Monday, May 30, 2005

Puno, Cuzco and the time chase


Crossing into Peru involved a 10 hour drive to Cuzco, while stopping over night in Puno, and meeting an old friend, Chen, in Cuzco. While sight seeing the city, I have made a reservation for a flight to La paz, hoping I could mete Tim in Santa Cruz before the 3rd of June. Apparently, my time is even shorter, and the chase to get as quickly as possible to Santa Cruz has started…

The bus to Puno/Cuzco, which was full of escaping Israelis, reached the Peruvian border, and after stamping my passport, we continued on toward Puno, Peru. Puno is a very unattractive city which is a hub to several attraction cities in Peru (Arequipa, Cuzco, Lima etc.) and as a such, there is not much to see or do there. I looked for a place to sleep the night till I take another bus to Cuzco, 8 hours drive from Puno. I have found a small little place which was cheap enough (damn, it's hard to move from cheap Bolivia into pricier Peru), and with private bathroom. Only, that I had almost slept the night without any bath coz for some reason the whole fuckn hotel didn´t had hot water. Ten minutes before I got into the bed stinky, the hot water worked out and I had a really good shower that night! The next morning, I took off the hostel at 6:30 in order to take the 7:00 bus (which was actually leaving at 8:30…just fuckn great!!). The bus was a double story tourist bus, with comfortable seats and I was happy that at least I got a nice bus for the amount money that I paid. On the way, around 12 pm, a woman boarded the bus with a Chola sack (A square piece of Alpaca garment which the Cholas put their belongings and tie around their necks) and started yelling Asaditos, Asaditos. Then, while the bus continued in his journey, she laid her bundle right in front of me on a metal stand that bordered the staircase. She opened the knot of her bundle and to my amazement took in one hand a butcher chopping knife and started chopping pieces of meat out of a poor pig that was smoked a day earlier. For at least 30 min she kept on chopping the smoked meat, handing a bundle of chopped meat in a plastic bag with a smoked potato, which the locals ate with such delight. I decided to pass on this cuisine…After passing Sicuani and actually entering the Cuzco area, numerous locals boarded our bus and I was lucky that a highly stinking Chola sat beside me, and made the rest of the trip a nightmare (3 or more hours). There were times that I almost puked my stomach from the stench that came from her. In addition, she couldn´t get her feet to the ground, so every time the bus was taking a sharp curve, she flung all over me. As much as I try to be open and accept certain things, this trip was not something I could accept so easily. I was so lucky, that she gone of the bus only at the last stop, at the Cuzco main terminal. I was pretty damn happy that finally the long drive came to an end.
At first I wasn't impressed out of Cuzco, as I was in the poorer and less developed part of the city, but quickly I learned to love it´s colonial architecture and the numerous Churches that were all around.
Luck was on my side, when the next day I was sitting on the computer and found out that Chen was also on the messenger. Where are you man, I asked him. Im in Cuzco, where are you? He answered and with an happy comment I answered, im in fuckn Cuzco also! When do we meet?? So, after one hour we hugged under the steps of the massive Cathedral at the Aramas plaza. He had a lot of stories to tell me from their trek of the two lagoons near Sorata. Turned out, that he decided to head toward Cuzco while Barak went down to Rurre for the jungles and pampas tours.
We have toured the city for the past two day and managed to see quite a lot of churches, plazas and fountains, strewn all over this lovely town. We had also some good food here (including a family-size Pizza which was made especially to our request) and in general, life is beautiful, especially in Cuzco.
For now, I have booked a flight back to La paz, in order to retrieve my glasses and other stuff I have locked in the Austria deposit room, and then head toward Santa cruz in order to meet with Tim, which is already there, trying to collect information about the park and the way to get there. Talking with Tim just now, I have learned that my time is shorter than I taught, as we have to be in San Ignacio on Friday morning, a town which is 10 hours ride east of Santa cruz. This is very close, as I will only land in La paz around noon and I need to retrieve my stuff. Even if I take off from La paz the same day with a night bus, Ill be in Santa cruz only on Thursday morning, and we need to take a bus to San Ignacio that will land us at the little town before the only bus for La Florida leaves on Friday. Very close one, that´s for sure. Another option, which is possible, is to take a flight to La paz, from there to Cochabamba and from there to Santa Cruz (costing an aamzing 134 USD!!). This, however, would leave me without any trekking equipment beside my tent and sleeping bag. I could hire some of it in Santa cruz, though I prefer my own equipment...
I wait for an answer from Tim, so I could asses whether it is possible to take an alternative transportation to San Ignacio. Will update ya all!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Grand poder, Copacabana and the spontaneous border crossing


Saturday was big day at La paz, for the Grand Poder was held all day and filled my day with color and songs. However, the upcoming storming blockades and demonstrations combined with my agitating need for some new sights and adventure, lead to my spontaneous venturing west to the border with Peru, to a little tranquil town named Copacabana, sitting on the shore of beautiful lake Titicaca. There, with two nice fellows, I have explored the area and hopped to the near and most famous, Isla del sol, Island of the sun. Returning back, I was not able to return to La paz, and the next place that was worth visiting was Cuzco, i.e, crossing into Peru.

Not just the event of Grand Poder is called as such: the great power, as it is freely translated, is a show of sound, dance and color which lasts from the rising of the sun till long after it have sunk under lago Titicaca, west of La paz. Saturday was the day, and we all woke up early (Hanna, Gerald and Bert, a Dutch guy who accompany Gerald in Peru) and made our way to the San Francisco plaza, which the parade was suppose to pass through. When we got there, the main street (i.e, Santa cruz) was already filled with people walking in all directions, and benches where already standing, waiting for the crowd to come and take it´s sit. Not that it was for free, of course. But, you know how Israeli´s mind works: why paying 20-30 Bolivians for a Keter chair when you can get a free sit on the dirty asphalt road? That was, in an after thought, a wise thing to do, as it enabled us to walk around and not to stay-put at the place, guarding it so no opportunist might grab it and have it´s fun on our precious Bolivians. At a certain point, Shuki, a 22 year old Israeli, has joined us also and took a seat at the asphalt, as the parade marched along. What can I tell you, it was a very impressive event, full of beautiful costumes, orchestrated band of trumpets and drums that maintained the bit for the costumed dancers. Even when the sun shone hard and directly over head, (and those of you who where at La paz can apprehend the intensity of such a sun at this altitude) the dance and sound never stopped. I shot frames over frames like a maniac (a total of one film, which is a lot for one event) and I hope that soon you could also have a glimpse of such a magnificent event. Beautiful as it was, this parade was repeating itself at a certain point and around three pm me and Shuki took off in order to have some lunch at a local place near our hostel. Somewhere while watching this parade I decided to go the next day to Copacabana, a tranquil town on the shores of lake Titicaca, 4 hours ride west of La paz. I knew that Monday gonna be bloody Monday, so I decided it would be wise to leave La paz before the blockades are mounted on the roads. Figure out, that I have made a mistake which I couldn't realize at that time: out of all the roads leading out of La paz, only the La paz-Copacabana main road was blocked near the gigantic El Alto suburb. So, without knowing it, I trapped my self at the border corner.

