Chloe Hayes: Seeing South America - Chapter 4 (part 1)
During my travels I have been thinking about whether visiting other countries and experiencing new cultures solidifies your nationality or dilutes it. Never in my life have I ever said "I am English or I am from England" so much, however I have found myself totally immersing into the culture of Peru to the point where I haven't had a cup of tea for 6 weeks, completely unbelievable for me, or fancied a roast once and I've been going into scary looking restaurants alone and finding the most incredible food. Seen as I have never been travelling before and have always loved England from the bottom of my heart, I wonder whether I am just having a mind opening epiphany and I am just getting whisked away with the sudden thought of opportunity or if the seasoned traveller gets more and more influenced by cultures as opposed to coming back even more patriotic and proud of their country.
I arrived into Cusco and shared a taxi to the centre with a couple from London, only the second pair of Brits that I had met during my travels. As we were planning to stay in different hostels, we agreed to meet up the next day for a good peruse in the amazing market. I got into my hostel, which was beautiful by the way, an old colonial mansion with a beautiful courtyard full of plants and gorgeous wooden floors and balconies. In the living room area next to a fire I met a group of people chatting, 2 Brazillian dudes, 2 cousins from Holland and an American girl. We got a few Pisco Sours and then I realised, even though English was only 1st language to 2 of us, all of us were speaking it to each other. Everyone else could speak spanish and so I wondered if it was for my benefit or if it just happened to be the universal language for everyone.
The next day I got up and went straight to the Yoga rooms for a much needed stretching session. It was beautiful and rustic and just what I was looking for. Afterwards I went to meet up with the couple and we went straight to the market for a full morning of browsing then I took them to Green Point, the epic restaurant that I had been to before. We had the set menu which was phenomenal and discussed many things, mainly modern life and art. After lunch they had to go and book their trek and we were stood on a path discussing where to go when a guy sat on a step asked me if I was waiting for the spanish class. I had actually been looking into the different places for classes and so asked him about it. He said it was 2 ladies, one Maria and one Laura, they were lovely and he had been going there for 3 weeks. I walked straight in with him and enquired and booked 2 hours of classes in the morning and 2 in the evening for 4 days there and then. It just felt so lovely and small and you wouldn't even know it was there. Definitely my kind of place. We met back up and ran a few errands, then had a well deserved beer and an epic dinner in the evening.
Day 37 I believe this is. I got up for my Yoga class then went straight off for my first 2 hours. Wow was I awful, I knew I didn't have a head for languages but it was actually painful for both Laura and I. My head was frazzled after 2 hours and so I had to cure it with a beautiful vegetarian 8 sole set menu and afterwards accidentally slipped into an ice cream/ milkshake/ crepe place. I had ordered a peruvian mint base and mango ice cream when this guy wondered if he could sit with me as there were no other tables. Dave, turned out to be somewhat of an ice cream connoisseur and had this place marked on his map for a while. We got chatting and he had just came from his brothers wedding, he had married a Peruvian and Dave thought whilst he was here he would travel as well. We exchanged numbers for another ice cream meet then I went to my second spanish lesson, equally as painful but this time with Maria. It did leave me wondering whether I was just wasting my time and money.
I returned to my hostel fancying a bit of fun and it turned out the 2 brazillians from the first night and 2 new brazillian girls were planning to go salsa dancing later that evening, sorted! Before hand we chatted over beers and I was constantly getting quizzed for english words, 'what would you call this, how do you say that'. I was happy to answer, still thinking it strange that 4 Brazillians and 1 English person were speaking English together. We got onto the subject of language and I found myself apologising for Brits in general about our complete laziness for languages, although this is of course, generalising. It has turned out to be true though, almost every other person I have met from all around the world has managed to converse, even basically, in Spanish. Both British couples I have met and 1 British girl, has known please, thank you hello etc and that's about their limit, including me. However, and I used Pablo as a perfect example, although I am not condoning this in any way, it is so easy not to need to know a language. They were asking me words because they wanted to practice their English, just like when Martin from the Canon del Colca spent the entire descent perfecting his English grammar with me. It is the same in almost every country and as soon as people see you they speak in English without you even opening your mouth. Even the planes here have announcements in both Spanish and English and T.V and Radio is full of English as well. I was discussing this with one of the girls and she said that English is a universal language and when groups of people meet from around the world they choose to speak in English even if there is not one English speaker in the room. After an invention of Chicha and Whisky, pretty amazing actually, we headed out for Salsa at Mama Africa's. The club was split between an amateur dance floor and a professional dance floor, literally like dirty dancing and the people who were watching the professionals occasionally got pulled out from the crowd to dance with them. I got taken by a guy onto the dance floor and let me tell you, my 12 years of dancing did not help me one inch. I was hilariously bad but it was so much fun.
