Chapter 24::Table of Contents::Chapter 26

Chapter 25
Train to Puno
Bus to Bolivia


Morning brought more desert and seascapes.

At times rivers came down into the sea surrounded by bright green valleys, otherwise nothing grew in the rocks and sand. At breakfast we were joined by a short little lady from Puno going to visit family in Arequipa. We ate bread and figs & drank coffee. We turned inland about 40k from Areq. and come up another green valley. Once in town we claimed our bags, and N went off to the train station to check on trains to Puno. He got back and said there was one at 9 PM. So we killed some time sitting around the bus station writing, taking a pause for lunch at the cafeteria.

The tickets went on sale at 3. About 2:30 we wandered down to the station and got in the 1st class line. The 2nd class line wound out and around the corner. As the tickets went on sale the line was rocked by pushing & shoving. The 1st class line was more organized. N sat with the packs and I went into the station and bought 2 1st class tickets for 1117 each. The train didn’t leave ’til 9:30 so we had time to kill.

We sat next to the station, talking with an Italian fellow. N went over and bought some bread and an avocado and that was dinner. We killed a couple hours sitting around outside and then, when it began to get a little cold, we put on our warm clothes and went to sit inside. I started reading Gravity’s Rainbow. Soon a German fellow came up and began to tell us about a nice walk up by Yungay. N took notes while I tried to read. Then another fellow came along who, it turned out, was from Chile. He spoke excellent English as he’d been living in the U.S. for several years. We got his address in Santiago.

All during this time there was a lady knocking on the locked access door to the train. She must have thought herself somebody special. She knocked for almost an hour before somebody finally let her in. Then, slowly, other people began to be let thru. By 7 the door was left open, but only people with tickets were being let thru. We decided to head for the train and find our seats before the rush.

We loaded up our gear and headed for the train. As I was hauling my pack up into the car there was a fellow standing in the doorway, pushing people thru. Right after he pushed me into the car I looked and noticed the side pocket of my camera bag was open. Quick inspection revealed that in the shoving, my wallet, containing all my checques ($1640) plus $60 cash and my MCO had been stolen. I dropped my gear and headed out to look for the fellow. Of course he had long since headed for the hills. I was truly bummed. After 5 mos. traveling I was ripped off due to nothing more than my own carelessness.

We sat on the train figuring the extent of my loss, and tried to decide what to do next. It became clear that the thing not to do was take the train to Puno. Any refunds would probably have to be made in Lima, plus I had no money to show to Bolivian customs, and they wouldn’t let me in without any. So N. ran back to the office to see about cashing in our tickets. We couldn’t cash them in but there were plenty of people looking to buy 1st class seats. N sold his ticket on the spot and contacted another guy who would buy mine. So we loaded back up our stuff, I sold my ticket, and we headed back into town.

A Peruvian fellow guided us to the hotel district and we found the hotel Bolivar for 200 S each. We told the dueña of our predicament and she said we should go to the police right away. We thought we’d have to wait ’til morning but no, they were open all night. A fellow staying at the hotel took us to the office of PIP (Policia de Investigation del Peru). There we filed a report of my loss with the officer in charge. A friendly fellow, who held out no hope of finding the thief. He told us we’d have to go to the Banco National tomorrow and get some official form so we could have a certified copy of the report.

Our business with the police completed for the moment, still unsure if we’d have to go to Lima to get the checques refunded, there remained only one logical thing to do; we went to a liquor store, bought a 5th of rum and 2 cans of grapefruit juice, and came back to the hotel and proceeded to drown our sorrows.


Awoke brite and hung over.

We walked to the Banco and stood in an ever lengthening line to buy our forms. Then we found out they weren’t selling any forms for at least another hour. People in front of us began to leave and soon we found ourselves at the front of the line, but we still had to wait.

About 1/2 hr later, the inventory or whatever finally completed, the window opened for business. People began pushing, shoving, thrusting papers thru the window, butting line, etc. Being in the front and suddenly finding 13 people in front of you is enough to reaffirm your faith in the civilized world. In many ways these people are still barbarians. We finally got our papers to the tune of 90 S and headed off to the PIP office. At first we were directed to one office but I knew that wasn’t right. So we went into the office we were in last nite.