I have told Shuki, and Pier, a 31 year old French geo-physics who I met also in the Austria, that Im planning on going to Copacabana till things chill down in La paz and Bolivia. Over dinner, I have outlaid the plan for the next five days and after a brief though, they both decided to join me. So, we were set: Sunday we leave for Copacabana, right before the political storm unleashes it´s power. We booked places at that evening and packed our stuff, because the bus was due to leave at 8 am. A taxi came to pick us from the hostel and dropped us at the bus terminal (it was a tourist bus, which we thought was the only one leaves that day for Copacabana and turned out to be a false info). Lots of tourist were there, and after an half an hour there, we climbed on our own bus and headed for Copacabana. At a certain point an Australian couple sat besides us and we had a nice conversation. The three of us will meet this nice romantic couple all along our stay in Copacabana and eventually, I would even be gifted by the girl, that her name I didn´t catch. But first things first.
After two hours of drive, we came to a little town that we all thought to be Copacabana. We were requested to get down the bus, and pointed to a dock with several motor boat tied to it. I inquired about our muchilas on the roof-top but the conductor pointed to the dock and assured me everything is ok (you know how I am so suspicious about anything and anyone). We went to the dock and bought ourselves a ticket for the other side of town. Figure out, we only came to a San pedro de Tiquina, which was split into two sections by the estrecho de tiquina (strait of Tiquina). Amazingly, we found our bus floating right next to us on a big motorized raft.
We joined our bus and continued on for an additional hour of drive till we came at last to Copacabana. After dropping our big muchilas at the hostel, we went on to find some food and to look around town. The beach, however, was a little disappointment as it was neglected and not attractive at all (Copacabana is regarded as a beach resort, but not enough is invested in order to MAKE IT a real beach resort). In any case, after an ice cream Shuki left for a nap at the hostel and me and pier laid our eyes on Cerro Calvario, a 100 something high hill, which has a beautiful view over lake Titicaca and Copacabana, especially at sunset. I aimed to stay there till that event while Pier decided that waiting two hours up there was too much for him, and he climbed down. I waited there, thinking over numerous stuff passing through my head (and no, I wasn´t inlighted with anything, I must admit). As the sun went down slowly, more and more tourists (and even locals) have come to give their respect to the great sun going down. I have taken a panoramic set of frames and I hope it will be good (still didn´t developed the films). I have taken several pictures of the setting sun, and amazing sunset indeed, and once it was under the horizon, I took off as it was getting really cold up there, and I was only with my thin fleece. Even so, the sun kept on throwing amazing colors into the skies and I was awe struck, even when the hill blocked most of my view. I found Pier, a bit disappointed, as he missed the sunset. We both went back to our hostel, and while Pier went to find his dinner outside, me and Shuki prepared rice with tomato sauce and tuna. Yes, a very banal and typical field dish, but that was the only thing coming to my mind. At the end, a Dutch girl that was sleeping also in our hostel helped finish this massive dinner and filled to our tops, we went for a nice drink before sleep at a nearby bar.
The day after was the day of the trek. The Yampupata trek is a 17 km long day trek which begins in Copacabana and moves on north to the edge of the half island, which at the tip lies the peacefull town of Yampupata (see map at: From there the plan was to take a boat and to cross the strait of Isla del sol and then, continue exploring Isla del sol.
We set out early, around 9 am and started walking on the main road that leads to the northern towns of Copacabana and along the lake shores. The views were amazingly beautiful, with the deep-deep blue color of the lake absorbing the sunlight and invite you to get in (not that it is recommended as you could get your nuts freeze in a sec!).
Over the course of this trek, only once we had actually a steep climb, and I remember Pier and Shuki thrusting forward as I breathed heavily (even after a month in La paz). Lago Titicaca rests at an approximately 3800 m, and it was felt mainly when climbing. Along the way we have met the Australian couple and at Yampupata we all dined together at a local restaurant. Then, we went on looking for a boat that will take us across the strait. Couple of locals pointed us to a row boat, saying it will cost us 10 Bol each person. Sounded good, so we walked toward the boat only to find that a 70 year old fisherman (!) is gonna take us there. MAN, and he can row! Stopping only to take off his worn-torn sweater, he rowed without stopping, against the wave current with total indifference. As I sat there, and saw his great effort, I thought that we might as paid him more. But then again, who am I kidding. On our way through the strait, we saw the great mountains of the Cordillera real on our right, all snow capped and mighty in the afternoon sunlight. It was a spectacular view.
After half an hour of rowing, we came at last to the shores of Isla del sol. As seen in many action movies, in a commando style we jumped out of the boat into the rocky shore, waves splashing gently at it (only this time, we paid the row man and not leaving him to keep an eye on the boat). The fisherman rowed back to Yampupata, and we set our eyes at the moderately steep path leading up-up toward the middle of the Island mountain range. We walked briskly and after 20 min we reached the "center" of the Island, a compound full of accommodation of any kind that can be think of. I had a recommendation from Bert and Gerald, and I took it. Inti Kala inn was on the top of the Island and we had some steep climbing to do! But, once there it was worth it. On the one side, blue Lago Titicaca and on the other, the mighty Cordillera real (this time, we saw all of it!). We checked in and sat at the porch looking north-west and totally awe struck by the view (only pictures can explain this). Later, while Shuki slam-dunk into the bed for 5 hours of sleep (!), I and pier took a very cold shower (and even more cold was the concrete itself! My feet went cold for at least an hour and a half before I felt them abit warmer!). After a nice dinner, I took off to have some sleep (while Shuki woke up from his sleep and joined Pier for a conversation), and even though it was damn cold in the room (I didn´t had my sleeping bag with me), I managed to huddle under the blankets and pass the night quite nicely. The following morning was cold but as beautiful, and I and Shuki had our regular Desayuno (breakfast), bread and Dulce de leche while Pier had his continental at the hostel's restaurant. We moved on our exploration, heading due north on a comfortable path till we reached a checkpoint, which marked the southern border of the Isla del sol conversation. The path itself was not hard to hike, even though most of our climb we have done the day before when we climbed to the hostel area. On our way, the right side lake glittered from the shining sun, with the Cordillera real peaks accompany us, while the left side enabled us to view the blue waters absorbing the sun rays. Along the way, several unimpressive Inca ruins were visible, and after walking for three hours we came to the northern part of this island, and had a short break on a rocky slope, when the sun shines and delicately burn our skins. Me made our way north toward what was an Inca town, and now no more than low level ruins perched on the shoulder overlooking an amazing beach with crystal clear waters licking at it´s sand (also called Roca Sagrada). Near the ancient stones there was a peak which protruded into the lake waters and, of course, we went up climbing it and taking some pictures of the beautiful view seen from it. At that point, we had two options: or to go by foot back to the southern part of the Island (where we started our hike) by an alternative, shore dedicated path or to travel by a boat back to the same point. We all agreed that returning to the same point, even from a different path, will be a bit boring and also time consuming, we decided to check our way back by water transportation. We went down to the shores area, and our way we have met a French couple touring this Island with their two young kids. Seems that the husband was working in Santa Cruz as part of an organization dedicated for the development of Bolivia level of life, and this was their little vacation out of bustling Santa Cruz. Together we hired a motor boat at Challapampa, a small town near the northern tip of the Island. After 30 min of cruising we came to one of the main ports on the Island, where we took an additional, big, tourist boat that cruised further south to Copacabana. The cruise itself was tiresome, and it was evident from the tired faces of most people on the boat (except for the little two kids which were in good spirits and were all alert and jumping from one place to another). After an additional hour (or even more) we came finally to the Copacabana.
Here, our trio was starting to fall apart: Shuki looked for transport to Puno (Peru) while I and Pier looked for additional information about the troubles in La paz. Not that we found some, but still we tried to gather as much information as possible. We came back to the hostel and while Pier headed for the showers, Shuki and I went to a tourist restaurant (with an attractive menu and price) and had dinner and a nice conversation about our future plan in Israel (which I must admit I try no to think about it too much). At a certain point, the Australians couple joined us to the dinning and conversation. On my way back I checked another hostel, as I thought to move to another hostel till I'll find a way to go back to La paz. I waited for the clerk in one hostel when he came rushing in like a storm, and in response to my question about any available accommodation, he replied with no connection, that there are 4 departures that night to La paz, and that are the only way of transportation from Copacabana to La paz. OK, I said to him, but Im looking for a room (and also for such a transportation, but first thing first). But he continued mumbeling something about those only departures, which are planned to leave from 4 am to 6 am. I marked his comment about this transportation, and after receiving his answer about my original question I left the hostel. I decided that this might be a good chance going back to La paz, as I needed to remove the stitches in my face and also all my trekking gear plus my Lonely planet and glasses were waiting for me in the cold deposit room at the Austria hostel. I would take off early in the morning and once in La paz will plan ahead what to do.
I woke up at 3 am, washed my teeth, organized the little things that were needed to be packed and made my self a little breakfast (pan, dulce de leche and some coffee). I paced quickly in the cold air at 4 am, and arrived quickly to the empty and dark plaza. At first, I haven´t seen a soul in the streets, and apart from some barking dogs, not a thing made a sound. After circling the plaza I found two Cholas sitting at a corner. Conveying with them let me to the understanding that there was no transportation to La paz. At first, I didn´t want to believe that I woke up at 3 am just to realize it was all a rumor and not more. But as I froze in the very cold morning at that dark plaza, I realized that I might not gonna get out of Copacabana. Well, not at that day. Even so, they told me there is one taxi that leaves to La paz, and it charges out rage payment per person. At first I declined that idea, but when around 4:30 the car drove up to the plaza, I understanded that it is either staying at least an additional day here, or to take it, what ever it takes. However, while im calculating how much it is more expensive that normal situation (and it was no damn normal situation in any case), I realized that I will in no way fit in that already filled taxi. The locals ran and jumped into the taxi, filling it in every vacant space available. Even if I could find a way to squeeze with all those Cholas, I didn´t forget that it was a 4 and half ride back to La paz. Getting in there was a nightmare for sure. Once the taxi left the plaza, the rest of the people that didn´t manage to squeeze in just walked off the plaza, accepting defeat. I didn´t, as I was still unable to accept the fact that I woke for nothing at 3 am. So, here I was standing in the lone plaza, trying to think what to do while freezing my bones. To go back to the hostel to sleep what ever time left of that night or whether to wait for another transportation or other alternative at the plaza? While thinking, I decided to give a ring to my family, as it was a good time to call back home. While talking with my brother, I noticed several other people coming to the plaza and was filled with hope. Maybe there will be another way to get the hell out of here?? After conversing with the locals I managed to grip that there is an alternative way to reach La paz, via crossing the Peruvian border and then taking a bus from there to La paz. However, this doesn´t solve the whole problem, as road blocks were near La paz (at El Alto), so in any case I might find myself stuck with other 50 locals waiting for the raging protestors to enable us to pass. At 6 am I decided to go back to the hostel, as in any case the border checkpoint opens only at 8 am, and it was a waste of time waiting there in the cold. The seniora was surprised to find me with my disappointed face at her front door. I went up and cuddled my self with the blankets, not removing even my shoes. I was to damn cold!
In the morning, I went to the internet café in order to send some emails, and there I found the lovely Australian couple, waiting for the Internet to be open. I have told them about the minibuses and the frozen sleepless night I have been through. They asked me what is the rush going to La paz with all this mess, and I told them about my stitches and my stuff locked in the hostel. What you got there, she asked and I lifted up the bandage. She took a close look and said to my surprise, no problem, I cant take it off with no effort. You?, I asked. Yep, she answered. Seems that she was working as a nurse in the operating room, assisting in artery opening surgery, and part of her job was to stitch and remove stitches (not at the face, but removing stitches was easy and didn´t demanded special equipment). I told her that I would consult with my doc and then I´ll give her an answer. I had to get my doc quickly, as they were about to ride to cross to Puno, Peru. I called Dr. Mauricio and he agreed that this "operation" is very simple and that she can remove them if she like. Full of optimism, I went back to the internet point and fixed a time for the "operation" with her. I had an hour, and I hurried back to my hostel and took my stuff to look for a better hostel in the mean time. Ten minutes before we were suppose to meet, I found a nice hostel and dropped my stuff there. We have met on the street of Copacabana, and while she joined me to the upper floor loby, her boyfriend went to have a cappuccino in a near café.
The operation itself was simple as hell: first we moistened the area so the skin will be softer, and then with a scalpel she cut stitch at a time, and with tweezers I gave her (PINZETA) she pulled out the very thin nylon cord. At all, she pulled out five of them, doing her best to find any more. For some reason I remembered I had six, but I forgot to ask the doc on the phone how many did he sew into my face. We decided that I will check this with him. So, quickly I ran back to a public phone and made an additional call. Well, he answered, I really don't remember. Try to look for an additional one or two. Great, I thought for my self, now I have to find her before she leaves town. If not, I will have to find them myself and take them out by myself, not a thing I would like to do. I went back to the hostel and after removing some dead skin clumped with dried blood I managed to find another one, which was so short and tiny that I was not actually sure that it was there and that it wasn´t hairs from my beard. I went out of the hotel and started looking for the two. No sooner than I made ten paces, I have noticed both of them checking out the souvenirs shops on the main street and I made my way toward them. Well, she asked, what did he say. She was surprised to hear that there might be even two more, and even more surprised when I told her about my discovery. She took a closer look and managed to see that little cord, still gripping the flesh. We moved to a near bench in the main plaza (the same one I have waited in the cold, only five hours previously), and under the radiant sunlight she managed to remove the last, sixth, stitch. Hurray! Inspecting the red scar, she was not able to find another, and I assured her that there are six, no more. I promised her that I will invite them both for a drink, if we ever meet in Peru, as they didn't had to much time on their hands.
In the evening, while surfing the net, I found out that there is another rumor about busses to La paz on Thursday, as this was a holiday in Bolivia. Rumors, I had got bitten by them already. But I was optimistic in any case. The buses are supposed to leave at 8 am, so at least my night won't be ruined. I wrote an email to Tim, an American I met at Sorata and then in La paz, that I am at Copacabana and do my best to get to La paz. We fixed a week before that we might do together the Noel-kempf national park, and after he will return from a tour in Uyuni, we could meet in Santa Cruz before departing for the isolated jungle. I was not sure what was his position, and if could get to Santa cruz from Uyuni.
I have dined my self in a nice touristy restaurant that turned out to be an educational event also. Miguel, 50 year old, is the owner of this restaurant and had a perfect American English. He was raised in the USA, after his parents left Bolivia while he was little, and after 36 years in the USA and also in Europe, he decide to return to his roots and settle in little tranquil Copacabana. We had a very interesting talk about the situation of Bolivia in general, and particularly about Bolivian people and I have learned so much, that I haven't remember all the issues we discussed there in the little restaurant. At last, when already all the clients left the restaurant and the last employees left to there home, we parted with smiles. Leaving the place, I was filled with optimism and sympathy to this poor people, as I understand part of there social and economical problems there are being through in the past several decades, and hoped that if change will come to this land, it will not change Bolivia for the worse but to the best.