Day 38, I got up and went to Yoga again and headed over to my lesson with Maria. YAY, a break through happened and I was actually forming sentences, I felt like it wasn't going to be a waste of time and it may actually be helpful, Maria was also lovely and I felt great coming out of there. The weather had turned freezing cold and we had a thunderstorm that was absolutely epic! I got trapped in the place I had lunch, then went back to the hostal to ring some friends and family, I hadn't actually done this yet, realising it had been 5 weeks. Ooops. I had my afternoon lesson which was better still then met an English girl called Alicja, who had enquired during one of my lessons, for drinks. We chatted loads and I found out that she had returned to Peru after coming in the summer because she loved it so much. Whilst this whole identity thing was on my mind, I asked her what she thought about it.
She is 3rd generation Polish after her grandparents came to England in the war and she said she always struggled growing up wondering whether she was Polish or English as she spoke Polish at home and socially she was within a polish community. However, as she got older socialising in English became more prominent and her family actually started speaking in English at home, because of her speaking more in English with people outside the Polish community. The reason why think this links with this piece of writing is because she moved to Switzerland for work. I wondered whether this made her feel more British/Polish or if she got into the Swiss culture. She said that living in other countries for an extended period of time makes you realise the subtle things that make you British and you hold on to those things to feel the connection to home. She said that living in a different country made her realise how truly English she was after years of not really knowing and that she identifies more with that now that her Polish heritage. What Alicja also said however, is that she wonders what it s going to be like after the first generation aren't there anymore as they are the ones that carry the true connection.
Day 39 was a Monday and I got up to do my Yoga and Spanish lesson routine. After Yoga I took my Malaria tablet, yep I am still taking it from when I went to the Jungle for those 3 days about 3 weeks ago. During my lesson I started to feel really strange and cold but shook it off to side effects as they do give you strange feelings sometimes. I went for lunch and sat on a table with 2 Auzzies, a mother and daughter, the mother had flew from Auz for a week to see the daughter as she had been really I'll, how lovely that she took a 20 hour journey for 1 week with her daughter, amazing! They were heading down to the west coast, where I had just been and so I was telling them where to go ad how to get there. After my quinoa soup I had to buy a few bits then go to my other lesson. During which I really didn't feel well and was freezing cold. I spent the rest of the evening huddling by the fire writing my diary with Princess Diaries 2 on in the background. I went to bed at nine in a full outfit and wished that the sleep would cure whatever it was that had come over me.
Day 40 and I woke up at 5 O´Clock thinking it was about 11 still sweating but this time boiling hot. I decided to avoid Yoga sadly and sleep in to try and shake it off. I awoke again at 9, the latest I had slept in for I think the entire trip, I was still a little bit hot but I got up, sorted my stuff out and checked out. I was still ok by the end of these tasks so I thought it would be ok to carry on with the day as normal. I booked my coach to leave Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia for that night and headed on over to my last Spanish lesson. It was actually really sad as I had enjoyed the lessons and you really become friendly with the teachers because you spend your day talking to them for hours. Maria wished me ´Viajes Seguros´ and off I went to my last Peruvian Almuerzo menu, my utter favourite, and had to do some errands around town like buying and writing my last few Peruvian postcards and sending a few letters and parcels off for birthdays etcetera. In the evening I met up with Alicja for dinner at ´Korma Sutra´, a curry house that everyone was telling me to go to. It certainly lived up to it´s reviews and after a fabulous curry and a beer and a final farewell to Alicja I got into my taxi to the bus station and got on my coach to Bolivia. Before we set off a little doggy, of which there are many many many in South America decided to hop on board and come along with us. It took the stewardess a British girl and 2 French people to coax him off and we were finally on our way.
Day 41. At 4.45 in the morning I woke up in Puno, having to change over coaches for Copacabana. Bus stations are so funny at that time in the morning. I had about an hour to kill before the next coach and so I sat watching the mild hustle and bustle of dawn break in the station watching people dart across the empty space, some panicking about where to go, some dozing sleepily behind demanding husbands or wives, cholitas with their huge loads wrapped with blankets, whatever they keep in there I will never know. After a while I went outside for some fresh air and I met 2 guys from New Zealand getting on the same bus as me. They were so chilled out and swore every other word which was quite refreshing in comparison to the usual travel conversation, where are you going? Where have you been? Presently we got on the bus and at about 9 O´clock we had to go through border control. I strange and ridiculous string of about four stops including paperwork filling out, passport control, paperwork collection, police stops but hilariously no searches whatsoever of person or baggage. We also had to cross the border on foot and wait for the bus at the other side which was a faff but a good excuse for a chat with the other passengers. Here I met Marco, a Mexican guy with a thirst for travel and travel photography. We got back on the bus and about 15 minutes later we were alighting in Copacabana, a sunny little town on the edge of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia side. It did feel like I was cheating on Peru a little bit and I definitely felt like I was leaving a little piece of my heart there but I was excited for some new adventures.
