Published: February 25th 2006February 25th 2006
After visiting Machu Picchu, and Cusco I headed South to Bolivia to explore a country I new very little of. The only thing I knew was that it was land locked after losing several wars to Chile and Peru over the past centuries. I feel bad for Bolivians because after losing so much land over time what they have been left with is very unworkable. In Bolivia if you aren't in the jungle you are in the mountains. Having little to offer the world as far as trade and of course years of corruption the Boliviano has been left very weak. The people of Bolivia are the poorest people I have ever encountered, but the majority are modest, humble, and happy. There are bad people wherever you go but in Bolivia crime seems to be more of an issue than I have heard of in other countries. The reports of muggings, and pickpockets aren't just people over sensationalizing a few incidents...it really does happen a lot.
From Cusco I took an overnight bus over the border to a town named Copacabana, on the mystical lake Titicaca, and no I never get tired of saying Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is famous not only
for it's name but it is the worlds highest navigatable lake, and with about 8300 sq km it is vast with lots of islands, inlets, and towns to explore. After an afternoon of exploring Copacabana and some of the local Inca ruins I headed towards the shore to have a bite to eat when I bumped into a couple of guys I had met a few months back in Colombia. They were sitting just as I remembered them in Colombia, with beer in hand, so I joined them and we began the regular traveler chit chat. Turns out they were now on the same route that I was planning.
The next day Jim, Matt and I boarded a small boat to Isla Del Sol for a day of hiking. The island was pretty big and it took most of the day to hike across but it was worth it...some really great views of distant mountains, cool blue waters, and the island itself was a blend of massive rock formations, forests, and beaches...it had a real northern Ontario feel to it with the rock and carniferous trees.
The next day the three of us made our way to the defecto capital
of Bolivia, La Paz. La Paz like everything else in Bolivia is on the worlds highest list. It's the highest capital city at 3500 to 4000 meters in some spots, to get an idea of how high it is think of 8 CN towers stacked on top of eachother. The city is shaped by the surrounding mountains into a giant bowl and contains the nastiest steep streets, such a pain in the ass to walk around. With the altitude so high...the lungs scream for oxygen.
In Bolivia, because of the mountains and the jungle there are hundreds of differen't adventure activities that the adrenaline junkie can get fixed on. The three of us along with another friend Kathy decided to book a bike tour along the worlds most deadliest road. The road bares the dreadful name because it takes the lives of hundreds of people each year, either by ca,r bus, or bicycle. The 64 Km road winds through the mountains leaving many areas with no views of on coming traffic and with only one lane for vehicles, the result is often one or the other being forced off the edge spiraling straight down hundreds of feet. The fear factor
was definately abound especially after hearing news of a girl pummeting off the edge only 3 weeks previous and another being seriously hurt after sliding down a hill 60 feet. The ride started us off in the snowy tops of the Andes some where around 5000 meters, and we slowly decended down. The rain was relentless and the high altitude made the air thin and cold, luckily there were very little uphill sections. Even with the rain and mud splashing into our faces the views were amazing, and as we decended further and further the jagged mountains turned into lush jungle. The entire decent took about 5 hours and we ended up somewere around 1000 meters above sea level. It was really intense the entire road but the guides were very cautious and made sure we were all aware of the vehicles around us at all times. If you are heading to La Paz I reccomend doing it...such a blast!
When we booked the bike tour we decided to stay in the small town we finished in named Coroico, just for the one night. The next day we would take a 12 hour jeep ride into the Amazon Basin
Treking Isla Del Sol
for a 3 day tour of the Pampas, deep into the wetlands surrounding the Rio Beni. We heard from other travelers that the jeep ride wasn't for the faint of heart as it consisted of roads much like the worlds deadliest, and that 3 buses had fallen over the edge the week before. The ride was pretty white knuckled and the reports of buses falling off the road were true as we could see wreckage of buses being hauled up from the edge of the cliffs as we drove past. We made it to Rurenbaque late that afternoon where we had a hotel included in the package ready for us. The next morning we jumped in another jeep for yet another bumpy but only 4 hour jeep ride. Once we arrived at the river the boat ride to the camp was another 4 hours but this ride was a lot more enjoyable as we saw lots of animals, including howler and yellow monkeys, crocs, dozens of differen´t birds including Macaws, and the famed amazon pink dolphins.
The camp was simple with a common area for eating in and to the left a basic kitchen and to the right a sleeping
area with plain beds and mosquito nets. The camp itself was raised above the water which makes walking around the site impossible but with the croc that inhabits the area it is probably a good thing. The next morning we headed into the swamps to search for anacondas. The guides have a general idea of where they might be, especially in the rainy season because there are less places for them to go. After tredging through the swamp in the boat our guide led us to a small wooded area where we spotted an Anaconda. It was in its burrough so we would have to wait until it was ready to have a meal. After about an hour our guide called us over to an area patched with bushes. We surrounded the bushes and it started to slither towards me. Our guide Zacharia ran over and grabbed its tail and started to pull. It had wrapped itself around a branch and wouldnt let go. He told me to grab hold of its tail and pull while he grabbed its head. I grabbed the Anaconda about a foot down from the end of the tail and pulled. It was really strong.