The following morning I got up at 6 am and at 8 am I found that no busses were waiting at the little plaza. Damn those rumors! I decided that I have waited enough, and went to a close tourist agency to book myself a ticket to Cuzco. I heard a lot of good things about this Peruvian ancient city, and it sounded like an ideal place to pass some days till I know what happens in Bolivia. While I was there, I met with an Israeli that was just arriving from La paz on a 2 am bus, and at some point all the people in the bus needed to get down from the bus and remove a sand pile from the road, as it blocked the road. With those good news, I didn't needed any more evidence to comprehend that getting into La paz is problematic, and getting out is even more of a headache. I bought a ticket to Cuzco with an optional stop in Puno, as the total driving time to Cuzco is approximately 8 hours, and the bus leaves only at 1:30 pm, which means that I will get to La paz around midnight. Not a good time to wander in the city looking for a hostel, I tell you!
In the passing time I found out that there were several busses heading to La paz (now you tell me??), due to the fact that no blockades were expected that day. I played a bit with the option to convert my ticket from west to east, but at the end I decided that I should wait a bit in Peru till things will be better. Why to go to La paz, when you can be stranded to the hostel, all around are protestors, police and tear gas? Turned out, that the only way blocked by the extremist was actually the road west, from La paz to Copacabana (to the border). You can imagine my feelings as I discovered this fact only in Puno, while I had already a ticket to Cuzco. My miserable choice pushed me hard into the Peruvian border, and now I didn't had too much of a choice. I had to cross the border to Peru!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Rough trekking around Arkiata lagoon


