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Hola Peru!

I awaken early in Cocacabana with a little knot in my stomach because today is border crossing day. My last day in Bolivia and my first in Peru.

When I arrived at my hostel a couple of days ago, the hostel owner helped me park the bike in a nearby lockup, but it’s Monday morning and last night he came to say goodbye, as he was headed on the bus back to La Paz to begin his working week. Apparently he only got to see his family at the hostel on the weekends, and this morning it’s his school-aged children, a boy and a girl, dressed very smartly in their uniforms, who unlock and slide back the big steel door, giving me access to my bike.

The journey out past the airport on pot-holed roads soon sees us at Kasani, the grubby little border town, and the large, locked barrier gate at Bolivian Immigration and Customs. No English is spoken here, but I know the routine by now. It’s a small border post and I’m the only traveller here. Until a few weeks ago, this border was closed, due to the riots on the Peruvian side. But things seem to have settled down now, and it’s not long before the bike's serial numbers have been checked, documents stamped, the gate lifted, and I’m on my way to Peruvian Immigration.

So, how was Bolivia? I guess my lasting impressions will be poverty, litter and street dogs. The infrastructure seems buggered, the roading is collapsing and the people appeared surly and reluctant to engage. On Muzza’s scale of shitholes, Bolivia has to be right up there. I give it a solid 8. It’s Mongolia without the smiling, engaging people, and like Mongolia, it appears well within the grip of China.

As I reach the Peruvian Immigration and Customs it’s hard not to notice that the customs building has recently been razed by fire. Peruvians have been rioting. They want a new constitution; they are tired of what they see as government corruption. The recent troubles have extended all the way to the border, and now the Immigration building is doing double duty. Immigration and Customs, a one-stop shop.

A little broken English greets me here, and after a serial number check and the pretence of a customs search in one of my panniers, I’m soon on my way.

Hola Peru!

First impressions are similar to Bolivia, with the addition of many small blue and white Tuk Tuks, but as we move further away from the border things begin to improve. The differences are subtle at first - the old lady looking after her sheep has not just 2 or 3 sheep but a dozen or more, there are cows tethered between crops of wheat and oats, and things appear to be done on a slightly larger scale, with rural buildings and stockades built from rock, not mud. When I stop to photograph a group of farmers digging potatoes, they wave to me. In Bolivia I would be ignored at best.

Back in New Zealand I’d arranged the compulsory 3rd party insurance for the bike, known as SOAT, that covered most of South America. However I wasn’t able to purchase it for Peru, and the guy at Customs had requested to see it, and had warned me that I needed to purchase it as soon as possible. I find a couple of shops that sell SOAT but not to internationals like myself, for this I need a city. Luckily I’m headed for the city of Puno, where I find a SOAT agent who will sell to me. The lovely lady behind the counter is very efficient and soon I have both a paper copy and an electronic version on What’s App.

Those of you that know me, will know how much I love camping and today I have a great camping spot in mind, right on the shores of Lake Titicaca! I make my way though Puna, follow the coast a little further, cross a causeway and there it is! Hotel Largo Titicaca!

Just the sort of camping I need after a few days of roughing it in Bolivian fleabag hostels...

It’s winter and I’ve seen nothing but blue skies since I arrived in South America. While it’s been sunny, it’s also been quite cool, and this keeps most tourists away. Accommodation has been easy to find, often I’m the only guest and the prices have been cheap and negotiable. Hotel Largo Titicaca is 5 stars and then some, for less than the price of a cheap Taihape motel unit.

I know a grand establishment when I see one. My wife has dragged me through the doors of a few great hotels over the years, and this place is right up there. Two concierges await me as I approach on my dusty motorcycle, and they assist me to park up under the eave at the hotel entrance and carry my grubby gear in through the foyer. I am welcomed like royalty.

This place sits on the very edge of Lake Titicaca and has 300 rooms that overlook the floating Papyrus village that would normally bring throngs of tourists from around the world.

But today, instead of being full, there are only 5 rooms with guests. We have the undivided attention of the English-speaking staff, and it’s not long before I’m being served a delightful late lunch of trout, fresh from the lake in the hotel's very fine restaurant.

The beauty of camping is that one can please one’s self when to do things, and after a well-earned afternoon nap in my rather splendid room, I retire to the bar where one of the staff is lighting my campfire for me and enjoy a couple of large gin and tonics ( Bombay Sapphire, thank you very much), watching the sun sink over the lake, before joining the handful of other guests in the restaurant for dinner.

Breakfast is a lavish affair and quite the contrast to the meagre offerings I’ve become accustomed to, and all included in the cost of my room.

All in all, a wonderful intro to Peru, and in the morning the concierge assists me to hump my gear back to the bike.

The bike is reluctant to start this morning. It is cold and it still has a tank half full of that awful 80 octane Bolivian fuel. I’m tempted to take it as a sign and stay another night, but eventually she fires up, rattling and clanking. Once warmed up, I break camp and ride on.

At the nearest gas station we have choices, 90 octane or 95! I top up on 95 and before long the bike once again has a spring in its step, and we head inland, away from the Great Lake Titicaca.

NB: If you wish to comment, that’s great, I enjoy hearing from you. Do me a favour, add your name at the end of your comment. Otherwise I have no way of knowing who you are. Cheers.


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