Diving in Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro

After we got back to Rio we realized we were missing one night of accommodation between the 6th and 7th of March. And I had been wanting to go to Arraial do Cabo to do some SCUBA diving there. Some research showed that there are a lot of dive centers there, and also rather nice beaches. And the bus is just €10-15 each way, depending if you want air-con or not.

We decided to stay two nights there, as we could then both get there and have a good nights sleep, I could dive in the morning (all dive tours seem to start at or around 09:00, but you need to show up at 08:00 to show your certificate), and we could then relax and have a swim in the ocean before heading back to Rio. We booked a hostel and a dive tour with the operator called Seaquest Sub. Linn did not feel like diving but wanted to join in on the boat tour. The diving cost €55 including everything (I just needed to bring myself), and riding on the boat was €14.

When we arrived we realized that the hostel was not at all located in Arraial do Cabo, but rather in Arraial do something else. A bit stumped we started to walk around to find a place to stay, at first we found a pousada charging €40 per night for two people in a room. Later we found a hostel charging €16 per person in a dorm. They also offered use to use their WiFi to find something cheaper, and also to stay in a tent in the yard, at just €9 per person. We found another hostel online that cost €12 per person. On our way there we stumbled on our final choice, Paradise Hostel, €9 per person in a dorm (which we shared with noone) including towels, linen, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste!

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After a good nights sleep we woke up early and had a light breakfast. At 08:00 we arrived at the dive center just by the bus stop we were dropped at earlier. The only thing that we did there was pay and I showed my open water certificate. After this we were sent down to the port which is a 10 minute walk from the dive center. Here we had to pay the boarding tax that finances the port, it was €1 per person.

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Our boat was for some reason put last in the line of boats taking tourists out, why we were not allowed to board until 09:40. Well on the boat there was a big Norwegian group getting their open water certifications and four Brazilians who were doing the same dive tour as I did. One of them, a lady named Beh Valerio took a lot of pictures and was nice enough to let us use them on the blog, so all underwater photography is credited to her.

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After a short while we arrived at the first dive site, the information wasnt too good, but the service was. The only thing I needed to do myself was to put on the gear, everything got assembled by our guide and the others working on the boat.

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We stayed close to shore and at about 5-10 meters depth. We saw hundreds of amazing colorful fish that I do not know the name of, one big turtle and two huge stingrays! The visibility was about 15 meters, and I enjoyed it a lot more than diving in Sweden.

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The next stop offered more or less the same sights as the first dive, but felt a bit more relaxed as I was getting used to how both the gear and the guiding worked. No stingrays this time, but another turtle, and this one was nice enough to let us get real close!

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All in all a great experience which I am happy to have done. We took the air-conditioned bus back to Rio, and after the return there we had just a few days left of our trip. These will be spent on Ipanema beach!

Pantanal – Day 1

The agency picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the bus station. The man who helped us to book the tickets was a bit confused (first he showed up in the morning at the hotel because he forgot to take our names and lost his copy of the ticket and then he sent us into the bus but forgot to give us the very important envelopes we didn’t know that we were supposed to bring. But all turned out well and we were on our way.

The bus ride took almost two hours and then a Jeep picked us up to continue into the Pantanal. The first hour went well but then the car slowed down and the driver talked a lot to the guide. The problem? The road was all muddy. They decided to give it a try – and we got stuck.

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After some meaningless attempts to push the car (yes we tried to help) out of the mud they sent us off to walk the last bit to the accommodation. Just one out of all us six persons was smart enough to bring flip-flops – it was a stony road after the muddy part.

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When we finally got there it was time for dinner and we found both a Swedish guy and some Danish people who arrived the day before. We spent the rest of the evening to listening to their day (= what we were to expect) and teach the girls from Israel some Swedish. We should have done a night walk to see the animals but the weather was too bad and it was too many trucks on the roads.

Border crossing: Boliva to Brazil

When we arrived in Puerto Quijarro we took a taxi directly to the border, the “frontera”. The taxi was supposed to cost €1,20 but the driver doubled the price by telling us it was per person. As we were exhausted we only made a small attempt to complain about this but didnt get anything for that.

