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,

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