Marco and I decided to look for a hostal together and after enquiring at a few rather expensive ones we found the best way was to share a twin room. Well I must say a semi-ish private room with it´s own bathroom was definitely a luxury and I took the opportunity to be able to split the price with someone. After sorting our ridiculously unorganized bags out and getting rid of an entire bin full of random bits of rubbish and papers we headed out to book a boat to the Isla del Sol on the lake. On the way we came across a few of the sights and also an amazing school science fair in the Plaza consisting of cool games and experiments that we were truly awful at, especially me considering I can´t speak Spanish. Any hoo we won a piece of cake and some crisps so I was happy and we had a browse at some of the markets. Although we were still on Lake Titicaca I could instantly feel that I was in a different country. I couldn´t tell you what it was but I could just feel it. Before our boat turned up we decided to have some lunch overlooking the lake. Whilst trying to decide which beer was the best to have a Belgian dude named Martin cut in and told us his favourite choice. We invited him to join us and before we knew it we were discussing travelling around the world, listening to them and all the places they had been to really wetted my appetite and made me want to book to every country consecutively for an epic round the world trip. Marco looked at his watch and said ´Right, its1.15pm we should leave for our boat.´ To which Martin said ´You know it´s 2.15pm?´. What absolute idiots, we hadn´t changed our clocks to Bolivian time, coming from a coach you feel you don´t have to do these things, we are also in the 21st Century therefore you feel like your phone should sort of do it automatically. Marco ran down to see if there were any other boats and I paid the bill. We couldn´t so bugger it we stayed where we were and continued to drink in the sun. Usually when these sorts of things happen to me I panic and worry and stress out, however at this point I couldn´t of cared less, yes it changed my plans but who cares? I have 2 months left to travel around, I think 1 more night isn´t going to do any harm. So not like me at all. I am a changed woman!
We had heard about this climb up to a cliff top next to the town that would lead to a viewing point to see the town and the sunset. So after our beers, a quick switcharoo of the tickets and a purchase of our bus tickets to La Paz we headed up there. It was still really hot and the altidude made the steep steps feel even harder to climb up. It felt good though after nearly a week of not doing much physical stuff apart from yoga. It only took us about half an hour to reach the top and then we headed into a frenzy of photo taking the views were so gorgeous. Marco being a keen travel photographer, Martin wanting to take epic photos on his fancy camera and me hurrying to change my film before the light changed. The sunset wasn´t going to be for about another hour so we played around and then climbed right onto the edge to find the best spot to see it. We totally should have bought some beers or something, although I don't know if I would have ever got back down. The sunset was truly beautiful over the lake with the colours and the reflections. We sat in silence watching it slowly disappear behind the horizon then descended back down the rocky steps to the town. Martins friend came to meet us and we all went out for dinner. Marco and I decided to get an early night seen as we hadn´t slept in a bed the night before and after a freezing cold shower I tucked myself in and had an epic nights sleep.
We awoke early ready to catch our boat on time to the Isla del Sol and after a platano con leche and an apple we were queueing up to get on board. The boat was long and packed and I must admit I had a little nap. About 2 hours later we docked on the north side of the island. Immediately greeted by a local tour guide, he took us straight to pay the island tax and ticket fee and then we headed for a guided tour along the coast through the village. It was very similar to where we had our home stay on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca before. Again the views and the landscapes were stunning and as we walked through we got chatting to a welsh dentist who had been travelling South America for many months. We made it to the very edge of the Island and at the Roca Sagrada we all made a wish, had a moment of silence and hugged each other, it was lovely! After seeing the Cementera del Inka some of us set off on our own to trek the length of the island down to the south side to catch the boat from there.
After paying the entry tax just to do the walk, I have now learnt that Bolivia is absolutely FULL of taxes for everything, nothing is free around here. Marco, the Welsh dentist (I´ve forgotten his name I am awful!), a french teacher and I all headed off. The trek was ´Peruvian flat´ as Edwin, our guide from the Inca Trail would have said but there were some super steep parts also. Because we were at the highest, most central part of the island also, the sun was baking down on us. All totally worth it though as the views were some of the best I have seen so far on this trek and we all had such good discussions about travel, language and photography (these subjects keep cropping up!) and after about 2 and a half hours of walking and yet another island tax, we descended back into civilization, a small village and on into the docks. We decided to sit on the roof of the boat this time, and although it seemed like a great idea when it was still and sunny, when we started actually going along on the lake it was super cold! We sat next to 4 Dutch girls and as we got onto the subject of dentistry, one of them was explaining that she had heard a story about a guy who got up in the middle of the night and accidentally walked into a glass door and knocked his front tooth out. THAT WAS BRAZILLIAN PABLO FROM CUSCO! He told me he had done that a few days before I had arrived there and I found it hilarious that his story had got around so far and so quickly. These girls had come from La Paz which means it travelled across borders and through travellers in just over a week. Utterly amazing especially in a world where no one knows each other, no one has any body on facebook and you very rarely talk to fellow travellers over WhatsApp or the internet.
Words and Images by Chloe Hayes