Armed with a photocopy map, a trek story and high spirit, we (Barak, Chen and me) went on a 3 day trek to the Arkiata lagoon, some 70 km up north-east of La paz. The trek started at the wrong point and the day after was ended abruptly due to an accident while going up a steep slope. Going back was not easy also, and eventually Im again in La paz for quite some time…

Monday morning, Barak, Chen and myself loaded our packs on our backs and went out to waking La paz to find a taxi that will take us to the bus headed for Ventilla, a small town outside La paz. The bus continues on east, and according to the trek story, we should get off after passing a high pass and take from there a path to the Lagoon.
This Monday was a problematic one, as a socialist movement was not pleased with the president actions in regard to the natural gas agreement with the USA, and road blocks were expected all around Bolivia, especially around La paz and Sucre, the capital. We knew we might have problems going out of La paz, but even more distressing was the possibility that we might get stuck outside La paz, after a tiring Trek…

Finding a taxi was not that hard, and quickly we got to the bus (the same one that took me and Uri last time to Uni). We found a place at the back of this awfully stinky bus, full again, with Cholas and also men and child. Around 8:30 we got on our way, a 4 and something hour drive over valleys and rivers. It was a beautiful, if also tiring some. The road was rough most of the time, and our seats were not the best you could find. Eventually, we came to a high pass and the bus driver suddenly stopped and beaconed us to go down. We were not sure this is actually the starting point of the trek, as the trek story definitely stated that we ought to go over this pass down to a near town called Tres Rios (the tree rivers) and there find the path. Barak claimed we should go on with the bus, but me and Chen were not that sure and the bus driver insisted this is the place. In addition, we found a near wide path that lead to the base of a near black mountain range with a goat path leading up the range. We tried to consult with the topo map, but it was hard for us to locate our position. As we were eager to go down, have lunch and to start to walk, we got our gear down from the bus, not knowing whether we were at the right position or not. We had a fast lunch (Tuna fish with bread and a bit of Dulce de leche, a milk jam) and in parallel Barak stopped several vehicles and asked them for our location and for the location of the Arkiata lagoon. The answers differed from each vehicle and even from one person to another, so we gave up on getting reliable information from the locals. We put the packs on our backs, and hoped for the best.

We started our ascent from this 4X4 wheel drive path that soon merged with the goat path going up the mountain range. That part was hard, with 10-15 kg on our backs, but we managed to do that quite quickly and soon reached a nice pass with a magnificent view over both Illimani mountain on the right hand and the Mururata on the other. We took some pictures and quickly realized that there was no visible path from that path. We continued to walk along the mountain range peaks in order to have some view over the surrounding and to have an assessment of our location. Finally, we managed to see a near town, and managed to locate our position in the topo map. We were on the wrong mountain range and we had to pass another mountain slope in order to meet with the correct valley that leads up to the three lagoons. We got down from the mountain to the valley, in a very steep slope and we started to have some blisters on our feet and we cursed the bus driver all the way down (and it was a long way down…)

While I write this, there are numerous explosions sound outside the internet point, must be due to the riots in La paz…I can not say it is not reminding me of my time in the army, on the west bank…scary!

Finally, while going down, we have met a local farmer walking on an almost invisible narrow path and after conveying with him we managed to verify that we indeed were on the other side of the mountain range and we had to walk some time to the correct valley. We continued to walk further on that path till we met with a wide path that continued to go round the mountain slope into the right valley. Only after an additional hour we found a first indication that we are indeed on the correct route: a small damn over the river passing through the green valley.

And the explosions continue on..I hope I could get to the hostel in one piece…My hostel is 5 min walk from parliament and im not sure I could get in…

Barak was still not sure we are walking correctly, even though I had confidence in the map and our location, and the scenery matched quite good with the map. Eventually, after an additional 20 min walk past little and photogenic waterfalls, we found the first lagoon, and we managed to squeeze a relief smile. We did it! We walked along the beautiful lagoon shores and found a place which was less windy and more appropriate for sleeping. We pitched our tents and started to prepare dinner: Pasta (how original!). Even though the second serving of our pasta was ruined (due to my careless watching over it..), it was delicious and following a hot tea with some Orio cookies, we made our way quickly into our tents for a long night sleep.
The morning came quite fast, and the lagoon water reflected the mountain range we passed the previous day. We prepared some more tea and ate some crackers, and soon we folded our tents and our packs were again on our backs. We started our way up toward the high waterfalls which were at the base of a yet, another lagoon. After a 20 min walk we came to the base of a very steep slope going up some 200 meters beside a nice waterfall. The trek story stated that it is possible to dump the equipment behind numerous huge boulders strewn around the base of the slope. The slope itself was a sliding slope made of little pieces of rocks and was evidently not easy to ascend and also unsteady. Due to the fact that we needed to continue on after going up, we had no choice but to take our gear with us up that slope. Barak, which was in a better shape than us, went up ahead of us. At some point, half way up, me and Chen made to stable rocks protruding out of the sliding slope, one of them covered with thick ice. While we took some breath and continue on going up, Barak shouted from above that we should take the right side of the slope, as there was a hidden path which was easier to climb. As I was doing my way over the rocks shelf, when it happened.
The known saying "he didn't knew what hit him" is a perfect match to what happened to me at that instant. Suddenly, without any preparation, sight or even sound, I felt a blow coming from above. I screamed out of pain while I was tossed over to the slope. While I was tumbling over and sliding the slope a thought passed my mind that a stone must have fallen from Barak´s or Chen´s footstep and hit me in the head, and that now I must have gotten a concussion…In that splitting second, my instincts went into action and my hands, instead of holding my self, went to grab something before I will fall all the way down. I quickly and smoothly slide over the frozen-covered rocks and landed on the sliding little rocks till I came to a full stop only 5 meters away. I managed to squeeze a relief. My face hurt very much and my hand instinctively went up to feel and to have an assessment of the damage caused by that falling stone. As I saw my bloody hand, I was afraid for my teeth. In that passing second or so, I heard Chen yelling to Barak that I fell. He was also crying for me, asking if im ok. I yelled back with pain that I have got hit by a rock and that im bleeding from my face. I still didn`t know what actually happen to my face. Chen was yelling back to Barak to get his ass back down with his medical kit. Figures out, that Barak was a Medic in OREV GOLANY, and that was good, for he did a damn good job fixing my face for the time being!
Chen asked me to go up the slope and I have got pissed off! What the fuck?! This damn slope with my face and my head in a swirl, and he wants me to go up? Is he gone crazy?? And then I gripped my self, and saw what Chen saw: I was located in the middle of a very sliding slope, and it was very hard to stand a foot without falling or sliding. I took a deep breath and made my way up. On my way up I found my hat and my glasses, which the right lens was scratch with a single long scratch from top to bottom. Damn, what would happen to my eye if I hadn´t wore any glasses?? While comprehending this, Chen offered some help but I waved him, too pist off to hear anyone. Eventually, I dropped my pack on the ground and sat. Chen looks was not that assuring and I guessed I looked like a fuckn mess..Barak came down quickly and gave me some gauze to clean my face and to stop my bleeding. I felt much better, with only the sourness of my face. I told them, while looking at the scenery of the first lagoon, that if we can stop the bleeding we can continue on. But, when I removed the gauze and Barak took a look, he said no way. I need to have it stiched. Damn, I thought, that's the last thing I need: a scar face.
After stopping the bleeding, Barak mended me and we decided to retreat to La paz as soon as possible, hoping they could fix me there and maintain the smallest scar possible. The going down and back the path we took on the first day was quick if hard for me. I was also quite upset as not only I was injured but also that we missed the beautiful sight of the lagoons. Damn! What bad luck! But then again I thought that this bad luck happened to me with these good guys and at this place and not on the death road…
We came quickly to the wide path and we had to take some decision: whether to go up the slope and around it or to go further down to the nearest town. Me and Barak wanted to go down while Chen preferred to go up, and maybe meet with the main road to La paz. I hoped we gonna have more luck finding transportation at the little town. I was wrong, however, as in that miserable town, there were almost no cars and no one to drive them, as the farmers where working in the fields at that time of day. Shit! The next bus schedule was another mystery as several told us it passed only at 1 am while others told us it passed at 3 pm or am…It was frustrating. We decided to go up the road hoping to meet with the junction with the main road. However, while we climbed up the long long sloping zig-zagging road, it came to me that there might not be any junction and this is the main road to La paz, and if so, we might as well wait at the town rather then wasting our energy going up the road. The topo map was with Barak, which walked way ahead of me and I called for a pause. When finally I reached him, we took the map and also the trek story and tried to realize if there is any junction. There was no such junction, we realized. As this was the case, we agreed all that we might as well wait at that point for the bus or other transportation. But, cloud started to build around us and it got bloody cold, so we soon made our way down to the town, feeling miserable and longing for a place to make some lunch as we didn't ate anything since 8:30 in the morning (and only crackers) and it was already 13:30…While going down, me and Barak thought of going forward toward Tres Rios, as the trek story stated that there are some shops, cheap hostel and restaurants. Chen was reluctant to move further away from the little town for he was tired and even suggested we just rent some room to pass the day till the bus comes. We had argued with him, and finally, after talking with a farmer hauling a miserable donkey, we all made our way down with him toward Tres Rios, a 30 min walk down the road. At first me and Barak thought that it is a climbing but soon we understand that we were wrong (again..) and that actually the way to the town was going down than up. I felt a bit better, while clouds surrounded us and blocked all sight 10 meters away. All the way down, people going up took a fierce look at me and I guessed I looked awful. Finally, around 3 pm we came to the town, which also has a hydroelectrically power plant! We made to the center of town, when we saw a bus going into town. Barak, instinctively, dropped his pack to the ground and ran like a maniac toward the driving bus (to our amazement! Where the hell he had so much strength?). While he was running we asked the girls which was looking at this scene in amusement, where this bus was headed. Figures out, that bus was a local one and was not headed for La paz…Barak, coming back running shouted to us to catch it but quickly we told him it is the wrong bus. We continue on and found another bus, this time it is going to La paz! We were happy and hurried to him, just to realize it is full of people, sacks and everything else. Actually, we were lucky because going on such a bus, standing and squeezed like that for four hours was a nightmare after the long day we had. Near the bus was a local restaurant and we ordered ourselves some dish in the mean time till we find alternative transportation.
While we were waiting, a young man came to us and asked if we want to go to La paz. Of course we want! Horridly Barak and Chen flew out of the restaurant and started to negotiated for a price. The were able to get a good price, and with a good timing, as we finished our lunch hungrily, the GMC minivan (limousine styled) came to a stop and we horridly got our packs on the vehicle. At that point I already saw what that stone done to my face and I was horrified: I had a gaping hole near my nose…It looked horrible…
The GMC sped away and Barak mended my face again.

