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La Paz to Cusco and the Perils of Peruvian traffic

Our hosts in Bolivia suggested we travel via Copacabana on Lake Titicaca to cross to Peru. Not only did this mean seeing a new route (and consequently more of the lake itself) it meant having to cross the lake border by raft. Yes, by RAFT. We were so excited by this notion we immediately routed the SatNav to the crossing point.

The route, once out of La Paz and its many interesting road diversions, was easy with a good quality road winding down to the lake. We arrived in Tiquina and boarded an impossibly rickety raft after a minibus. The planks making up the deck had clear gaps in and allowed glimpses of the water collecting in the hull. All very reassuring! We strategically positioned the bikes so that the side stand and the wheels could benefit from plank support (quite tricky in the circumstances). Not quite to the same standard as the ferry Buenos-Aires to Colonia where they were securely strapped down!


First class travel across Lake Titicaca!

It was an unusual way to travel but in the end the raft was a highlight of our Bolivia-Peru adventure! We survived the journey and set off for Cusco via Copacabana. The road was beautiful and we eventually crossed with little difficulty at Yunguyo. We bumped into some Polish backpackers who were hitchhiking across Peru. The landscape from Yunguyo was filled with small farms and plenty of donkeys and sheep. The sun had started to fade and we needed a place to sleep. We stopped at a likely small holding near the lakeside and asked a Matriarchal household (ruled by a grandmother) if we could camp on their shores. They agreed and even sent their tiny children to help us raise the tent!


Room with a view: Magical Lake Titicaca at night…


…and in the morning

Lake Titicaca was a wonderful resting point. The shores lap constantly and the water is beautifully clear. The dawn brought the fishermen to the shore and they all set off in tiny boats for their daily catch.

Refreshed, we set off for Cusco. The closer we got to the touristic town, the more we were exposed to traffic. On a road with no other road users, the ubiquitous grey pick up truck of Peru will turn up out of nowhere and insist on overtaking you. Despite an empty stretch ahead and behind, they will swerve centimeters from your front tyre and brake slightly in a self satisfied manner. We initially thought they were behaving like this out of malice or aggression but every single vehicle does it and occasionally waves and smiles happily or shouts Hola! and “Nice bike!” in an excited manner. We concluded that this was simply their driving style and they weren’t actually trying to run us off the road.

After some gorgeous winding mountain roads (stuck behind kamikaze minibuses naturally) we made it to Cusco and reveled in its Spanish colonial architecture. We were greeted by traffic police who were vainly attempting to control the nighttime traffic with their traffic glow-sticks (they look like red light sabres) and a series of whistles and floppy hand movements. Possibly we were tired at that point but it seemed pretty ineffective when faced with the endless tide of cars and minibuses.


Local wares in Cusco


Alex and lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side


Glimpses of Cusco

We quizzed our Peruvian hosts on the nature of the driving style in Peru and he was quick to laugh and admit that Peru were recognised as being in the top 3 worst drivers in the world.  When we described their close-as overtaking style (always just before a blind bend or with the added excitement of a fast truck in the oncoming lane) he said it was completely normal. It’s added a few grey hairs as well as enhanced our experience of the roads.

Cusco celebrates its indigenous population hugely and the flag is prominent alongside the Peru branding and recognisable trademark they’ve designed (a curly P). The central square is filled with markets selling artesanal products on the day we were there- the special feature was for Quecha and Andean clothing. Handwoven shawls and layered skirts were on display as well as hats (a little like bowler hats but taller) which looked out of place in the sea of colour from the woven goods. The colourful nature of the fashion is reflected in the nation indigenous flag- a grid of rainbow squares.


Cusco at dusk, the old town view


Old town style


The flag colours of the Indigenous people of South America

From Cusco we planned to go to Macchu Picchu. There are a plethora of tour groups and offices offering to organise excursions but the limiting factor is the road from Cusco to Aguas Caliente- it cannot be accessed by car or motorbike as it reserved for special buses only! You can get to Macchu Picchu by designated bus, train or on foot (5 days). We booked our train tickets and excitedly waited for our tour of Macchu Picchu the next day, glad not to be running the gauntlet of Peruvian drivers for a couple of days.



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