There Really is a Place Called Lake Titicaca

                                                                                                                 May 3rd, 2006: La Paz, Bolivia

     Now, being one who is fond of the subtle pleasures that the written word can impart, and, as a cunning linguist of
    sorts, having been known to pen a few such lines myself, I have, over the years, accumulated some of my favorite
    names for people and places. I fondly recall bumping into my good friend Ivan Joyderpuss in Kunztown, PA; have
    shared a beverage or two with Dick Hertz from Beeton, ON; have even had heated political discussions with the likes
    of Juan Tabonia in Intercourse, PA; but never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined myself dipping my hands
    into the frigid waters of Lake Titicaca. The place has to be right up there with Truth or Consequences, NM, as one of
    the coolest places I´ve ever eaten a pizza.

      But that historically significant lake (at over 3800 meters, the highest navigable lake in the world, but when you get
    right down to it, isn´t any lake navigable if you have yourself a rowboat and a couple of oars?) has since come and
    gone in our travels, and we now find ourselves in the ultra cool city of La Paz, Bolivia. And yes, that is the capital city
    (the highest such in the world) of the same country that has had 192 different governments in its brief but tumultuous
    181 year history, most of which having come to power via the old fashioned military coup; and yes, that is the same
    country in which you can buy T-shirts on every corner with a picture of the ever-popular coca leaf, and the slogan:
    ¨Coca no es drogue¨. When we were walking down the street yesterday with one of the guys from our hostel, we
    came to a corner and he said, ¨I just need to go talk to this guy about getting some...(weed, I was thinking. He needed
    to talk to this random guy on the corner about scoring some weed. What else could it possibly be)... coke... You guys
    good for tonight, or you want me to grab you some?¨. So that´s where we are at the moment.

      At last check, we left you as we were on our way to South America´s most famous tourist attraction, the ever
    popular Machu Picchu. With Sandra´s sister and her beau still in tow, we were on a limited time budget, and therefore
    had to pass up the Inca trail in favour of the more easily accessible backpackers train, which took us to the town of
    Aguas Calientes, its moniker ascribed for its supposed ¨hot springs¨. Well, we hit up those alleged hot springs the day
    before hiking up to the lost city, and I think the mayor should seriously consider changing his city´s name to ¨Aguas
    Room Temperature¨, because I felt like I was sitting in a tepid turn-of-the-century bath that had already been used by
    ma and pa and the rest of the siblings before me. A bit of a disappointment, to say the least. That night, knowing that
    we would be getting up early to hike to the top of the peak that had kept the lost Incan City lost for all those years (it
    was only rediscovered in the early 1900´s), the four of us sat down to a meal that would go on to change the course of
    our trip, and probably the rest of my life, now that I think of it.

      The next morning, we were up at the crack of 3:30, and eventually set out around 4:15 to hike the ridiculous trek to
    the top of the peak, in the hopes of making it there by sunrise. By 5:15, I was hunched over the cliffside, heartily
    puking up my breakfast of banana and peach nectar (which tastes surprisingly good on the way up). We eventually
    reached the top just before 6, and, after paying the $25 entry fee; a fortune by Peruvian standards; we walked into and
    amongst the Machu Picchu ruins which really have to be seen to be believed. Having almost killed ourselves hiking up
    to the top of that peak, I have no idea how the Incas could have possibly built a city up there (some of the stones have
    to weight 20 tonnes), but the sight of that place, in its untouched and near perfect condition, in that breathtaking setting
    amongst the clouds with the river rushing 500 meters below, was enough to make anyone gasp... which I just
    happened to do, followed immediately thereafter by another bout of projectile vomiting, the remaining contents of my
    stomach splattered all over those ancient, formerly virgin ruins. Within 10 minutes, Sandra had joined the procession of
    hurling, and we spent the next 2 hours passed out on the peaceful agricultural terraces of that mystical city, while
    Japanese tourists who had forgone the two hour hike from hell and taken the bus to the top happily snapped our
    photos. We eventually made it to our feet again, stumbled zombie-like through the rest of the ruins, I violently
    disgorged twice more, and then we mercifully climbed aboard one of the busses for the trip back to town, where we
    slept for a few more hours and then boarded the train for one of the worst 4 hour rides of my life, where I spent a
    great deal of time doubled over in the passenger car bathroom (one of those things you wouldn´t wish upon your worst
    enemy), before having an elderly German lady place her hand underneath my shirt to apply pressure to my solar
    plexus, promising me that it would do me some good. I´d be lying if I said I didn´t like it just a little.

      We spent the next three days in Cuzco, pretty much in a food-poisoned coma, before deciding on the last day to
    splurge for ¨luxury accommodations¨. Twenty Seven bucks got us a room in the nicest place we´ve stayed in so far,
    complete with cable TV and our very own towels (which I happily snagged, having ¨donated¨ my former towel to the
    laundramat in Iquitos). It really is amazing what you´ll watch when you´re bed ridden and there are only 3 English
    channels to choose from. For our viewing pleasure, we happily sat through Charlie´s Angels 2: Full Throttle (one of
    the worst movies I´ve ever seen), a documentary about Madonna´s last tour (no nudity), an Amazing Race episode
    from before Boston Rob and Survivor Amber were married, and the highlight of the evening, Triple X, starring five-
    time academy award snub-ee Vin Diesel... If there is any advice I would give to the prospective traveller, it would be to
    do everything in your power to avoid getting food poisoning in a third world country. But I guess that could probably
    go without saying.