The extra foot had wrapped around my wrist and was squeezing. It wasnt enough to hurt but I was still amazed at its strength. Zacharia finally loosened the other end from the branch and we were able to see the rest of him. After a few photos we let him get back to his hunt for lunch. It was a pretty intense way to start the day!
After lunch at the camp we made our way to an area in the river section that was full of dolphins. It was a small inlet with little current so we were able to jump in and swim. We jumped in a little hesitently as we all knew that crocs and perhanas inhabited the area, but Zacharia reassured us that the dolphins were too big of a threat for them to bother us. It was a pretty amazing experience being let loose with these big fish. The strange thing was that you couldn´t see them because there was only about 6¨ of visibility. There were about 10 of them and they would swim around us or under us occasionally bumping into our side or feet. It was a bit creepy at first but
also a good laugh every time someone was startled by one and let out a scream!
The next morning we toured the river looking at more of the same as the previous 2 days but it started to rain pretty hard and we started to make our way back. I was glad we were heading back to Rurenbaque that morning. The jungle is full of amazing flora and fauna but after a while the rain, the bugs, the heat, then more rain and more bugs it starts to wear on you. We made it back to Rurenbaque and to our surprise we were able to catch our flight the next day back to La paz. The runway is a simple strip of grass and with so much rain we were sure we would be stuck until it dried up.
The flight was a bit scary...it was a little 16 seat single engine plane that had little cabin pressure, and when the co pilot put his oxygen mask on I was starting to worry a bit. I was relieved to touch down in La Paz, but had a terrible headache from the lack of oxygen in the plain and also coming
from near sea level to once again 4000 meters above in La Paz.
Back from the jungle we started to look for a new adventure. So after speaking with other travellers and tour agencies we thought we would try and summit the peak of Mount Huayna Potosi. The 6008 meter mountain is a hour and a half from La Paz, and there were plenty of agencies offering lots of options for the summit. We found a tour agency that we thought was the most proffessional and they offered us a package of 3 days including all the climbing gear, proper water proof down jackets and pants, guides, food, transportation, and of course the free T-Shirt, for only 120 U.S. dollars each. Yeah I know...unbelievably cheap!
The first day we arrived at a lodge at the base of the mountain by jeep at 4750 meters. From the lodge we trekked for an hour to the first glaciers where we were properly instructed on how to use the equiptment and given time to practice some of the technical maneuvers we would have to apply on the summit day. The vertical section was fun but the air was thin starving the lungs of
Kathy feeding the neighbourhood croc
oxygen and making the muscles tire. I was getting worried about not being able to reach the summit.
The second day we sat around the lodge nervously before finally leaving for the last camp at 5250m. The trek to the camp was through mostly rock that had slid down the mountain over centuries. It wasn't too difficult but still a bit tiring because of all the equipment we had to carry. We finally reached the camp and the altitude was starting to have effect on some. Altitude does funny things to people..especially the insides. Diarreah, constipation, headaches, and muscle fatigue were some of the problems. Our group was of 7 and along with us were 4 guides. The camp consisted of a 2 man tent for 2 guides and a permanent dome type structure that was too small for the remaining 9 of us. We would begin the summit attempt at 1 a.m. so the guides sent us to bed at an early 7P.M. The majority of us had an hour maybe 2 hours of sleep as the excitement, nervousness, anxiety, and the loudest snoring by one of our guides made it difficult to sleep.
At midnight we had some
coca tea, and began to put our gear on. You could almost smell the fear in the refugio, but at long last we were geared up and ready to go.
Finally at around 1 a.m. my partner, my guide and I headed into the darkness. The trek was a total of 4 hours of nothing but tiny steps into the blizzardy darkness, and after only an hour one of the group members had to turn back. There was one technical spot about half way consisting of a near 90 degree wall about 10 meters high. After the wall it was more walking up, not knowing where or when the final push to the summit would begin. The final wall before the summit is a 300 meter monster that takes about an hour on about a 55 degree angle. The wall was definately the toughest part of the trek, both mentally and physically draining. We took about 4 steps at a time and then stopping for air. At that height taking just one step drains you let alone on a near straight up course.
After nearly an hour on the final wall our team finally made it. I stepped on
first day on the glacier
the ridge of the summit straddling the two vast landscapes, and admired the accomplishment. Of all the things I have done in my life nothing that I have done that took both mental and physical strength can compare to the feeling of accompishment and satisfaction. I celebrated for a few minutes with my friends Jim and Matt, before the guides told us we should get down...the blizzard was still in our faces and gets pretty dangerous on the peak. We traversed down the giant wall in about 15 minutes and by the time we reached the bottom the sun had broke through the clouds and the snow had conceded. That morning I was treated to some pretty amazing views of Bolivia.
What a great day!
There are more photos below