Lake Titikaka is enormous and stunning. By sheer volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America and forms part of the border between Bolivia and Peru.
I went to Copacabana from Cusco ny night bus, passing through quite an easy border control to find myself in the small Bolivian town. My main reason for visiting Copacabana was to head to the Islas de Sol y Luna – two islands which were beleived by the Incas to be the birthplaces of the sun and the moon.
The boat out of Copacabana was cheap and very rickety. There are waves on this lake, and big ones, so it’s probably not advisable if you get sea sick. Honestly, the islands are just islands, but it was nice having a walk around them, especially when it was sunny.
Back on mainland and I took a collectivo from Copacabana to La Paz.
Once again I have to be honest with you here; I did not like La Paz. The highest recognised capital in the world, the Bolivian city’s altitude made me feel quite dizzy, the weather was so grey and horrible that I was unable to see the famous Mount for the time that I was there. Perhaps a trip down Death Road would have cheered me up, but with the trusted tour guides charging over $100, such a thing wasn’t possible.
So I was cold and grumpy, and thought I would cheer myself up by going to the curious sounding “Witches Market”. But, oh god, there were dead llama foetuses hanging off the walls!
It could probably go unwritten that I got out of there as soon as I could.
Puebla is a larger colonial city than I expected. Again set on a grid, the heart of this city was at the Zocalo with the touring city cathedral just behind.
Puebla is famous for the Battle of Puebla, the aforementioned reason for the celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Taking place in 1862, the battle marks an important victory for the Mexican army over the French occupation. The battle site lies a little walk out of the town, and up a hill… But a nice park now resides there which is well worth an amble.
Also present in the town is the oldest library of the Americas – Biblioteca Palofoxiana. Various museums and a market serving Cemillas (essentially a sandwich with most of the bread taken out) is also in the town.
I’m going to be honest with you now and tell you that Puebla wasn’t one of my most favourite towns. Indeed it is not somewhere I would visit again – I found it lacked character and was far too big for its own good. Or maybe I’ve just seen too many colonial towns to appreciate it. In any case, I moved on quick.
Another night bus, another colonial city in Mexico.
Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-ha-ca, which I embarrassingly found out inquiring about tickets at the bus station) lies in the Central Valleys of Mexico, surrounded by beautiful natural scenery including some impressive petrified waterfalls.
The city has a nice atmosphere, especially in the Zocalo, or main square, where music was playing both evenings I was there and people gathered to socialise and sip frozen fruit juices. The imposing cathedrals of Santa Domingo and Cathedral of the Lady of the Assumption are also fantastic buildings to peruse over.
But the real star of Oaxaca is the cuisine. Considered by some as Mexico’s culinary capital, all the food I had here was delicious and very cheap. I would definitely recommend a visit to the eclectic and varied markets just south of Zocalo. The first is dedicated mainly to fruits, flowers, some open meat counters (I have to admit that as a squeamish vegetarian these did make me squirm a bit….)
You can buy interesting looking cellophaned balls of white Oaxacan cheese as well as chapulines; chillied grasshoppers which are a delicacy in the region. Furthermore, a fair few stalls sell mezcal, a white spirit which, like tequila, is made from agave. Mezcal is thought to have originated from Oaxaca.
But head down to the second market and you are first greeted with a wealth of bakery stalls. The main bread on sale here is a mildly sweet roll called yema (also known as “egg bread”). Get three for five pesos, or choose from other sweet pastries and artisan breads on offer.
Just down from the bakery section and you enter a zone which was probably my favourite part of the town; the market becomes a kind of cosy food hall with different vendors serving up delicacies, locals taking their time to relax and chat over good foods and the occasional Mexican busker adding to the atmosphere. It was here that I sampled one of themost notable of Oaxaca’s cuisines; black mole. Mole (pronounced mo-lay) is a special sauce created using mixtures of chillis, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, nuts and even chocolate. A lot of the stalls were offering with rice and chicken, but I asked the kind lady at mine if there was a possibility I could get it without meat. She offered a mole with enchiladas and my word it is the best meal I have had out here – so tasty and full of flavour, and so cheap; the entire plate of food cost me 35 pesos (or about £1.40).
I also sampled quesadillas, and it is recommended to also try tlayudas; tortillas piled high with different meats, vegetables and sauces.
Another food Oaxaca is known for is the chocolate. Chocolate has had a big influence on the region since before the Spanish Conquest, with cocoa being used in medicines and the seeds even being used as money! Today the chocolate is just as rich and flavourful and is most commonly sampled as a kind of hot chocolate drink. Many of the vendors offered drinking chocolate with yema for 25 pesos, which came in a bowl without a handle and tasted deliciously rich.
My boots heavily loaded, I suppose it’s time I head on further north and discover what the mountain city of Puebla has to offer!