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first impressions of bolivia

Lake Titicaca is still there: the Peruvian/Bolivian border dissects it roughly in the middle.*

Copacabana, the first Bolivian town we encounter, is a popular lakeside holiday place - for tourists and locals, alike. Bolivia is landlocked, so I imagine the lake has a special pull on Bolivians.

Ecuador goes in for eccentric statuary but Bolivia, it seems, has a thing for odd posters of animals photo-shopped into bizarrely inappropriate environments. Versions of these posters adorn most restaurants and hotels. The kangaroos give me a particularly good laugh.

The road climbs out of Copacabana alongside the lake which has something of a Mediterranean feel. I continue to ride in the company of Hugh, while Eva and Jan stay in Copacabana for a few more days to enjoy some lakeside sights.

Cars, buses, trucks and bikes are ferried across a narrow strait on rickety barges to what is effectively 'the mainland' - Copacabana is on an Bolivian 'island' bound by either water or Peru. Water crossings always have a mythic quality and our boat man is a deaf mute adding a portentous air to the journey.

A day or so's ride brings us to El Alto - a chaotic fast-growing settlement with a population that far outstrips La Paz's and straggles for unruly miles along the highway - before La Paz is revealed sitting below in a bowl surrounded by mountains. La Paz seems like a real, lived-in city, which only gives a cursory nod to the demands of tourism.

Sunday sees the streets full of twirling...

... swirling...

...and masked characters.

Tip your hat.

Rattle and shake. It's all a mystery to me.

La Paz is another of those South American cities with a Casa de Ciclistas – Christian manages to find accommodation for anyone on two wheels who passes through La Paz and requests it, sometimes in an apartment dedicated to the purpose but otherwise with his mother, his stepmother or wherever he can find room. I meet my friends Sarah and James at one of these establishments with the plan of cycling out of La Paz together – and after a few days of eating and planning, so it is.

*There is an oft-quoted joke and some debate about who got the ‘titi’ and who got the ‘caca’. Personally, I like the Bolivian side better.

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