The drive back was long, even though it was more spacious than a local bus. On our way the driver got some other passengers, but most of the time he drove well. However, once he came into town he started to drive so slowly we got pissed off. He came to a stop at a place remoted from center of town and we had to argue with him for 20 min till he agreed to bring us to the center. Finally, we got to the hostel around 8 pm. Thank god!
Barak started to feel pains in his chest and back while we were driving from Tres rios and eventually decided to come along with me to the Israeli doctor that was stationed in La paz. He directed us to a local private hospital, Cemes clinic, and once there we found him conversing with a Bolivian doctor. They both looked respected with their suits and ties. Apparently, we were not the only Israeli guys there, as a company of Israelis came to visit their friend, who fell from a rock near Arbol rock in the Salar, after trying to climb a rock. He broke both his legs quite badly.
After waiting for 20 min, Dr Mauricio finally saw me, and with his good sense of humor quickly I was inspected also by the respected Bolivian doctor. It seems I was ok, with no all-the-way cut but only a cut on the outer surface of the chic. Mauricio went into his work and quickly anesthetize that part of my face with two painfully shots. He cleaned the wound and went on to stitch the wound. At some point, he called Barak, which came along with me, to see how to do this. We had some good laughs there, I can tell you that! After 30 min of work, I was finished and sent away.

So, for now, im stuck in La paz for an additional 10 days till he can remove the stitch and see what is the situation of the wound. Even though im sick and tired of this city, I am happy that I this event was finished. It could have gone worse than it was actually ended.
Chen and Barak are leaving today to Sorata with couple of Isralei girls and I guess im gonna see them when they are back from there. In the mean while, I´ll try to relax as much as possible in this city…
Till the next adventure,

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Palca valley hike, plans and good old friends...

The great pillar in the middle of Palca Valley


After returning from Sorata with Christine and Stephanie, I have hiked with Uri to Palca valley and later planned to go with Christine and Stephanie to Coroico and afterwards, to Rurrenabque. Plans, however, changed repidly and a day before going up to a trail up up in the mountains sorrounding the Illimani from north I have indulged into deep thinking...

