Blissfully to Bolivia: Juli to Copacabana - South America: a first time for everything - CycleBlaze

September 16, 2013

Blissfully to Bolivia: Juli to Copacabana

SOMETHING ELSE I DIDN´T KNOW: That the beach in Rio is named after Copacabana, a tourist town and backpacker retreat right here eight kilometres from the border of Bolivia and Peru. You´re going to ask me how that could be, of course, and I´m going to disappoint you: I don´t know. But I´ll tell you first if ever I find out.

Juli was remarkably spruce this morning considering the extravaganzes only hours before. The litter had been cleared, tables removed, banners taken down. All that remained as witness were small heaps of powdered glass, crushed by a thousand feet, and the table-football machines being enthusiastically wrenched by small children.

I started the day rougher than ever, and a virtiginous road out of the square did little to make me - or anyone else - feel better. Our hearts were heavy, anyway, with the thought that yesterday´s road had been busy even though it was Sunday and that we were sure to have worse on this Monday morning.

Visiting the hilltop church at Pomata
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They knew how to make doors back then...
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But when we got to the top... nothing. The road was empty, the sun shone and the horizon dazzled with snow-topped mountains. We rode, my soul and substance feeling better by the minute, up and down beside Lake Tititcaca and looked out left over spread fishing nets and scruffy pale blue rowing boats. We had the world largely to ourselves and at journey´s end we had another country: Bolivia.

The romance of just that word: B...O...L...I...V...I...A!

To a European, it rings of excitement and colour and danger. And tonight we would be there.

Farewell, Peru...
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Of course, it wouldn´t be good for the wellbeing of man if every day were perfect. And today wasn´t. Because having turned away from the lake and into countryside more reminiscent of yesterday, our route took us left at a fork and straight into a wind that until now had been over our shoulder and pushing us along.

You and I have ridden in worse winds. There was nothing about this one that was going to bring us to a halt. It was simply the injustice of having to ride into it.

We pushed on through hamlets whose names were longer than they were, rows of flat-topped, mud-brick buildings from which unused steel rods protruded to suggest that some day someone might get round to adding another floor. Every wall was painted with a political slogan, the many names suggesting elections here are well contested.

By contrast, the sports stadiums, and there are quite a few, are left untouched. We never saw public buildings daubed with graffiti..

We stopped for lunch just before the border. The sound of excitement and firecrackers came from across the square...
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It turned out to be a mass religious confirmation, with confetti flying everywhere
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The stadiums - soccer grounds, largely - are bright yellow and blue, oases of colour in brown surroundings. They are replacing older pitches on which the goals still stand, their top bars sagging, but on which the grass has been scoured from the earth.

Folk were just going home from the confirmation when a funeral arrived on the other side of the square - with the hearse driver wearing a red baseball cap
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The border came, as borders should, with a lot of stamping of passports, the man in Peru stamping us out, the man in Bolivia not allowing us to be stamped in until a soldier in brown uniform with a sparkling leather belt has checked that his counterpart in Peru has done his job only 50 metres down the road. Visas distributed when we entered Peru were collected as we left.

...and hello Bolivia
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It takes two men to register us out of Peru, and we thank them for their country´s hospitality and friendliness, and two more to see us into Bolivia. We are asked to complete a slender green form, trying to understand the questions on the reverse, in Spanish, that inquire whether we have any ambitions towards sabotage or civil insurrection. We get a small strip across the bottom to keep until we leave the country.

It is all done in an atmosphere of bon enfant and, really, the only thing we notice has changed is the picture of the president behind the desks. Invisibly, though, we have moved into a different time zone.

Oh, and the one American in the group found he had to pay $150 to get into the country, money accepted only in perfectly crisp notes.

Copacabana beach: no doubt lacking the sophistication of its Brazilian counterpart
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