- la paz and mt. illimani from el alto
- Hi Everyone!
Has it really been over two weeks since we last updated the blog?! Oops! This always seems to happen!
For those interested in the thrills first, there are yet more pictures from La Paz HERE.
Quick highlights of La Paz: it’s big, it’s crowded, it’s hectic, it’s a little dirty, there’s not enough oxygen in the air, and frankly, it’s shocking after being in the jungle for 2 months. Yet somehow, we found ourselves hanging around for 2 weeks! What?! We had planned on going to the Amazon in Rurrenabaque, but holed up in La Paz instead, thanks largely to a nice enough, cheap room with wifi, a stream of friends from the park showing up, and my decision to try to climb some real mountains (the Andes!).
We spent many nights drinking pints of Judas beer (the only realish beer that exists in Bolivia – 7%) at Oliver’s Pub, an “English” bar with fantastic food. We watched the final Champion’s League game with friends from the park and had a crazy night out in La Paz, which included a friend eating 11 street burgers (amazing)! I went on a few hikes to acclimatize: La Muela del Diablo and a few around La Cumbre. Both involved adventurous use of public transportation, as well as some private-car hiring and hitchhiking with my good friend Grant from the park, and both were amazing: we were essentially the only ones there! At La Muela we even got to do some bouldering and spotting some sport climbing routes I’d have loved to have done. We had pizza and ice cream a few times at Napoli in Plaza Murrilo, and spent plenty of time buying souvenirs in Gringo Alley (Tyler even caved and bought Israeli pants); even venturing into the beginning of the witch’s market. We found the best empananads tucumanas ever, a plethora cheap, fresh squeezed orange, mandarin, and grapefruit juice, a favorite papa relleno stand and even a Mexican restaurant. Tyler also found the best coca leaves yet from an apparently very obese, yet very generous women which has started quite the obsession.
What didn’t we do? Go to San Pedro prison or bike the Death Rode – two of the most popular things in La Paz. We also didn’t go to a single museum (not even the Museo de Coca! We kept wanting do, but didn’t have the energy), and only walked past a few churches and important buildings. We did eat an awful lot of street food and spend a lot of time sleeping in, recovering from the jungle, and downloading new movies (the Hangover 2 – yeah!).
Now, for those that want to hear about the climbs. First, I was semi-talked into climbing Huayna Potosi, a 6088 meter (that’s over 19,000 feet!) mountain outside La Paz. Crazy, huh? It’s known as one of the most accessible mountains over 6,000 feet and dozens of people with no experience whatsoever climb it each day. I originally wanted to climb something smaller, but thought, what the heck, it’s cheap enough, I have a friend that wants to go, why not give it a shot? (Keep in mind that La Paz is already at 3500 meters.)
Day One: We headed to base camp, which was around 4200 meters high. It was nice, we got to stay in a refugio, sleep on mattresses, have food cooked for us, and have a couple of very brief hours teaching us how to walk with crampons on the glacier and do a bit of ice climbing. It wasn’t nearly enough training in my opinion, but a nice way to sort of ease into the climb I guess and get to know the group.
Day Two: We hiked in the morning to high camp, 5200 meters. The hike took about 2.5 hours and I was the last one up. Not a good sign. While thankfully we didn’t have to carry things like tents, sleeping pads, food or stoves up, we did have to carry an awful lot of other gear: crampons, ice axe, helmet, boots, and a lot of warm clothes! I felt fine at the top; it just took me longer than the rest. Once there we had some tea and cookies, lunch, took a nap, took some pictures, had an early dinner, and tried to go to sleep by 6 p.m. So early! And no one could sleep!
Day Three: We’re supposed to get up at 12:30 a.m. to get ready, have some tea and cookies, and set out for the mountain by 1:30 a.m. at the latest. Actually, on the brochure we were supposed to leave by 1 a.m. In reality we didn’t set off for the summit until about 2 a.m., for whatever reason my team was the last to leave and were immediately ages behind the rest of the group. The first hour was fine: climbing, climbing, climbing on the glacier, across and up, too dark to see how far down and how steep it was, trying to hard to breathe to think about falling when we had to scramble over narrow rocks. After and hour and a half I was nauseated and exhausted. Not good. I pushed on but the pace was slow. I was told I would have 6-7 hours to summit; that we would stop every 20 minutes; that I could keep going up even if I was puking and falling over. So I wasn’t worried; I thought, well, we’ve taken 2 or 3 tiny breaks in 2 hours, so I must be doing alright. At 3:30 our guide, Carlos, started calculating time to the top, saying we needed to be there by 6; not 7 or so like they told us before. My partner, Grant, was more experienced with high climbs and perfectly fine to keep going. I tried to go a little further, constantly on the verge of vomiting, then eventually decided to stop being selfish and not let Grant miss his chance for the summit. I thought that maybe after they caught him up to the next group, Carlos and I could continue on at my slower pace and see how far we got. They raced off to catch the next group, which was much further along than expected. I waited alone on the mountainside for 45 at 5500 meters elevation. I looked close to the summit; in reality I was only a third of the walking distance up. Carlos told me to go down, saying if I didn’t have much energy now I wouldn’t have enough to go all the way up and back. I wanted to take soroche (altitude) pills and chew coca, but it was too cold to do either. Reluctantly I stumbled back and crawled into bed. Needless to say I was disappointed and upset with my guide, but what can you do? That’s the politics of climbing, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the top anyway (especially safely) and I can come back and do it another day. I still had a good experience, got to see what I was getting myself into, got a great workout, and met some cool people, and saw some interesting scenery. The rest is for another day.