La paz, the Stinky city, has greeted us all with warm rays of light. Christine and Stephanie stayed on the other side of the valley (means, the Santa cruz death road in La paz) and I returned to the comfy Austria hostel. Returning to the hostel, I was accommodated with a very nice Israeli guy, Uri, a Moshavnic from the north, near Maagan Michael. I´ve met Uri a week and a half before, when I went to my Huyana-Potosi and they traveled for Sorata, to do a seven day tour there.
After chilling out for one day, I went the next day with Uri to a nice day hike in the north-eastern parts outside La paz, in the Palca valley, where an enormous stone pillar erects up from the valley. We took a bus full of locals and headed out of La paz early in Thursday´s morning. On the way we stopped for cement sacks loading (as if the bus was not heavy already...) and after 30 min stop we continue to the outskirts of La paz. Finally, the bus driver dropped us near the valley and we started going down. The view was fantastic (pictures will be loaded soon..), with Illimani white silluote illuminating against the deep blue sky in that lovely morning. The hike was easy, even though I felt a bit dizzy due to the height of this valley (over 4000 m) but generally, we had a very nice day outside La paz. Around noon we came to the enormous pillar, which laid a long shadow over the river route and we quickly made a short stop for lunch (2 breads pieces). We continued with the river route and soon started our way up to Palca, a little town situated between enormous mountain ranges. On the way up we saw amazing rock formations (which are the characteristic of the all region) and squeezed another couple shots. Coming into town was a surprise, as we were the only people walking in this town. Soon we found the plaza and the place were we could take a bus back to La paz. At 1 pm a bus came and we hurriedly went toward it.
"It looks like we gonna stand all the way, the bus is full" commented Uri, and even though he was technically wrong, the general idea was not that far. Going up the bus, full of Chola, Men and children, we were seated the pass between the two rows of seats, on top of enourmous piles of merchandise. Holding tight on the ceiling bars we started our way back to La paz. This was a very tideous 2 and half hour ride, passing narrow roads hanging over 100 m cliffs, and going up and straight through the one of the mountain ranges. Amazingly, the bus managed to haul all of us up a 1000 m´ road climb. The view, when we could see something, was amzingly, if not a bit frightengly, as the bus was not balanced, and sometime it cranked toward the abyss...All this time, people were eating, breast-feeding babies (and the Cholas leaving their breasts to wobble freely in the fresh air...) and some small talks. Our backs were ruined by the end of this trip. But that was not the end of it..Getting close to town, people started to get off the bus, or more accurately, were shoving themselvs over all the merchanidise piles, and through me and Uri. As Uri suffered more than I am from his back and hands (he got a really lousy "seat"), he took the first available seat (which was also stuffed with sacks and other stuff). As i did`nt undertand the Ayamara dialect, I didnt understand what the "conductor", an obnoxious man drooling now and then, and I found my self at the center of a communal-indian joke and laugh, which was quite abusive. Without anything to do, I just sat there and was boiling inside. At some point, I stopped conveying with the driver and the conductor (and the hell with practicing espanol) and I was glad when we reached center La paz.
In the evening I´ve met with Christine and Stephanie for a nice dinner at the El Cubano restaurant, a very good and not too expensive Cuban restaurant down the Prado, on Arce avenue. Over dinner, Christine overlaid their plans ahead: to take a bike down the death road and settle for a couple of days up in Coroico, and then head north to Rurrenabaque. There, they planned to tour the near Pampas basin for a couple days and then to head for Trinidad, a small town north-eastern of Rurrenabaque. From there, they planned to go by boat to Manaos, a port town on the Rio Amazon in Brazil. This is a very long boat tour, and after touring the jungles there, they planned to go up stream south to another town and from there back to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, via the death train. That sounded quite an adventure for to, even though it was a very long tour (at least a month), which most of it will be on Brazilian soil, which is quite expensive. Eventually, decided to join them, and we decided that we will meet the next day at Coroico, Friday the 13th...While they´ll do the death road on bike, I will do it by bus...I returned from dinner and went right away to pack my stuff for the jungle. However, when I finally decided to close the Cholas bag (a big strong nylon bag cholas use for their merchandise) I found out the zipper was broken..Cursing, I had no choice but to buy another one the next morning. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, so I woke up early and while boiling some water in the kettle I went to do the hostel desk to arrange my departure.
"Chen!" was shouted out of one of the rooms, with a distinct voice. Taking several steps back, I found Chen standing in his room, all unshaved and totally tired from a night bus from Uyuni. I´ve met Chen and Barak, two nice Israelis from Eilat, at the hostel a week and a half ago, before they went south to Tupiza. Before I departed for Sorata, we talked about doing the Choro trek together, but then I forgot to leave them an email..I have tought our paths have seperated, but no, they werent...They told me that following a 2 day relaxation in La paz, they plan to do the trek and asked me if I would like to join them. Suddenly, I was in a dilemma...Here I was like a log on the Tuichi, cruizing down the river of live were the stream can take you anywere it wants. Well, all most. I told him I need to drink coffee over this, as I have some others plans. Which one is better was my decision. Weighing the different paths was not easy, as both options were compelling: The Choro was something I wanted to do the moment I got to La paz, and on the other hand, the adventure smell that raised from Christine plan was also appealing. Which one to take?? The money issue was the heavy weight in this balancing dilemma, and I chose the Choro. Brazil will wait. OK. Now, I have to contact the two ladies, which were at that time having breakfast before their journey down hill..
After sending an email to Stephanie, I was with time on my hands and I went to wander in the markets, looking for additional stuff I need.
Friday and Saturday went swiftly, while the three of us doing some shopping for the up coming trek. We wanted to consult before going for this trek (and take also a map..), so we made our way to Shaul, a veteran trekker living in La paz, which arranges tours off the beaten track in Bolivia. Talking with him for an hour an half, we were managed to change our destination to a high trek which would lead us to beautiful lagoons...In addition, Shaul has suggested that we might do the jungles of Madidi through his service, at a lower price and at a more remote site in the park. Apart from his financial interests, I also took into consideration the already known fact that the Madidi park tours from Rurreabaque are very touristic and due to that less and less animals are seen from the beaten track. Considering this option we left Shaul with information an a topo map (copy) and went back to our hostel, delaying our departure for an additional day, as the average height of this trek will be arround 5000 m, and we all needed some more acclimatization. Too much time on my hand, my brain started to do some time cruzing and soon I found my self thinking about my future back in Israel...What shall I do and how? I tried to wave these unimportant thoughts, but for vein. They were stubborn as an 80 year old tree...Eventually, and after discussing these issue with my family, I have been successful in postponing any though about this issue to future times...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Sorata, a hidden beauty

A lama on the way to Chilata lagoon


When I was looking for a good place to chill-out, Sorata was a natural choice, with the mighty-snowy Illampu mountain, 6368 m, at the back and the opening valley at front. Chilling out was not the only thing on the agenda, and following a day hike to the long San pedro cave, I have joined a group of backpackers and together we trekked the Chillata-Glaciar lagoons tour, a very nice and difficult trek

After 3 weeks here in La paz, I had to have more nature after my "successful" climb to Huayna Potosi, and Sorata was on my mark for quite a lot of time. Following a talk with Roman, we decided to meet in Sorata and maybe to trek there together, as this little mountain town is a major hub to several cross cordillera treks. I packed my backpack and on Thursday morning grabbed a bus to the cemetery area where every hour a bus leaves to Sorata.
Once I arrived to the cemetery area, I looked for the bus (the cemetery area is a hub for several north destinations). A lady pointed to a too-tired bus waiting at the corner of the street. I hauled myself and my 20 kg backpacks to the bus and after short conversation with the bus driver I shoved my belongings into the bottom compartment. Then a lady in the bus, the conductor must be, tolled me to go and buy a ticket…I not quite clearly understand what she wanted at first, but a nice policemen posted at the corner quickly directed me to the ticket office. I´ve waited there for five minutes when the lady in charge talked rapidly with the policemen and I understand that I should buy the ticket on the bus. OK…So, as I was going back to the bus, it was already on the move with my backpack! I ran and literally went up on it while on the move…They are not waiting for no body, these guys….The adventure bus, seemingly, have not stopped given everybody surprises.. after only 15 minutes of a coughing climb, the bus had it and stuck right in the middle of the driveway…thick grey smoke was rising from the driver compartment, and I was astonished to realize that the engine cover was located right beside the driver (!) instead in front of the driver cabin (check out the pictures at: ).
People started to go down from the bus and I thought we have to look for an alternative...But no, as one guy returned with a bucket full of water, which was promptly spill all over the over heated engine...10 minutes more, and we were all on the bus...I was very happy to realize that all our problems were solved, but the other people were not that happy..and they sure knew why! After only 15 minutes of driving, while we were crossing El Alto on the altiplano, and the driver stopped the bus on the side of the main road...When I saw everybody going down with their belongings (mainly, Cholas with huge sacks...), I got it we are stuck, and for good! Conveying with the driver I realized that we will take an alternative bus that leaves an hour after we left...So, waiting there on the cold altiplano was not that bad as I thought, and after 30 min or so, a newer bus arrived and we all hauled our stuff on the roof...I was almost been left in a gas station outside El Alto, after I have went to relief my self in a gas station while the bus refueled...I knew they are not waiting for everyone, so I finished my business quite quick, but still, when I got out of the "men's room", closing the zipper and all, I could see the conductor climbing the bus, and the wheels starting to roll...I was running after the bus, one hand waving, the other holding my pants up to my waist to the amazement and laugh of the gas station workers....When I finally climbed on the bus, all the bus was laughing when I explained the driver in my broken spanish that he should be slower and not rush so quickly...