After waiting around for a while, a fellow took my papers and said to come back at 4PM. Just as we were walking out, the officer from last nite came in. We talked to him and he was much more helpful than the 1st fellow. He told us he’d take care of the forms and to come back at 11. We found that there was an American Ex. rep here in Arequipa so we went there next. We were waited on by 2 beautiful ladies (Areq. has many) and given a long form to fill out. They told us that with the Police report, it would be possible to cross into Bolivia and get the checques refunded in LaPaz. At least we won’t have to go back to Lima.

The form finally completed except for the police report #, we went off to eat lunch. I’d written my checque #s in my passport and using those #s plus my figuring sheet, I was able to figure out how many checques I’d cashed. I’d cashed $1360 and lost $1640. The only irreplaceable loss was $60 cash. I may or may not be able to get my MCO replaced.

After a lunch of rice chaufa with mariscos (little bits of bivalves or something that looked like whole miniature hearts [1] ) we went to the PIP office. The report wasn’t finished, wasn’t even started. The fellow from last nite was running the place alone and told us to come back in a 1/2 hr. So we went to the bank again and N cashed $20 to get us to LaPaz. More standing in line, pushing & shoving.

The banks have “summer hours” from 8:30 to 11:30 during Jan - Mar. At 11:30 he still hadn’t gotten his cash but they didn’t kick us out, just stopped more people from coming in. He finally got the cash and we went back to the PIP office where our report was in the typewriter. By noon it was finished, all the papers signed, and we went back to the Lima Tours office to complete the reclaim form. That completed, we had to go across the street to get everything photocopied. [2] We got the original police report and photocopied reclaim form to present in LaPaz. The rest would be taken to Lima to be processed. The transportation charge was 250 S. The post is unreliable so it would be taken by car. Thus all our legal hastles over for a while (’til the border or LaPaz) we headed back to the hotel.

We decided to try the train again tonite. We stashed our gear in the hotel office and headed for the park to read & write. First we stopped at a lunch counter for a burger. They took a long time to prepare but finally were ready. The “cook” started putting catsup on the burgers. N requested no catsup after one had been smothered, so the kid proceeded to smother the other one. Then the mgr. came along and had to scrape the catsup off before we were served. I sat in the park and wrote while N went off to buy the train tickets. One more time.

When he returned, we decided to cut the pocket off of the camera bag. By the time this was completed there was a little shoe shine boy sitting at our feet, we presented him with the decapitated pocket . This drew the attention of about 5 other shoe shiners who all came over to sit in front of us. They spent about a 1/2 hr trying to guess where we were from. N finally told them we were from Russia.

As the afternoon dragged on it got cooler and cloudier. We headed out to find a warmer place than the park. We stopped back at the hotel to don wool jackets and then walked down the street to find something to eat. We found a small rest. and ordered up a bowl of soup and a beer. That completed, we walked all around downtown looking for someplace that sold aspirin to treat N’s cold. We finally got some and by this time it was time to head for the train. We gathered up our stuff at the hotel and walked to the station. There we stood around for about a 1/2 hr ’til the doors opened, and then boarded the train.

We found our seats and stashed our packs between the backs of our seats and 2 across the aisle. The seats faced each other in pairs but were reversible. The fellow in the seat across from ours was from Argentina. We convinced him to reverse his seat so we’d have more knee room. He obliged. He was traveling with a big hand made leather bag. He also had another leather bag that contained his maté cup, and thermos. The maté is a tea like drink held in a wooden cup shaped: [3] and drunk thru a combination metal tea-spoon/straw. [4] The maté is poured into the cup, then hot water is added, then the straw in inserted into the cup. The end has small holes like a tea-spoon to keep the maté out of the straw. The stuff is then ready to drink. He also had a cute little blue beret with a Bariloche Ski School emblem on it. We talked with him for a while. [5] In appearance he reminded me of Ed Gitt. and in mannerisms like Chris Cotton, always with a story or joke.

In the seats behind us were Karl, the Swiss (not German) fellow that had talked to us in the station last nite about hikes in Yungay, and 2 girls; Pat from Missouri and Denise (Diane?) from Colo. Before the train got underway the usual assortment of vendors came thru selling cigs, candy, pears, peaches, etc. But there was one difference, some vendors were selling blankets for the cold ride. The train finally got underway and the rest of the eve. was spent trying to sleep. Pat was sick most of the time and made many trips to the WC to puke. What a drag.

