Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Peru - The Border Crossing

Monday 4th Tuesday 5th August

Copacabana is too mad! There are too many people here on a pilgrimage for the festival and I feel claustraphobic in the narrow confines of the streets. I consider a boat trip to the Isla del Sol, another form of pilgrimage performed by backpackers with lonely planet guides, but I need space.

So I ride...

And it's chaos. Leaving this small town is reminiscent of leaving La Paz in miniature. I escape in a foul mood after a couple of near misses. I need to ride....

Unfortunately I ride just a little too far. 30kms quickly pass me by and I stop to consult a map. You see Copacabana sits quite close to the Peruvian border. Like 8kms close to the border and I've done 30. I wondered where all those tricycle taxiis had come from - not seen any of them in the whole of Bolivia. And the new red and white flags?? Something has definitely changed I thought, but I just had my head in a cloud - lost in riding mode. Now it dawns on me I might be in trouble.

I've just left Bolivia and apparently entered Peru illegally!! Yeah Bolivia, second only to Columbia in it's reputation as a South American drug capital, and I've just left there without officially crossing the border. That's the type of thing that could be misconstrued by a customs official... I do remember a bit on the road with queues of traffic, loads of people and a barrier across the road, but then there are so many police check points with barriers. Usually I just go round them as no one is interested in a solo cyclist. Except perhaps on this occasion....

I begin to think about going back to the border and confessing. But then that won't nesessarily help - why should they believe me, and they don't know when I crossed the border - could have been days ago. So rushing back doesn't make it look like an honest mistake. Might as well see a bit of Peru first and worry later I reason. Se la vie, let fate drive...

Plus there's an almighty head wind for 22kms if I decide to go back. Ho hum...

So I ride on, flip-flopping between a feeling of casual laissez-faire, and a sphincter tightening terror at what could happen should I hit a police check point.

So I have one single photo of the first day on the road out of Copa. And it's not even a very good one. This kind of thought process (Peruvian jail, explaining the extended time away to the family etc) rather detracts from the holiday snappers gay abandon....



I camp at the roadside to finish the 160 km ride to Puno the next day...

To be honest, I find the ride along the lake shore a little disappointing. That's not to say Titicaca is unimpressive. Maybe I was just spoilt in the Argentinian Lake District. Maybe I was just expecting so much by making it one of my tour highlights before I set out... Maybe I'm still edgy from my (failed) border crossing, but for some reason I was expecting more.

However the shoreline does team with birdlife and has prosperous farmland. I pass "JulĂ­", nicknamed the "Rome of South America" for it's four churches on four hills....



And the massive, but now disused bull fighting arena at Acora....



Meanwhile something burns out on the lake...



But I am in no mood for sightseeing and finally get my first glimpse of Puno...

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