Other than that, the drive to Sorata was with out any additional "incidents" and following a scenic down-the-hill drive we came at three afternoon to the peaceful plaza of Sorata. I found a nice place not far from the plaza, with an astonishing view over the valley, and also with a double bed (something that I never had, btw..). In short, a heaven!
Even though it is quite an amazing place, surprisingly not too many tourist are hanging around here, which makes this place even more inviting...In any case, in my hostel I met with Tim and Beth, an American-Canadian couple which plans to do a several days trek in the area. So, my first day in Sorata past in relaxation and nice talk with Tim and Beth over beer and dinner in a tourist restaurant. The day after also past in total relaxation and in reading a book (The return from Tuichi). In the evening I've also met with Josh, An American which arrived to La paz and at the same day took a bus to Sorata. He has a friend who organizes a 4 day tour from Sorata to Rurrenabque by bike and boat rafting. I was interested, as I wanted to go to Rurrenabque in any case, and this detour could save me one pass through the death road (even though this tour is quite expensive, 180 USD in total..). At the end, btw, I didn't do it as Josh was not at Sorata when I came back from the trek. Around 8 pm Roman arrived from La paz, quite sick with aching troat, and not too ambitious plans for Sorata's mountains. Me and Roman decided to hike to the San pedro cave, which is 11 km north west of Sorata. Josh, that had to wait for his friend, joined in too...
It was a lovely day, and the view was wonderful over the valley. Arriving at the cave compound, we met with an Israeli couple and over cookies and abit of water, we talked under the shade. As Roman didn't felt too good, me and Josh went into the dark and long cave, which harbors a long lagoon stretch, which was dimly lit by a series of lamps powered by a generator on the surface up above. The sight was nice, and after 15 min we were out. The hike back was a bit tougher than the way to San pedro, as a serious chunk of the way was going up.
Returning back to the hostel, I have met again with Christina, a Danish woman I've met a day before and that looked for partners for a couple of days trek in the area. Now she sat with Stefany, a German women who told us that there is a French guy planing on doing a 3 day trek up in the mountains, independently, and that they would like to join him. The group was getting bigger and bigger by the minute, as an Austrian women named Therese was planning on joining too with this french guy (Romai is his name, btw). And finally, Jov, a Belgian guy was planning on doing some treks in the area, and joined in as well. At 19:00 we all gathered under the looming church, and it was decided that we gonna do this trek, when Jov and Romai gonna haul their stuff by themselves, while we gonna hire 2 donkeys plus tents and cooking equipment. We paid the tour agency an advance and went on buying food.
8 in the morning, and I was prepared for my first multi day trek. I was a bit excited, I must admit. We purchased some vegetables, fruit and bread and went to the office for last minute arrangements. Surprisingly, the owner has told us that we have to buy Kerosene for the Primus that we will use for cooking. I objected, saying with my broken spanish, that if they gonna bring the Primus without fuel, they might as well dont bring it at all...They made an argue, I pist off (as usual... :) ) and told them that im not paying for it and that's that (while going out of the office, as you all know by yourself..). The guides smiled and took us to the pickup truck that would drop us in a higher part of the way, to save on time (the kerosene, btw, was bought by the agency at the end...). The drive to the "jump-start", as I called it, was windy, crowdie as hell (over 20 people stuffed in a metal frame on the back of a Toyota land cruiser pick up. Amazingly, the car hauled all of us with not too much problems even when the road got very steepy...
After 30 min of cliff driving (a bit similar to the death road..) we were dropped off with our gear. No donkey was seen in the vicinity and our guide (named Issac, only 20 years old) told us we gonna meet the two donkeys abit high on the road. Getting ready for the hike, we arranged our stuff (and you can see the pictures at: ) and we started walking. After 10 min we've met with the donkeys, and our gear was stranded to the two donkeys, and soon we set off, to start the trek.
The first day was not that hard, especially because I took with me only my little backpack with water and bits of cookies. The view was amazingly beautiful, and the higher we go, the higher we got to the clouds, that were surrounding us from time to time. No question about it, it was one of these days you are really enjoying yourself!
Jov carried his pack with no difficulties, leading the way ahead of the donkeys, while Romai, which was less experienced with such treks, walked with the rest of us. Even though he carried a heavy load, he was in good spirit all the way and took our pictures.
Around 3 pm we got to our camp area, on the misty bank of the Chillata lagoon. Quickly we pitched the two tents, and we had a nice conversation while the mist was blown away, revealing the snow-caped Illampu. As the sun was going down, Issac took out his cooker, a Primus, and boiled some lagoon water. Amazingly, similar primus as he used is hanging in our kitchen back home, and I was so surprised and hilarious to grip that they actually still use this kind of cookers…I was also amazed when he spread his blankets near a stone, and was looking like preparing his place for sleep. As we had two tents but only 3 persons which use them, I thought that Issac will sleep also in my tent. Only after persistent persuasion he agreed to sleep in the tent (the temperature at the lagoon, 4200 m ASL, may drop below -5 degrees, and only god knows how he would survive a night with only two blankets!). Mean while, we decided to go for cream soup and pasta with tomato sauce, which was very nice at the end. We went quite early to sleep, around 8 pm, but sleep was beyond me, probably due to the coffee I had only 30 min before…
We woke up at 6 in order to have an early start (we didn´t even knew what lies ahead). Morning at the lagoon was a freezing experience, and after a quick breakfast we left the camp for the Glaciar lagoon, 1000 m higher. At first my feet were stiff from the cold, but after 10 min they have gotten warmed and slowly the sun crept up the sky. It was a very nice day, and the first hour and a half was nice and I´ve enjoyed my self…We crossed several streams of water coming down from the glaciers up above, and I´ve stopped by one of them to have my fill and also to fill the water bladder I carried with me. From there on, however, walking was difficult and became even more energy consuming, as we continue to climb up and up…breathing was hard, and after an additional hour I was completely exhausted…Not only that the air was getting thinner by the meter, but also 3 liters of water on my back were more than I needed and were hard to carry. And finally, the path was not easy going, as it became both steep and rocky. Juv at a certain point left the group and continued on (with his trusty big muchila on his back) and later missed the path and went to the wrong direction. The rest of us climbed the mountain face with an effort of breathing and leg lifting. Me and Stefany, walked were behind the others and at some points I have needed to literally crawl vertically on all my four, because I didn`t had enough strength to scale it only on my two legs. We kept climbing and climbing, the scenery was excellent (with lake Titicaca blinking with it´s deep blue from the distance) but I was already very frustrated and without any power around 12 pm. By no means, this climb was the hardest physical thing I have done in my life. At one point, Issac pointed at clouds crawling up the mountain face and noted that they might obscure the scenery at the lagoon up at the base of the Illampu. With this in my back of my head, I have almost lost any motivation: Why to exert so much energy and even suffer (!) if there is not much to see?? I´ve hidden this thought deep-deep in my head and kept on slowly going up and up…Finally, I have reached the upper part of this climb, and from there went down to the lagoon shore. Without even talking with anybody, I slumped on my ass and just laid there with both feet in front of me, breathless, like I had a war injury. I was disappointed that I had so much suffering all the way up there, and I didn´t talked much with the other people as I was with no mood. After I regained my senses, I have eaten some lunch (bread with tuna) and some fruits. Then, only then, I moved on to check the scenery and take some pictures: The beauty of this murky lagoon was the glaciers walls enclosing some part of the lagoon waters. Other than that, it was a gloomy lagoon. Sitting there, I gripped that there things that I can manage and there are certain things which are beyond my reach. Even so, I have made it to the lagoon, although I was completely exhausted for the past one and half hour. At first I was a little disappointed of this scene, but then I remembered that the way up was even more beautiful than the lagoon it self, so, the hard scaling was worth it, in any case. Jov and Therese were starting their way down and Romai soon also left the place, leaving me and the Issac. I felt better, a bit stronger and regained my strength, and quickly me and Issac were jumping from one rock to another like squirrels in their habitat. Going down, unlike going up, demanded me less energy and apart from constraining my triceps and my knees, I was going down like a madman. The breath-taking scenery was a great background for the 4-hour scaling down the mountain face, and at last we came to the camp at Chillata lagoon. Jov, Romai and Therese decided to go down to Sorata at the same day (without any donkey, 3 hours more), while Stefany and Christine remained for another night at the camp, as planned. At first I wanted also to go down the same day, but after gripping I would have to take my pack on my back, I decided that there is no rush, and if I have already paid for a porter, there is no real reason to carry my packs by myself. Turned out, that I needed the rest and even though the going down is less tough then going up, my knees would not be that happy that they would have to suspend the going down of additional 10 kgs…
We parted with smiles and hugs and the three of us were left at the beautiful lagoon. Dinner was quickly prepared and we hopped afterward into our tents, as it got so cold…this time I slept like a baby (11 hours!!).
We dismantled the tents and made our way down to Sorata. This time, we saw the scenery from the backward direction and it was beautiful almost as seeing it for the first time. After 4 hours of trekking, we finally made it to Sorata, tired a bit, but very happy!
We returned to the Mirador hostel (and to my double bed room!) and chilled out for an hour. I tried to get in touch with Josh, but he was out of town, so that was the end of the 4 day tour to Rurrenabque gig…We all had a nice dinner at the plaza (the best tomato soup I have ever had!) and the day after we climbed back on the bus to La paz.
Back in La paz, my plans is to go to Rurreabque, almost for sure on a bus (yeah, it freaks me out but I don't want to wait for a flight here in La paz…Im sick and tired of the city…). Plans change all the time, so im open for suggestion from every backpacker I meet..
Soon, you´ll have some more on it…

Monday, May 02, 2005

Huayna Potosi o no Huayna Potosi??