But, I couldn’t give up; I said I would summit something, and I damn well better. I have goals; I have plans. I want to join the Mazama’s, I have to climb a glaciated peak. So after a couple days of rest, I made plans to climb the peak I originally wanted, Pequeno Alpamayo. I wish I had just done that in the first place! The hike in is beautiful, the camp is beautiful, there’s less people, and the scenery is absolutely stunning. I convinced Grant to come along; he was going on to climb something more difficult afterwards in the same valley (Cabeza del Condor). We arrived at the village of Tuni, mules took everything but our daypacks, and we hiked in about 3 hours to base camp, next to a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. After an early dinner we went to bed, this time got up early at my request, and we heading off to the mountain by around 2 a.m. (if I remember correctly). After about an hour’s walk on relatively flat ground, we reached the glacier, put on our gear, and started up. It’s here that I realized I dropped my coca leaves (but I had taken soroche pills just to be sure) and wanted to cry. But, up the glacier we went. Up, and up, and up. It always looked like we were almost there. The first two hours I was energetic, hopeful, and great. Then I started to decline, just like on Huayna Potosi. At sunrise we finally made it to the top of the glacier, but still had to traverse it, climb Pico Tarija, descend that peak, and go up Pequeno Alpamayo. Our guide, Felix, was amazing. He encouraged me just keep going, and before I knew it we were climbing the ridge of Pico Tarija. It helped that there was extremely cold, strong winds, practically blowing me up (and off!) the mountain. I loved the rush I got climbing the ridge; trying to stand, being blown over, my right leg falling through the soft snow off the steep edge, have to essentially crawl on all fours with my ice axe. But, it was amazing to finally be on top of something; to know I had pushed through; to reach another personal life-long goal. At the top of Pico Tarija we were exhausted, Grant was spooked by the summit ridge, and we noticed my crampon was broken which took ages to fix. With Pequeno Alpamayo and it’s beautiful summit right in front of us, we decided to leave it for another day and go back to camp. After a very short nap and some lunch, I hiked out in 2 hours to make it back to La Paz, back to eat at Oliver’s, and collapsed into bed.
Finally after recovering from that, we left for Copacabana. Unfortunately, the mayor of La Paz decided not to fufill some promises he made, and there were protests in El Alto, essentially the only way out of the city. Luckily, we found one bus that was sure he could get around this. This let to some back road driving through country roads, with protesters literally putting stones to block the roads as we tried to go down them. Our bus driver was literally asking people where what road went, but a faithful cholita was sure we could get through, and she was right! What a funny adventure. Then, it turns out we had to get off the bus and take a boat to keep going to Copacabana. Except, the bus went on one boat, and we had to leave all our stuff and take a different boat! Then the first boat was full, and the bus barely waited for the few of us on the second boat! How scary to see all our stuff literally floating on without us! But, it all worked out, as usual, and we’re here in beautiful Lago Titicaca, just spent the day hiking and exploring Incan ruins on the Isla del Sol, where the Incan god is believed to have created the sun and the moon, and we’re getting ready to head for Cusco, Peru tomorrow morning!
Keep us in mind, as Peru just went through some rather difficult elections and the Peruvian-Bolivian border has been closed for the past few weeks, and now is only open sporadically. Apparently the old president of Peru decided to sell what were protected indigenous lands to a Canadian mining company and that didn’t go over so well, hence protests and the closing of borders. But, word on the street is that the borders have been open, especially in the mornings, so we’re going to give it a go! Hopefully so, because we only have 3 more days left on our Bolivian visa! If not, we just pay some small fines and spend more time relaxing on the beautiful (though slightly cold) lake!
Pics from Copacabana to come!
We love and miss you all, and are excited to get moving on with our trip again, so we can come home soon!
Sharon and Tyler
Hug the kitten for us. ❤
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