Well at the border there was a rather large queue forming. And after consulting a note on the border office for the Bolivian side we could see that the crossing did not open until 08:00, and the time now was 06:50. We stood around and started to converse with the Spanish couple after us in the queue. After the office opened and the queue started to move it became apparent that people were not really respecting it. And it got even worse when the rain started to pour down and the queue was compacted under the small roof. The slow family in front of us gave people in the adjacent line perfect opportunities to skip in front of them, and all the others who where in between.

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When we finally arrived it was a quick process to get the stamp and go off to the Brazilian side of the crossing. Just 3 hours of queuing later.

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We thought that the Brazilian side would be a bit quicker, both since they are more of a developed country and because the Bolivian check should give them a steady flow at a not too high pace. WRONG!

After queuing for 3 hours during which we fended of a lot of people who thought it to be clever to try and skip the line we were approaching the office in which the treasured stamp resides.

Just when we were meters away from the entrance a Bolivian woman shows up in front of us in the queue, apparently her son had waited and saved this place for her, and her baby she had on her back.

Okay, a bit foul play, but okay.

A few minutes later though, her aunt(?) and mother(?) arrives and are supposing they can too stand with her. This is where we, the Spanish couple and most others drew the line. All of them were sent to the end of the line. However the Bolivian lady who had her son keeping the spot went around the office and in through the back door, occupying the border official who where assigned to stamp the passports of Brazilians. This made the wait even longer.

When we finally arrived and we let in through the door we got our stamps in a matter of seconds. The only question we were asked was for how long we planned to stay in Brazil. No proof was required, just an answer to the question. So, 6-7 hours of queuing and 2 minutes in the offices later we had our stamps and were now officially in Brazil again!

The train of death, Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro

While staying in the middle of Santa Cruz de la Sierra we had almost 3 km to the bus and train station. Our plan was to visit the station on a Sunday to buy tickets to go the day after. The Sunday however was very much a holiday since the No side of the constitutional referendum just won, meaning that Evo Morales can not remain in office after 2019.

When we asked the personnel in the hotel they said it was very unlikely that the train station would be open, why we saved the ticket buying for later. In the evening we planned how to make the best use of the Monday, the initial plan was to have a late breakfast and then take a taxi to the station in the hopes that there would be tickets left for us. However, the online ticket website www.ticketsbolivia.com showed tickets available for Wednesday, but not Monday or Tuesday. But then again, we thought, this is Bolivia, a website does not have to be right. The new plan was that I would get up early and walk to the station.

After 25 minutes of quick walking I arrived and sure enough, there were tickets available. Even better, they were almost half the advertised price online, at only €8 for a 15 hour train ride we could not complain!

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When we arrived to the station 20 minutes before departure we were greeted by a man that helped take care of our luggage for a small fee, he worked for the train company and were putting it in the locked baggage car. After this we had to buy two tickets for the tax to use the station, a system that seems to be somewhat of a standard in Bolivia, and at somewhere like €0.30 it was not breaking the bank.

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We got on the train which was a rather modern one compared to the rest of the transportation in the country. Rather close to the stated departure time the train actually departed, and started its journey towards Puerto Quijarro.

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After showing the tickets we were asked if we wanted to have lunch at a cost of €2.50. The offer was for chicken and we accepted, seeing that this was the only offer on the menu. The chicken was not too amazing but it made sure we wouldnt go hungry for a while. For dinner the same chicken was offered, only this time deep fried instead of grilled. Linn opted to have just the rice and a salad, which bumped the price down to half.

When we got back to our car after dinner we found a man in our seats. He apparently saw that no one was sitting there at the moment and took his chance to get a better view of the movie playing. When we asked him to move he said that we could take his seat, in the back of the car. Right next to the frickin cold AC outlet. After sitting there for 20 seconds we concluded that he will move. He refused even though some other people on the train helped with our broken Spanish.

