the Isla del Sola y Luna making an impressive addition. The waters looked positively Mediterranean but I guarantee you they are colder.

After the descent and some deserved lunch, a bit of manic rush ensued to throw all our stuff together and make the bus to La Paz - I almost left my stick. We just about made it and with silly cowboy hats on embarked on a journey that took me by total surprise - breath-taking! Winding up to absurd altitudes, over and down with the backdrop of the vast, sparkling and quite fascinatingly shaped great lake is about all you could ask for. Add to this a sincerely bizarre crossing of the said lake (the bus crossed on a raft no less), a glimpse of the sadly comic Bolivian Navy (yes it is a land-locked country) and an inspiring descent into La Paz after crossing the barren but inhabited alto plano and you have a journey to remember. La Paz in all its ruggedness stretched before us and we had made it - tomorrow was election day!!
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