A Place of Contrasts

This trip has been very much about contrasts, Temperatures ranging between zero to 38 degrees, landscapes of beach, mountain, planes, and lakes, altitudes from 0 to 4080m, and feelings of despair to elation.
Leaving Bolivia we almost turned around and came home, not that there was anything wrong with the holiday, just our despair with the altitude sickness. Then waking up today in Titilaka in Peru things have improved thanks to hotel oxygen and a little bit of luxury.
We have just left the Eco-lodge on the island of the sun, which was a self sufficient group of thatched cottages at the top of the island, there was good and bad things about it: it was a stunning place to stay and the whole concept of adobe walls, thatched roofs, trombe wall heating (each cottage has a small conservatory to the side that heats up the side wall through solar gain during the day allowing the heat to dissipate into the cottage at night), solar hot water and they grow heir own fruit and vegetables to serve to the guests. In reality the cottages are cold and damp as the trombe construction has not been effected properly, they haven’t quite pulled off that difficult line between camping and comfort. 
Their food offering on the other hand was outstanding, three Chola ladies (these are the traditional Bolivian women wearing multi-coloured skirts, long black plaited hair and a bowler hat) served us scrambled eggs in the morning, fantastic packed lunches at midday and miracle quinoa soup and cauliflower cheese in the evening. 
On the island of the sun we did two days of boat rides between islands and trekking along the Inca Trail, we saw markets, sacrificial rocks, dirty hippies who tried to cadge a lift on our boat, llamas and Inca temples. Boy did we suffer though, that feeling like you’ve got flu and a hangover all at the same time, we’ve not had alcohol since leaving Argentina, we’ve avoided salt and worse of al we haven’t had a coffee for a week, all things you have to avoid at altitude, unless of course you are an Argentinian lesbian….
Our last day at Eco-lodge and we’ve been out on the Inca trail, returning to our cottage we sleep for two hours as neither of us slept well the previous night. At 7pm we leave our cottage to head to the dining cottage where there’s a bar and lounge area with spectacular panoramic views. Inside are two new guests Mari-Nieves and Jose-Theresa, they are both tall thin women, they both have large glasses of red wine in front of them, they’re both smoking and they’re both talking simultaneously. 
Mari-Nieves has blond straight hair just below her shoulders, they’ve been trekking for some days and her nose has gone very dark chocolate brown but there is a line at the top where her sunglasses sat making her nose look stuck on like a beak, she speaks Spanish to me and tells me that they too have had altitude sickness and tried the sorochi (local tablets containing strong caffeine supposed to help recovery), they had mate de coca (the green leaf tea that is also a stimulant that the locals swear by as a cure), and in the end they found that huge glasses of red wine, a couple of cigarettes followed by a strong coffee did the trick (all things you are warned not to have). Liam says they remind him of Ab Fab particularly Mari as she is tightly packed into latex, has an enormous bosom and could pass as Joanna Lumley.
Jose-Theresa is thin and dark with a brown bob and thick glasses, she speaks in a very deep voice and manages perfect English. They are a lesbian couple in their late fifties and like us seem to do a lot of travelling. We chat with them very easily and almost push our dining table next to theirs to continue the conversation, their guide arrives and joins them at their table as does ours and we tuck into our dinners.
The Argentinians chatter continuously on their table and occasionally lower their voices as if they are talking about something naughty, I glance over and see that their guide, a tall macho Bolivian man has tindr open on his large mobile phone and is connecting with potential liaisons to round off his evening, Mari and Jose are relaying to him in hushed voices one of their sexual encounters during their travels, they realise that both Ximena (our guide) and I have overheard their discussions and the guide says ‘they speak Spanish I’m not saying any more’. Argentinians are renowned swingers and have one of the largest swingers clubs in the world in Buenos Aires.
We finish our meal and wish everyone ‘Buenos noche’s’ then hobble back to our room like a couple of old folk, as we leave Jose-Theresa takes another bottle of red from the bar and goes outside for a smoke, methinks they’re in for a long night.
As Liam and I sit in bed pondering our new friends we are suddenly worried for them, they are going to be so ill, hungover and potentially hit by terrible altitude sickness, will we hear screams in the night or will they need a boat to take them to the mainland for hospitalisation?
We awake in our damp freezing cabin, the trombe wall as useless as ever just has a fly buzzing around in it, we feel dreadful, a mixture of cold, altitude and lack of oxygen has given me a belter of a headache. 
A particular characteristic of Eco lodge is that you’re not allowed to flush your toilet paper down the loo instead there’s an eco blue plastic bin for you to stash your used notes. I am not able to touch anything to do with this bin as it makes me wretch, so Liam and I have perfected the ‘poo-shower’ this is a system of undressing in the freezing bedroom, going into the bathroom, performing on the eco throne, then immediately showering thereby totally avoidingt contact with the blue eco bin. 
We arrive at the dining cottage thinking we will be first in as it is early, there sat at their table chattering and pouring coffee are the two Argentinians, not a hair out of place and clearly feeling chipper.
Today we move from Eco lodge  in Bolivia to Titilaka hotel in Peru, a 2-3 hour journey by road. We are taken part of it by one driver, then an exchange is made shortly before we reach the hotel, we are moved to a bright white van that has blankets and cushions on the seats like first class on a plane, there’s wifi and bottles of water for us, the guide gives us hot towels to wipe our hands and faces and then pops a gadget on our fingers to check our blood oxygen, Liam’s is fine well over 90% but mine is struggling at 84%. He lifts his car seat and pulls out a large oxygen canister passes me a mask and administers 10 minutes of oxygen getting me up to 98%!
I almost cry, I have felt so shit this week and really just wanted to go home, the oxygen lifts the dreadful migraine headache and I feel much more positive.
We arrive at Titilaka and are gobsmacked, this place is just beautiful, the scenery, the hotel and the people and the fact that there are only 10 guests in total. Everything is included, meals, bar (I wish) and trips wherever we want. A toilet you can flush, a warm dry bed and a log burner to sit by in the evening.
I have two more oxygen fixes and then retire to my bed facing Titicaca.
Mark, Isla del Sol, Bolivia, 21 January 2017




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