      We eventually got our appetites back and got the hell out of Cuzco, but not before I could perform an act of
    unprecedented stupidity. You may recall that in my last email, I alluded to a gigantic F-up whereby I left my credit card
    in a Limean ATM. Well, left with only my bank card with which to withdraw funds, I managed to go one entire
    transaction before replicating my earlier brain cramp. You´ve gotta be fucking kidding me. I felt like Rob Babcock the
    morning he woke up and realized he drafted Hoffa Araujo with the 8th pick, traded Vince Carter for the Williams twins,
    bot out Alonzo Mourning for $10 mil so he could help the Heat advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, and signed
    Rafer Alston to a five-year deal, all within the span of 365 days. Utter disbelief, and the overwhelming urge to suck on
    the exhaust pipe of a South American overland bus. But Sandra has been kind enough to lend me some Bolivianos these
    past few days, and there has been the rumour of a money-wiring, as well as my bank card being mailed to a hostel
    somewhere in Argentina. Whether it gets there or not remains to be seen, but one thing remains certain: I simply
    cannot be trusted around mechanical devices. A 1970 Sears Hi-Fi record player with Eight Track is the bounds of my
    capabilities.

       Now, having been away from the pop charts of North America for two months now, I can´t say for sure what is
    popular with the kids these days, but I´m pretty sure that it isn´t the same as what is taking this particular continent by
    storm. What I´m referring to here is the inexplicable popularity of 80´s music in general, and to the popularity of Dire
    Straits in particular. Not only has the music of Dire Straits been blasting from just about every bar we´ve set foot in
    (oftentimes accompanied by their most rad 80´s videos, including the totally underrated and Springsteenesque Walk of
    Life, a virtual encyclopedia of hilarious sports bloopers involving basketball players in Stockton-like shorts), but in the
    Cuzco bus station, I experienced one of those musical events that will forever remain entrenched in my memory, like
    the time the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, or when Dylan went electric. While in the public washroom of the Cuzco
    bus station (again, an email in itself), and with the attendant´s radio blasting Walk of Life, I was just finishing up and
    washing my hands when from one of the stalls, a cell phone began to rang. Now, this isn´t an anecdote about a guy
    having an entire conversation on his cell phone in Spanish while having a crunch in a bus station washroom where you
    have to grab your ply of toilet paper from the guy at the door and the bowl you're provided comes sans seat, even
    though that is precisely what happened; because I was too overcome with mesmerization at the fact that this man´s
    ring tone was the opening riff to that quintessential 80´s classic, Money for Nothing. I was being flanked on all sides by
    Dire Straits... and in a public washroom no less!! Totally unprecedented.

      Anyway, we got on the bus for Arequipa, intending to hike to the bottom of the world´s deepest canyon, but after
    visiting a disturbing museum to view real life ice mummies, we realized that our visas were expiring in 2 days, and,
    with Sandra´s experience in foreign countries with expired Visa´s, we decided, after a great night at a South American
    Reggae and Punk bar (called Killa, if you´re ever in the neighbourhood), to make a bee-line for the border.

      We got into Puno, and visited the floating islands of Lake Titicaca (still funny), which are essentially islands (the only
    such in the world) made from the reeds that float in the shallows of the lake, and which are inhabited by indigenous
    people who make their living fishing and selling made-in-Taiwan trinkets to unsuspecting tourists. We met up with this
    totally cool Irish couple that we have run on numerous occasions (it´s been a little like running someone you kind of
    knew from highschool at the supermarket - you say hello, get caught up, and move on, only to keep running into them
    at the end of every aisle), and went out to this local club where we were the only non-Peruvians, prompting us, as if
    we needed any help, to get completely disgusting on Cuba Libres, me with my freshly shaven mustache ending up out
    on the street eating roasted potatoes from a plastic bag - the street-spuds were originally on a skewer, but I had to give
    the skewer back to the vendor. Apparently it wasn´t part of the deal.

      From Puno, it was on to Bolivia and the town of Copacabana, where there was some ridiculous festival going on.
    Apparently, Copacabana is the New Orleans of Bolivia, and it goes absolutely nuts at any excuse for a festival, because
    we got to the town around noon (I wanted to be there to catch the NFL draft, but of course, the only thing on TV was
    soccer), and there were bands playing and thousands of people parading, the women scantily clad and the men
    seemingly having zero issues with prancing around in figure skaters outfits, and the fun and the music literally didn´t
    stop until Sunday night. I remember waking up around 5 in the morning, and the bands were still going at it. (The Irish
    guy, of supermarket fame, told me that after we´d gone to bed, there began a literal battle of the bands, where one tried
    to play louder than the other, eventually leading to a full out brawl, with trumpets and trombones being swung like
    clubs). The festivities were perhaps more impressive because only the weekend before, a patron was murdered in one
    of the bars, prompting the mayor to place a 45 day ban on all alcohol sales... but during this little festival, the mayor
    himself was completely shit-canned, stumbling the streets, paying absolutely no mind to the fact that people were
    selling warm beer everywhere imaginable, including at the religious monument on top of the mountain overlooking the
    town. You gotta love Bolivia.

      Which brings us to today. We´re staying in a totally cool hostel in the middle of the Witches´ Market, have signed up
    for some Spanish classes, and Sandra has just bot the coolest guitar with flames painted on it. From here, we´re
    scheduled to mountain bike down (mom, stop reading here) the World´s Most Dangerous Road (aptly nicknamed
    Death Road), and then its off to the silver mines of Potosi, and the Salt Flats of Uyuni. Foley, glad to hear you got
    home in one piece (loved the updates, by the way), and Ronnie, make sure you have a wee Jameson for me on
    Saturday, as I wish I could be there.

    Talk to you all soon,
seanmccallum.com
Travelling Man