Believe it or not, thats me up there, trying to catch my breat at 4900 meters...


As part of this trip aims is to challenge my self, conquering a mountain is an obvious attraction on the "to-do" list. The 6,088 m high Huayna Potosi mountain is indeed a formidable photogenic peak located only 24 km north of La paz. Taking a 3-day tour with a tour agency, I have tried to reach the summit but had to retreat very frustrated back to La paz after only one day due to a health problem…

The first time I have heard about Huayna Potosi mountain was one night in the hostel, when one New-Zealand girl talked about the climbing experience. Then, after a week an a half, an Australian guy name Roman looked for partners for this climbing, and I decided it might be nice to try to reach the peak. The fact that the price was also low encouraged me even more to try to climb this peak (approx 25-30 USD per day), as most excursions to this mountain and others are quite expensive, averaging on 50 USD per day. Checking the agency, I found a little shop hidden inside a passage, with used mountaineering equipment strewn on shelves and pictures of smiling climbers on top several Bolivian mountains. Using my English-spanish, I have realized that it is recommended to take a 3-day tour, as this mountain is all year around snowy, which means mountaineering experience is required and even recommended. The tour plan was to reach a hat that served as a refugee located at 4,800 m and hike to a proximate glacier which served as a training ground for climbing techniques. The next morning, we were to hike with all the necessary equipment to the base camp, situated at 5,200 m right under the snow line. After having lunch, the plan was to wake up at 1 am and hike-climb to the peak.
After doing quick bargaining, I´ve managed to lower the cost from 100 USD to 85 for these three days, all included. As Roman planned to do only 2 day excursion, I have decided to leave on Saturday morning, so Roman would join me at the base camp on Sunday. Nice plan, but different reality.
At 8 am I went up Sagarnaga street to the agency, to meet my guide for this tour, Mario, and another Israeli, Avi. Avi was also planning on doing the 2 day excursion, but he decided to start on Saturday. Not long after I came to the agency, we both were checking the different equipment, which was in medium to poor shape. Plastic Booths, Crampons, Ice axe, water proof pants, down jacket, water proof gloves..the works! We were equipped almost as we were going to the south pole!
Shoving all this equipment into our backpacks, we climbed into the car and went away toward the northern part of the city. After one hour we stopped for food supply at a nice viewing point over the city, and mistakenly thought that one of the far peaks was our aim…we were astonished to realize, that a nasty looking spiked peak was our destination…
One hour of dirt road driving and we were at the reserve gate. Mario commented that 2 Israelis (or Jewish?) tried to climb this mountain back at 1942 (!!) and were now buried in a near local cemetery…It was quite hard for me and Avi to believe that even back then, Israeli's were that adventurous!
We had a short breakfast/lunch near the refugee and Avi and his guide hauled their backpacks on their backs and started hiking toward the base camp. Me and Mario, on the other hand, wore our mountaineering equipment for the training cession. However, then I had a surprise. It seems that the boots were too weary and we could not attach the crampons to the boots.. Luckily, Mario had a spare and broken crampons, so for one full hour he was searching the refugee grounds for steel fibers so he could fix the crampons. This didn´t gave me a safe feeling and I was quite pist off…Finally, we took the equipment and hiked 30 min to the site of the training. The walking wasn´t easy and I was breathing hard, even though I didn´t carry anything but the crampons and a climbing belt.
A side remark: when going on high altitude, two independent issues have tremendous affect on the physical functionality of the climber: Acclimatization and physical fitness. Proper acclimatization is important due to the low levels of oxygen in the air, and usually one week in La paz is sufficient to acclimatize to such extreme heights. The other issue of high altitude climbing is physical fitness. As less oxygen is available, climbers which are physically fit can manage to climb easily even in such oxygen conditions in comparison to those who are not physically fit. While altitude sickness can be dealt with proper acclimatization, trouble breathing is a problem which can not be dealt with…
Mario demonstrated for me how to climb up and down glaciers, with and without the ice axe and also climbing 90 degree straight glacier…it was very interesting but also very hard, for my feet had there own life and were indifferent to my orders. In addition to the feet and arms techniques, it was hard also to breath and every couple of steps I had to stop breathing, especially when I exercised the 6 m straight wall climbing. It was damn hard, as you had to use both feet and arms to haul your self up the ice cliff. After 2 and half hours of training, we went back to the refugee for supper and sleep. At this stage, I was very exhausted, and walked very slowly more out of self inertia than out of self control..I could see that Mario was worried and kept asking if I have headaches or stomach aches, which I didn´t had…Even so, I thought whether I was fit this kind climbing as this was only 4,800 m´ and the starting point will be no less than 5,200 meters! But then, another some unconscious thing was hassling me. Well, it seems that I have developed in the night before THOR…Only when I got into the refugee and trying to sit down, did I realized that breathing hard was the least of my problems at that time…Going to the bathroom (which served also as a shower and a sink..), I performed self examination (not a doctor but still) and realized I had a THOR at an approximate size of a moxipane pill (!)…real huge and really-really painful! Both Mario and the house lady (both over fifty years old, BTW) have enquired for my problems, and finally, I spilled out that I have ass aches…at first they thought it was a surface blow and only after I demonstrated with my hands what was on the daily agenda, then they started out laughing…I have joined them promptly, as this was a bizarre event, explaining these two seasoned people that I have ass problems…I guess that I´ll be remembered for quite a long time, as the Israeli that in contrast to most of climbers, had ass problems and not altitude sickness.. After having supper we all went to sleep, hoping I will feel better (and only me gripped that this try is finished..).
That night was one of my worse in my life, as for not only I suffered massive pains whatever position I took, but also sleeping was a mission, as breathing was difficult and waking breathless was an every five minute event…11 hours of total darkness passed very, very slowly and I was longing for the morning light. Needless to say that it was very cold, although I was in the shelter. Outside the temperature dropped under –7 degrees…
Morning came and with it the full comprehension this excursions had come to an end, even before hiking to the base camp. It was not even a smart move – it was a must move! I couldn't walk, lay down or stand. I knew I need to see a doctor ASAP. Around 10 am we saw two figures going down the dirt path, and realized it was Avi. He was totally exhausted, after a night of climbing in freezing and breathless conditions. He walked so slowly that they had to stop at 5,700 meter and return back for the sun was already shining and there was a good chance of ice shafts formation, which are quite deadly. Even though, he was happy doing "the hardest thing I have ever done…". After half an hour our transport arrived and we were heading back to La paz.
Once in La paz, my first concern was to check in back into the hostel and then to look for a doctor.. My insurance covered an assistance of a local, Jewish doctor and I called him. He was nice and ask me to call him later on to fix a time and place for the examination. I was already suffering from massive pain and It was hard to even walk couple of meters.. Before I called him again, another Israeli told me he is suffering from the same things and together we met with this doctor, Dr. Mauricio… Apart from being funny, he was quick and efficient and written for us both the same prescription. You can imagine that it was quite hilarious that both of us came with the same "ass problems" and it was even more hilarious when we got to a pharmacy to buy this stuff (cream and anti-inflammatory pills). It was really funny, and we both had some laughs…
That´s it for now…Im planning to go to Sorata in the next few days and hopefully, to feel much better…The Huayna Potosi climb will have to wait till I feel better again, and also acclimatize a bit…
Chao for now,