It's a bright but chilly morning as I pay my cab driver 8 Bolivianos for the ride from my hotel to the rather grand looking bus station in La Paz. I'm there in good time for my pre-booked bus to take me straight through to Puno in Peru.
I go to the ticket counter – having to dodge the hoards of 'tout's willing me to take their bus to wherever - “you go Santa Cruz, Lima?” screams one of them at me. I just have to keep walking – it could be quite intimidating to some people, you have to learn to not make eye-contact. Just keep walking and they'll find the next punter to scream at.
I arrive at the 'Ormeno' bus waiting area – there ain't many people here, not a good sign. I find the ticket seller to find out where the bus is. “No bus today - border closed” she says. “Why?” I ask, already feeling this isn't going to be a great day. “Peoples demonstration – road to Puno closed” I'm not sure what the Spanish is for “oh bollocks”, but she gets my drift. “You come back tomorrow – maybe we go then”
I'm in a quandary – I'm gonna start losing time – I'm not sure what to do. I wander to a couple of other bus counters, one says they have a bus leaving in an hour. “Direct?” I ask, “Of course” they say. “The border, it's closed?” ask I. “Border open – 70 Bolivianos for ticket, only have one seat left” Nothing like a bit of 'pressure selling first thing in the morning.
I phone my hostel in Puno - “Is the border open” I ask, “maybe, maybe not – who knows” they answer unhelpfully, but truthfully.
So, one bus line says closed, another says open and the hostel says maybe. I decide to take a chance – may as well keep moving. This could go on for ages otherwise. The Ormeno refunds me most of my ticket money, “you don't go with other bus company, they all shit” she advises helpfully. I buy the other ticket and wait...
She's not wrong! I'm crammed into a small bus – around 30 seats on it. Not that you can see them though, they're that small and piled with bags, boxes, loose clothing – whatever. I'm sure I've got on to a removal van by mistake.
Around three hectic driven hours later we turn off the main road and head town an unmade track – into a very grotty township. “All off” shouts the driver “Border”
“Er excuse me, where will you be parked on the other side of the border?” I ask – he looks at me like I'm some sort of idiot - “I go back La Paz. You go Puno? You find black bus over border, that take you Puno” He's right, I do feel an idiot.
So drag my stuff to Bolivian customs post to get an exit stamp. That's easy. Then walk the 200 metre gauntlet of all kinds of people selling whatever, moneychangers, taxi drivers, pickpockets – everyone imaginable that wants something.
Into Peru, the immigration guy is friendly enough – and I'm in Peru.
Amazingly there is a black bus waiting the other side – it says Puno on a board in the window – so I just get on, sit down and hope for the best.
We stop at a Police checkpoint – the side lockers are opened and my bag is taken off. I've been given a tip – to try and sit above the locker where my bag is placed, so I can keep an eye on it when stopped.
So, my bag is on the ground at the police checkpoint – they start prodding around with long and thin steel needles, maybe 5mm diameter. I find out they're hollow and they use them to search for cocaine – they just insert them straight through the luggage and then withdraw it. If there's white powder in the tube, you are not going to see daylight again for ten years.
They start shouting – the driver (who is with them) points up at one of the windows – three armed police get on and literally pull a teenaged lad from his seat a couple of rows in front of me.
He and his bag stay at the checkpoint, mine is thrown back on and the bus leaves without him. If he is carrying coke, he's not in for a good time.
I obviously don't condone drugs or drug transportation – and I guess the lad will get what he deserves, but it's a strange feeling to be close-up to someone just being hauled away like that at gunpoint.
We pull into the bus station in Puno around ten minutes later. I see Andy is there giving Peggy a clean. We natter for a few minutes – arrange to meet for a pint later. He changes me a few dollars for some Peru 'Soles' and sorts me a taxi for my hostel. What a guy.
My hostel, the Don Julio is down in the town. It's a quiet but tidy and clean place. Puno is small - with a reasonable town centre and a number of nice looking restaurants and bars I've two nights here before leaving on the train for Cusco. I check what to do. Must have a trip out onto Lake Titicaca. Must also meet up with Andy and the gang.