I quickly went back and got the conductor who informed the man that he has his own seat that he can sit in, and after grumping a bit more he finally got out of our way and we could settle in, watch some TV and fall asleep. Sleeping on the train was OK, but as the tracks are not of the standard we are used to in Europe the train is moving a lot side to side and makes some noise. But nothing too bad.

We arrived in Puerto Quijarro close to the Brasilian border at the stated time. There we took some time and I used the bathroom in the station to put in my contact lenses. Next up was crossing the border into Brazil!

Bolivia says no to the changed constitution

While in Santa Cruz we were a bit worried about the vote that was going to be held on the Sunday. Bolivia has had its president Evo Morales in office for a long time and in 2019 he will not be able to run for office again. Because of this there was a referendum held to change the constitution of Bolivia to allow him to take office again. During our time in Bolivia we both experienced a blockade because of people being unhappy with the government and a lot of advertising for what you should vote in the referendum. We were worried that the “wrong” result might lead to new blockades.

In the evening of the Sunday of the vote we walked back to the hotel after a nice dinner and found the big square of the city like in the video above! Apparently the No side won with 51% of the votes, and Evo Morales will not be president after 2019.

We wanted to buy tickets for the train on Monday in the Sunday evening, but when talking to the personnel in the hotel they told us that it is definitely impossible that the ticket office is open on the day of the vote, and we should be happy if the train leaves at all the day after. Time will tell!

Bus from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz

After three nights in Cochabamba it was time to continue our journey. After some breakfast consisting of buns from the local bakery and juice from a juice stand in the park we took a taxi to the bus station. The only problem was that we arrived at 11:15, and most buses to Santa Cruz apparently depart either between 07:00 and 11:00 or 19:00 to 23:00. After walking a few laps around all the stands in the station there was a lady shouting “Santa Cruz! Santa Cruz!” and apparently had a bus leaving at 12:30. Great! And it just cost us €9 for a (predicted) 10 hour trip.

When the bus arrived we realized that it was not the newest bus on the block, but it did have semi-cama seats and looked like it could get the job done. The bus ride from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz takes you from 2500 m above sea level down to just 500 m, and the first part of the road is notorious for breaking when it rains.

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After a few hours in the bus the traffic thickened, and finally we came to a complete stop. We had just passed the sign in the picture and I remembered the rain from the day before. For a while we just stood there, but suddenly the line of vehicles started to move, and then stopped again 100 meters further.

After maybe two hours in the line we started to see what the problem with the road was. It had indeed gotten damaged by the rain, and were now being repaired. This meant that it was only possible to drive in one direction at a time, and this in turn resulted in huge queues.

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After passing the part where the road was being repaired we gained speed. Some of the time we went rather fast, smiling as we passed everyone queuing to pass the broken part. Some of the time we slowed down since people in the queue thought it was a good idea to stop on the outer side of the road, and the big trucks we had in front of us had a hard time passing. We could also see that the road was damaged in more places, and was being repaired.

After a few more hours the road got flatter, and suddenly our driver was reaching 100km/h! At times we felt that he might have gotten a bit too happy about finally getting away from the queues. He was overtaking cars in blind corners and not considering it an issue to be more or less constantly on the wrong side of the road, only to get back in line when we had meeting traffic.

Everything passed without incidents and we arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra just a few hours after the promised time!

Cochabamba

Cochabamba is the fourth largest city in Bolivia with 600 thousand inhabitants, and is very different from La Paz. In some places it looks more like Los Angeles with wide roads and yellow fences separating them. The city center is rather rich while the suburbs are of varying standard, some very poor.

One of the main attractions is the large market called La Cancha, and this looks very much like Bolivia and not at all like Los Angeles.

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Shoes was one of the popular items sold in the market, and this is one of the districts that were focused on shoes. There are other districts like cellphones, where guys approached us wondering what phone we had, and if we were sure we did not want to sell it?

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After walking around for a few hours we stopped to have a small coke. at €0.15 for 190ml the price is not bad at all, but you cant leave the stand with the bottle as they need to bring it back to the factory.

