Diary 18 (or To 4000m and beyond!)
It´s that early start in Agua Calientes to catch the 6.10am train towards Cusco. The train runs right through the centre of town, no niceties like level crossings or barriers here. There´s little to see as the locomotive winds its way along the valley floor, past km 82 to Ollantaytambo where the morning run terminates. Perfet - Ollantaytambo is one of the major sites around Cusco that I haven´t seen yet.Suprising even myself with a seemingly insatiable appetite for steps its up the terraced hillsides once again. There are elements of unfinished stonework here, the protruberences and notches that ¨cement¨ the walls together are exposed to view, long sweeping terraces and a complex of temples for water worship at the bottom of the hillside. Though most of the temple´s blocks have been removed by locals for building materials their foundations remain, chiselled into the bedrock.
From here it´s onto Urabamba, transportation hub for the Sacred Valley. A bad choice puts me on a bus bound to Cuzco via Pisac (been there) instead of via Chinchero as planned. Ho hum! No worries - Pisac´s Sunday market is in full swing, a riot of colour and noise. The street behind the church is my favurite with a bakery selling hot bread rolls, baked with a filling of melted cheese, peppers and onions. There´s also a miniature castle populated by some 20 guinea pigs - don´t ask me! From here it´s back to Cusco, time to sort out my exit in the direction of Bolivia and locate tat slippery Irishman James. Oops, I seem to be having a beer or three in Paddy´s again.
There´s a bus to Puno, and it´s not a night bus! East of Cusco and the hils that form the Amazonian watershed stretches the Altiplano - Peruvian Highlands. This high flat plain seems endless as we bounce along to our destination, some 7 hours away. The monotony is broken by toilet stops in the middle of nowhere, interesting only for the ingenuity of Peruvians as they relieve themselves in full view of each other without exposing even a square inch of flesh. More out of concern for the dust and windthan modesty me thinks. Puno is dim in the early dusk by the time we arrive, but the bright lights of the centre beckon, good food and a planning session for tomorrow.
First stop fo the morning is the hilltop park of Huajsapata. Here a larger-than-life white statue of the first Inca, Manco Capac looks out over Lake Titicaca where he is supposed to have been born in legend on Isla de Sol. The views over the town are suprb, sound welling up from all quarters, but the Lake is a little too distant, its legendary blue muted by the bright morning sunshine. A lunchtime meander down to the lakeside docks is crowded by collectivos, machinery and rail engines shunting stock, not quite the relaxation I had in mind. Stil this afternoon´s entertainment beckons: my final site of ruins in Peru, the funerary towers of Sillustani. A mixture of Colla and Inca origins, these towers stand on a bleak windswept hillside almost surrounded by the Lake Umayo. More great views, hopefully great photos and fond memories of the diverse ruins in Peru, from Sipan and Tucume in the north to Macchu Picchu and the Incan Empire in the south.
Off early again, this time towards the Peru/Bolivia border at Desaguardero. I want to see if I can change my air ticket to extend my time in Bolivia (at the expense of Rio) and this is only possible in person, in Lima or La Paz. Destination: La Paz.
Desaguadero is a hole but I´m lucky with the first bus out of town and its a brief vsit. Why are the only money changers on the Peruvian side of the border? Damed inconvenient, it´s not as if one can go back is it! It´s only 3pm when I get to the City of our Lady of Peace, approached through the Altiplano district of El Alto, a great flat expanse of rundown housing, market stalls and garage mechanics. Then suddenly the land drops away and La Paz proper is laid out beneath me, lining the floor and walls of a 5km wide crater.
Once at the bottom, the city is always there, peering through every gap and alleyway where normally sky, clouds and horizon should be. The afternoon´s entertainment is a wander down the Avenida Principal to the airline office, down from the middle class area of my hotel to the posh districts around the US and UK embassies. It´s a sad fact that the tone of skin definitely lightens as the class of neighbourhood rises. Back in the centre its time for a non-beer orientated evening - Jurrasic Park III. I should have had the beer.
My only full day in Bolivia. What´s a boy to do? You guessed it: ruins!
Tiahuanaco lies one hour back towards the border, the road offering some great views of the Cordellia Real away to the east. A couple of dusty kilometres off the main highway, the centrepiece of Tiahuanaco is a 16m high platform, or so it seems. This truncated manmade hillock hides the real attractons of the site, stoneclad raised patios whose wals are buttressed by great slabs of stone every 7 or 8 metres. The patios are decorated with carved figurines, ornate gateways and some of the most intricate engravings I´ve seen yet. The sun gate especially bears repeating emblems of the sun god, contrasting with the relative simplicity of the moon gate. Heading back towards the road, Puma Punku shows many fragments of carved masonary, some exhibiting the 20 angled corss of the Incas.
Back in La Paz, its too hot to sit and wait for the minibus to descend through the streets to La Cemeterio, so I hop out and complement my walk from middle to upper class yesterday with one from the poorest neighbourhoods to my hotel. The descent is precipitous, following rough paths between adobe houses, marked only by refuse, dirty streams and pipes, but the inhabitants are some of the friendliest people I have met in South America. Tonight´s entertainment is a Knight´s Tale, far better named in Spanish: Carazón del Caballero. Rated!
Time to depart for Brazil, and after a final shoping spree for pressies, it´s off to the airport. The take-off from El Alto is great - its takes twice as long as normal because of the high altitude - banking over the La Paz suburbs to give a birds eye view down into the crater onto the city itself. Beyond the Cordellia Real, a solid blanket of clouds stretches east towards Brazil. One quick pause at Santa Cruz and one rushed transit at San Paulo later, the lights of Rio beckon on the horizon...
 Especially myself!
 Show me a border town that isn´t.
The lovely lady in the Varig office regrets to inform me that flights from now until the 27th are fully booked. Looks like a week in Rio after all.
 Anyone that guessed ¨beer¨ owes me a pint!
 Sewage or water?
 Form an orderly queue ;-)