Today, we make the second leg of our journey to La Paz. By this stage, we are all slightly the worse for wear. Jay is more or less all right, having recovered from her sickness yesterday, but I have mild food-poisoning from the meal on the train yesterday (undercooked chicken) with diarrhoea and a heady cold. John also has a cold, and James is still not quite firing on all cylinders after his tummy upset a few days ago. Both John and I feel very unwell on the coach. We leave Puno at 8 am and reach the border just a little before lunch time. We then have two lengthy queues to endure in order to receive the required rubber stamp marks in our passports. I am too unwell to stand up and end up sitting on my daysack, occasionally shuffling forward under the burning sun.
Finally, we are through. Our next stop is Copacabana, but before that, one of the bus crew begins to come down the aisle demanding a ‘tax’ of 2 bolivianos each. Two Australians behind us have read of this scam, and a revolt ensues as several of the passengers refuse to pay. The tax-collector persists, with threats to increase the tax to 10 bolivianos, but realising that he is not winning, he seems to judge that the danger of being reported to the tourist police outweighs the potential gain to his pocket. He makes his way back down the bus, returning the money he has already collected but, like a bad looser, complaining bitterly all the way.
We sit in Copacabana for some time before discovering that our bus is not in fact continuing to La Paz. After learning that we must change to a minibus to carry us across the Tiquina Strait and finally to La Paz, we barely have time to retrieve our luggage off the roof of the first bus before it pulls away on its return leg to Puno.
We arrive in La Paz at 5 pm. As we descend into the bowl-shaped valley in which the city lies, we see the whole sprawling mess that is La Paz. At the bottom of the bowl are the smarter buildings, where the money is. Further up from the bowl-centre the buildings become progressively more and more ramshackle and run-down, and the extreme poverty in the upper regions is self-evident.
John and Jay, the only two of us who are now feeling up to it, do a sterling job of finding a room at the Hotel Continental, a clean five-bed room with ensuite bathroom, for the equivalent of just over £4 each. The shower is another Frankenstein affair, but is adequate. Outside the hotel there is a frenzy of activity. Almost every available space on the pavements seems to be occupied by street-traders, selling everything from oranges to fake Nike tee shirts. Traffic crams the streets, for the most part quite unable to move and futilely raising a cacophany of honking horns. By the time we are sorted out, John is beginning to feel much worse, with a headache and shivering. I am a little better. We eat nearby. For John and me, soup seems to be a safe choice.