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When we left the market we saw a truck loading parts of animals. We were unsure if the parts were leftovers or meant for human consumption but concluded that the most healthy thing for us to do if we want to continue to eat meat was to not delve too deeply into the matter.

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On a less disturbing note we saw lots of the typical Bolivian buses that are some kind of bus built upon a large and old truck that looks to be from the US. These were in La Paz as well, but around La Cancha at rush hour there were lots of them!

We spent three nights in Cochabamba, and during this time we visited the market and some different restaurants. Since this was the first step towards more normal altitudes it was much warmer, and we could now walk longer distances without needing to stop to catch our breath!

Bus from La Paz to Cochabamba

After two more nights in La Paz we looked at our travel plan which said that we had 18 hours on a bus to Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Not being too sure about how much we wanted to spend such a long time on a bus after our adventure back and forth to Cusco we chose to take a few nights in Cochabamba, or CBBA as it is posted in many places the bus terminal.

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The bus tickets cost a reasonable €7 and the bus was supposed to take about 8 hours and depart at 10:30. At first we did not understand how to get the bus company to take our bags, apparently you were supposed to hand them in to the office that sells the tickets, which in turn puts them in the bus. After some running around we were on board the bus and had our luggage loaded ten minutes prior to the planned departure.

Almost one hour later the bus actually departed! But our next stop came quickly after we got moving, El Alto. Here we stopped in a street which seemed to be used as an informal bus terminal, no proper building or anything, but a lot of people who wanted to get on the bus. Everyone seemed to have hundreds of bags that they for some reason were unable to load in the back of the bus, instead they built some kind of fortress around their seat. Some of them brought food to eat during the trip. Linn asked what gave out such a stench, and I informed her that one of the ladies in the back was eating some kind of small fish that according to the smell probably had met its end date a long time ago.

After sitting in the bus for a few hours I felt a building need to use the toilet, but when I finally managed to traverse all the different fortresses of bags I felt that the toiled door was locked. When I informed the driver of this he let me know that yes, it is supposed to be locked, we will stop in a few hours for lunch though, you can use the bathroom then.

When another guy from the top floor of the bus also tried to use the bathroom the driver made the quick decision to stop the bus on the side of the highway and let us use the side of the road for our needs. And when we were not up to his standards of quickness he began driving slowly, making us hastily end the activities in order to make it back on the bus before it left.

For lunch we stopped at a place that server some kind of soup as the staple dish of the day, we opted for sandwiches with cheese instead, as we were not that hungry and felt more like getting to Cochabamba than stopping to eat. Linn used the bathroom, and even though they charged €0.15 for it, the floor was covered in something and the toilets were lacking seats.

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After the lunch stop the road started to cross the border of the Altiplano, and there were again beautiful views and the road was climbing the side of the mountain. The road here is rather good considering the Bolivian standard, and it is being expanded to a 4-lane highway.

When we finally arrived in Cochabamba it was dark, but we were only a few hours late.

La Paz revisited, Mi Teleférico and El Alto

After winning back part of our money from Vicuña Travel we had one more day to spend in La Paz before we were to continue back east towards Brazil. Some of the things we wanted to do was to buy some souvenirs from the market, and also ride the Teleférico again to get some more awesome views of the city before leaving it for this time.

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The Teleférico is the newest idea in La Paz of how to efficiently transport people from El Alto up on the hill down to La Paz and back. It is more or less a regular ski lift system built by Austrian company Doppelmayr. We started our tour from the stop close to the bus terminal and rode two stops up to El Alto, yet again amazed by the views of the city that seems to never end.

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Up in El Alto we started walking through the endless markets, slowly, as there was a lot to see, and at 4100 meters above sea level the air is severely thin. The market up in El Alto seemed to be more genuine than the one in La Paz, almost no tourists were seen, and most people were actually buying things because they needed it and not as souvenirs to remember their visit. I wanted to take a photograph of the ladies selling different religious things like llama fetuses and in-scents, but a friendly question “Puedo tomar una foto?” just resulted in a frown and two hands put up to block the shot. As i didnt want to get a curs cast upon me I put down the camera again.

