These reports may be fewer and further between for a while because my netbook seems to have crashed for the final time here in La Paz. I´ll be using smelly internet cafes for the next month until my mom brings a replacement down.
Leaving Peru turned out to be an absolute hassle. Charlie and I got to the border to find another nest of corruption. In the end I paid a cop $40 (down from $100) for permission to leave the country because I didn´t have insurance. It was the same scenario as in Mexico; everyone involved had the same story and I was dealing with the highest in command. I didn´t put up much of a fight this time because more than anything I just wanted out of Peru. I paid him, he gave me a bogus stamp, and I was out of the frying pan into the fire.
The Bolivian side went pretty smoothly, even with the $135 visa charge for U.S. citizens. At least that one is real. Another round of headache started while we imported our bikes. The worm behind the counter asked us for insurance... which we still didn´t have. We told him exactly that. He said he couldn´t do anything unless we had it. We asked him where to buy it... La Paz. ´Ok, we´ll go to La Paz and buy it´. ´No, one of you takes a bus there and buys it for both and comes back´.
That would have been a 24 hour trip so we just hung around fifteen more minutes asking him stupid questions until he started filling out his paperwork and completed the import. He was just looking for another bribe; but luckily the cops outside liked us and he had no power to hold us back or write us up anyway. We got through the entire crossing by noon and headed towards La Paz absolutely furious.
After talking to the guys at our hotel in Puno we had decided to take the low-key crossing that requires a ferry over Lake Titicaca. The road across the border was great with beautiful views looking north and south down the ´world´s highest lake´ (whatever that means). At the end of a small peninsula we came to the town with the ferries. We stopped at a little restaurant and ate a very dodgy meal of rice and hot dog. After that, we rolled down to the docks and loaded onto the boat. These aren´t your typical ferries. They are skids with outboards on the back just big enough to hold a tour bus. Charlie and I parked our bikes up against a railing and held on tight.
The whole quarter mile distance took about twenty minutes. The boat slowly plowed through the water creaking and twisting in the waves. On the other side we unloaded and rode off towards La Paz. Three hours later we had arrived at Lion Palace Hostel on Calle Linares. The place was recommended by Anna and is located on the main tourist avenue. We found Anna in good form upstairs and within a half hour we were all out for drinks to celebrate. The reunion was going great until around 9:00pm when I was crippled with gut cramps which soon spiraled into another round of traveler´s diarrhea. I spent the next two days slugging down antibiotics within blocks of the hotel.
The days weren´t completely wasted. Wednesday we walked down to the main street to watch the miners protesting in the streets. The protests blocked up the main highway in both directions; thousands of people wearing mining helmets marching and chanting through the middle of La Paz. Every quarter mile they would clear a hundred foot radius circle and blow up four half-sticks of dynamite in the street. Bombs so big you felt it in your chest when they went off. It was quite the scene but shortly after arriving I was forced to waddle home to the toilet.
I also got to see the ´witch´s market´ which is mainly full of spices and Viagra knockoffs. Most interesting were the dried out llama fetuses hanging for sale at every doorway. I never figured out their importance, but given their popularity there must be quite a market for them.
Today, Friday, I´m finally feeling back to normal. This morning we walked down to see San Pedro prison which was made famous by the popular book Marching Lines. The prison is one-of-a-kind in that inside is a fully functioning society with no guards to enforce typical rules. Prisoners buy thier cells and can decorate them with whatever they want (TV´s, furniture, etc.). The more money a prisoner has, the better location and treatment he gets. To earn money they all run businesses out of their cells. They also bring thier families inside to live with them in jail. Right now there are over 100 children living in San Pedro. Drugs, alcohol, prostitution are apparently easier to find inside than outside. What the prison is most known for is its production of cocaine. The inmates have been producing and selling some of Bolivia´s purest coke for years now. For the last decade they have even offered semi-illegal tours into the prison for tourists. Given what goes on in there, though, the lines of legality are very blurred.
Outside of the entrance we met Dave from New York. Dave has been an inmate for the last twelve years as the result of a botched drug run. He´s got two weeks left and he´s currently on work release. While the others on work release find jobs and spend their meals with their families, Dave is unemployable as a foreigner so his job is to recruit gringos to take the tour. He´s barefoot, smelly and obviously strung out, but still a hell of a nice guy. He told us a lot about being on the inside, how it´s basically a huge party in there year ´round. He offered us the tour but eventually I declined. I wanted to go in, but reports are that authorities are cracking down and sometimes deporting tourists who get caught. If I didn´t have my bike, I might have gone for it. Instead I decided that I´ve dealt with enough stress and headache on this leg of the trip. Seeking it out just didn´t seem prudent.
Meeting Dave was entertainment enough anyway. He said some funny stuff. Most notably ´Man the thing that gets me is that they caught me with 2.5 kilos of the finest yay you´ll ever see, and then sent me right back to where they make the shit!´ Dave´s lucky to be getting out soon. The growing notoriaty surrounding the prison has finally forced the government to build a replacement outside of town complete with guards and rules. According to Dave, it´s a priveledge to still remain in San Pedro, which shuts down completely in February. It must be; he was bitching that they wouldn´t let him in until dusk.
Tomorrow Charlie and I head south while Anna is moving to Cochabamba for a few months to study Spanish. It´s been a real fun reunion despite my gut-rot, but everybody´s got places to be. Given the way all of our minds operate, though, this won´t be the last time we meet up. The world is getting smaller every day.