Denise finally rolled out her sleeping bag in the aisle. N followed suit with my bag but kept being awakened by people walking over him. At one point while he was laying there, the Argentine fellow asked “Is that capitalist pig asleep yet?” Earlier he had made jokes about “Yankeelandia”. N finally got back up into the seat and we both covered up with the bag. I fell asleep against the window and N fell asleep against me.


We awoke before dawn, too stiff and uncomfortable to sleep any more.

Around sunrise the train pulled into Juliaca, where we had about a 45 min wait. We were besieged by vendors selling sweaters, gloves, sox, typical stocking hats, and bags all made out of llama wool. The Argentine fellow bartered with several of the ladies, getting the price of the sweaters down to almost 1/2 the original price (to about $6) but he only wound up buying a pr. of wool sox. As he was pulling on his boots over the sox N asked him if they fit alright. “Anything is possible with a little will and vaseline” he said. N. bought a stocking cap with the little ear flaps for 75¢. [6]

The train finally pulled out and by 7:30 we were in Puno. We grabbed our gear (nothing ripped off this time) and headed for Morales Moralitos, Infamous Bus Company, Peru. They had a bus to LaPaz leaving at 8:30. We bought 2 $10 tickets and with the extra baggage charge of 50¢ (actually 75¢ but we didn’t have that much) we spent the last of our soleis. We waited and waited for the bus to get going and it finally did at 10 AM. The bus, it turned out, was also waiting for a bus to come in from Cuzco.

Once on the road I immediately fell asleep, only to be jarred awake by a horrendous bump in the road. We had seats in the very back of the bus and a really good bump would catapult us skyward. There was a fat lady sitting next to us who had made several complaints about all the shit on the floor under her feet. Next to her in the dirtiest spot was a fellow from Colo. who had just finished traveling in South Africa. In front of him was a French couple and in front of us were 2 British ladies. We all had to hang on for dear life every time the bus hit a bump. The road was truly awful, nothing but mud and bumps. To make matters worse, I had to piss for the 1st leg of the trip. After about 2 1/2 hrs we finally stopped at a police check point. What a relief.

After a lunch stop we lurched on down the road, finally arriving at the border about 4:30. While everyone lined up to get Peruvian exit stamps, I headed down to the lake to take a photo of the hillside and the painted boats. After taking one rather poor shot I headed back to the office, not wanting to be late, only to be stopped by a police man inquiring about what I had just taken a picture of. I told him. He asked to see my passport and told me it was prohibited to take photos. I pled ignorance and he let me go.

Back at the customs stop I got my exit stamp. Just then the bus drove off without us. N & I followed it thru the streets, got back on, and then realized it had to stop another block away for Bolivian Customs. So we got back out and headed to the Bolivian Customs Office. It was a rubber stamp procedure, no need to show money or exit ticket, although there was a sign on the wall saying both were necessary.

Most of the travelers on the bus changed their soles to pesos with a German (?) couple coming into Peru. They told of "all of Bol. being under water". We had no soles to change but N managed to change $20 in a rest. next to the customs office for 18:1 as opposed to the bank rate of 20:1. We ate a sandwich there, set our watches ahead one hour, got on the bus, got off the bus for a passport check (before we’d even left the border) got on the bus for yet another passport check, [7] and finally drove off to LaPaz.

The road on this side of the border was marginally better, more little bumps, fewer big bumps. We had to drive thru 3 streams, one was almost 2’ deep, but we finally made it to LaPaz around 10 PM. The final descent from the altiplano into the valley provided a spectacular view of the city lights. We got our packs from the bus and started looking for a place to stay. Every place was full except for one, which wanted $3 each, too much.

We finally found the Residencial Rosario for $2.25 each. We checked in and immediately went out to find something to eat. We found a place selling sillpanchos(?), breaded meat with rice, spuds, veggies and hot sauce on the side. Plus a large bottle of coke it cost us 90¢ for the both of us. We came back to the Res & collapsed in frazzled heaps. N is coming down with a doozey of a cold. He’ll call his relatives tomorrow.

[1] They also had “JESUS” brand mineral water. Is nothing sacred?

[2] cost: 75S

[5] He had a cold & talked with a hoarse voice.

[6] We also got some good salteñas (little meat pies).

[7] The fat lady had failed to get her entrance stamp, but can do it in LaPaz.

Chapter 24::Table of Contents::Chapter 26