After a while we arrived at the other stop for the Teleférico and rode it two stops down to La Paz again. Why does not every city have a cable car running through it? Riding it is completely quiet, the views are amazing and even though I am scared of heights, I could get used to riding these.

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We went back to the market of La Paz to find those souvenirs before they shut down for the night. I sat down to catch my breath and when Linn approached I thought that maybe I should warn her about the puddle of something unspeakable. I decided not to as I am trying not to micro manage others. Big mistake, she put her foot in it and unleashed a stench that could have awakened the dead.

Our next missing was therefore to find a shoe store, something we did after a rather long and not too well planned walk. On our way back to the market we caught some great views of the city our last night here. And yes, we did have time to buy some souvenirs.

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All in all La Paz is an amazing city. Super strange in many ways, but beautiful and always interesting!

Bus between La Paz and Cusco

Finding a bus company that delivers a good service from La Paz to Cusco turned out to be harder than we first thought. One of the reasons for this might be that the route is mainly a touristic one, as the main reason for traveling to Cusco is to se Machu Picchu, and as we know, people love to take advantage of tourists!

Our main concern while booking the tickets going from La Paz to Cusco was that the bus was comfortable and that it did not run in the middle of the night. This was becase we read that buses during the days have a lesser frequency of drunk drivers.

In the La Paz bus terminal there can be found four different companies offering buses to Cusco. We happened to choose the one called Vicuña Tours. Partly because the girl working there, Steph, spoke good English and informed us that the bus starts in La Paz at 07:00 and reaches Cusco at 21:00, with a quick stop to change into a nicer Semi-Cama bus in Copacabana.

Our thoughts at this moment was somewhere along the lines of “Perfect, we arrive in the evening in time for dinner, and the bus will be comfortable the second part of the trip”.

Oh, how wrong we were.

The trip started with the bus departing 20 minutes later than announced, and after a few hours it stopped at the shore of Lake Titicaca because apparently we were supposed to change to a boat while the bus took another boat to cross to the other side of the lake. Our bus driver mumbled something in Spanish and everyone got off the bus. Unsure about what we were supposed to do we got of last and followed the rest to a dock where boats costing €0.30 took us to the other side of the shore. At the other side we found us some Salteñas that we ate while waiting for the bus to arrive and get offloaded on this side.

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Nothing wrong with the experience with the boat, and watching these minimalist ferries transport the bus, but the information could have been better, especially since it was supposed to be a touristic service.

We got on the bus and continued towards Copacabana, and the road here was the type that goes around mountains, close to the edge and at high speed. We made it almost all the way to Copacabana before we were stopped by a taxi. This taxi contained a few of the girls that were on the bus before we crossed the water, and apparently the bus driver left them because they were not quick enough to find where the bus landed and got on. Finally in Copacabana the girls that were left had a long argument with the bus driver and the manager in the office of Vicuña in Copacabana.

Okay, we didnt have to take a taxi, so maybe this wont be so bad we thought. After having lunch and getting back to the office we were pointed to the bus to take for the rest of the trip. This bus was not at all the modern red one with Semi-Cama seats that Steph had shown us the day before when we bought our tickets. This was a bus from the company Panamericana that was very much a regular bus, and therfore not especially comfortable.

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We crossed the border without any mishaps and were now in Peru, heading to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Even though the bus was not that comfortable our driver was friendly and didnt make too many unannounced stops. At 15:00 we arrived in the city of Puno that is some 390km of questionable road from Cusco. Here our bus driver informed us that the bus will not continue any further. He got the names of those heading to Cusco and seemingly went into the station and bought us tickets for a local bus there.

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Here the trip really started to deteriorate compared to the service level we paid for and expected. The bus that finally departed somewhere around 16:30 from Puno was a urine-smelling local bus with seats that hardly accommodated anyone taller than 150 cm, had no toilet, and took detours and stopped at every possible little village in order to see if it was possible to not only fill the seats but also the aisle with people. The part with the missing toilet would not have been to bad, considering it should be possible to drive from Puno to Cusco in 5 hours. But all the detours the bus took made us arrive at 01:30 with a bladder close to exploding, hungry but without any prospects of finding any open restaurants and finally with limbs that were finally free from their folded up position inside the bus.

