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…

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