The drive from Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia was always fun. Apart from the stunning views driving along the shore of Lake Titicaca, the border crossing with the black-market money changing in back alleys and the “tumbleweed vibe” of the actual border made the crossing memorable. What was to come on this day made it one of my more unique journeys into La Paz.
Once you enter Bolivia, the next big event is crossing Lake Titicaca. Bolivia once had a coastline, but this was lost to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879 to 1884). Having a coastline normally means having a navy, but what do you do with your navy if you lose your coast? In Bolivia’s case, you assign them the task of looking after a small portion of your only water-based territory, and that happens to be Lake Titicaca.
The crossing of the lake is by makeshift barges for vehicles and small motor boats for the people. The crossing takes about 30 minutes under the watchful eye of Bolivia’s Navy personnel. This crossing is usually the last big highlight of this day of driving, but today would be different.
As you head to La Paz, you pass numerous small villages. Normally, these are quiet as the inhabitants are off in the fields tilling their crops. As we headed south, we came upon an abundance of humanity spilling out onto the road. A protest, which is common in Bolivia and usual harmless, was my first thought but on closer observation, we realized there was a fiesta (party) going on.
As we slowed the vehicle, being cautious not to dampen the mood by running over one of the many highly-intoxicated partygoers, the spirits of both welcoming curiosity and an 80-proof local home brew saw the locals inviting us to the party.
One of the joys of overlanding—driving from place to place—is the freedom and flexibility to stop and take in expected and unexpected views and happenings as we did this time. The party we discovered was a wedding celebration and without hesitation the bride and groom’s family welcomed us, 20-odd gringos, to the extended family and into the celebrations of the day.
Needless to say, we sampled the local home brew which knocked us on our backsides with both its potency and sweetness. The local dress and dance floored us as well. Many of the locals work their days at 4,000m/13,000ft-plus, in the fields, so when there is a reason to party, they don’t hold back. As my group mixed, danced, and drank, the bride and groom sat stone faced on a dias as witness to mum and dad and all their relatives getting absolutely toasted in celebration of the nuptials.
An hour later we extracted ourselves from an ever-growing sense of love and welcoming… Okay, we couldn’t handle the chicha (local brew) anymore. Altitude and alcohol don’t mix if you’re not used to it, and we did have a schedule to keep. We waved farewell to newfound friends of whose names we couldn’t remember and made our way to La Paz. (For the record, neither I, nor my co-driver, partook in the drinking!) For many of the passengers, the next day saw slightly foggy memories thanks to the Andean chicha, but the hangover soon cleared and memories returned and remain vivid to this day, when 20 strangers were invited to be part of a wedding celebration on the shores of Lake Titicaca.