To sum up the trip we paid to arrive at 21:00, with only one stop on the way and the main part of the trip in Semi-Cama. We arrived 01:30, stopped everywhere and the buses were of lesser and lesser standard for each time we had to change.

On our way back we bought tickets from a travel agent in Cusco who promised semi-cama, no bus changes and more importantly, the border crossing in Desaguadero and not Copacabana. After studying a map anyone realizes that this is the better route, the road is more or less straight and does not partly turn into a boat. The only thing about this way of the trip is that it was during the night. But we figured that we had better chances on a proper bus with a company that does what it promised.

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On the day of our return we found out that our bus with Trans Salvador was not the newest bus on the block, but it had really cosy big chairs with suspension in the seat and back rest. They also reclined to 160 degrees making it possible to sleep rather well.

This bus did not make any strange stops for no reason, and went more or less directly to Desaguadero for the border crossing. This crossing was also without major complications, the only confusing part being that you had to get off the bus on the Peruvian side to get the exit stamp, then find you way to the Bolivian office on the other side of the bridge and get the entry stamp. We solved this by getting a bicycle taxi after getting the exit stamp. He dropped us off 2 meters from the man handing out immigration papers, and from there it was no more difficult than filling the paper, standing in the line and looking like you have no bad intentions to the officers giving you the stamp.

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After immigration we found our bus again, got back into our great seats and finally arrived in La Paz 14 hours after we left Cusco. A lot better than the almost 19 hours we spent with Vicuña.

After seeing how the trip could be made we wanted to let Steph at Vicuña Tours and Travel know our opinion of their service, and also see if we could get some of our money back.

This began by us informing two guys who just bought their tickets of the horrible service and made them return them and go with Trans Salvador instead. Steph responded to this by locking the office and getting a police officer that worked in the station. The police officer however found it interesting why the two tourists were so angry with the service that she spent some time to listen to our part of the story. After a while there were four people engaged in finding a solution, the police officer, a girl who worked with customer relations on behalf of the bus station, Steph, and a man who apparently also worked for Vicuña.

After some discussion back and forth the police officer suggested that they should pay us back half the money we paid. This seemed to be in motion when the boss of Vicuña stopped it after Steph made her a phone call. We told the police officer this and she suggested that we should return a few hours later to sort everything out.

At 18:00 sharp we were back at the terminal. In the small police office were now the police officer from before, a man in mustache who seemed to also work for the police, the man from Vicuña, a lady who later turned out to be the boss of Vicuña, a guy who worked for the reclaims office in the terminal, and us.

The discussion continued for a while, both in English and in Spanish. I understood that the police along with the reclaims guy told the Vicuña people that it is not reasonable to have tourists complaining all the time, and that they have offered a great solution by paying back half the money. The boss from Vicuña delivered one lie after another, “there is no direct bus from Copacabana to Cusco” “Semi-cama in Peru is very much like the local bus here” she even tried to convince me that 1 Peruvian Sol is 2.5 Bolivian Bolivianos when I said that Trans Salvador gave a much better service for the same price.

Finally they agreed to pay us back a small part of the money. At this moment we were mainly happy about them admitting their wrongs and that we would actually get something for all the work everyone put into solving our problem. The boss from Vicuña finally said that she was sorry and we were a lot happier.

The amazing thing is that so many from the terminal and the police engaged in the matter, and took our side of it. We really felt like they appreciated that someone took the time to complain when they were apparently sold something they did not receive.

To sum up the different bus companies as we did see all of them and ask them which routes they took it is as follows:

Vicuña – Takes the Copacabana route and offers a sub-par service with old uncomfortable buses.

Trans Salvador – Takes the Desaguadero route and has nice seats. The buses are old and we have read reports of them breaking down.

Titicaca – Takes the Copacabana route but has nice buses (we saw them during our trip), runs during the night.

Trans Litoral – Takes the Desaguadero route and according to online sources has nice buses.