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Onwards and Upwards, Huayana Potosi

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Having been in La Paz surrounded by high mountains for a few days, I couldn´t resist the urge to sign up for a climb when I noticed one a trip advertised for the next day. So after a quick afternoon of organizing everything I met the guides and another member of the group early on Monday morning.

After sorting out all the equipment it was a bit of a drive out of the city to base camp at about 4700m. Having only ever climbed to about this height before, it was a bit daunting to think that this was going to be the low point of the climb and that the top of Huayana Potosi is 6088m high. At base camp I met 3 people from NZ that we were going to be climbing with. They had been climbing and trekking at high altitude for the last 8 days. Where as I had recently arrived in La Paz from spending a few weeks at sea level. After hearing some of their tales of altitude sickness from the previous week I was seriously doubting that I would be able to get anywhere near the summit.

In the afternoon we set off a little way up the mountain to the foot of the glacier for a bit of practise using ice axes and crampons and a bit of ice climbing. I had never climbed ice as steep or hard as this before, and with the added difficulty of altitude it was really hard work but also really good fun trying.

After an early night we set off the next morning to climb to high base camp, a hut at about 5150m. This was quite a straightforward walk and only took a few hours so we were there by lunch time. We spent a nice afternoon relaxing in the sun looking at the route to the top. After a bit of a siesta late in the evening, it was time to get up again at midnight to start climbing at 1am. When we got up we were pleased to find the weather hadn´t changed, it was a clear night, with a full moon and just a little breeze, perfect for conditions for climbing. It was so light with the moon reflecting off the snow, we only needed torches for the final part of the climb that was in the shade. The majority of the climb was actually relatively easy with the only difficulties being the cold and the altitude. Despite wearing 3 pairs of trousers, 6 jumpers 7 jackets, 2 pairs of gloves, a hat, a balaclava and a hood, I was still cold even when we were walking. No idea what temperature it actually was, but it was cold to say the least. The higher we went the more I expected to start feeling ill, but luckily other than being a bit more out of breath than normal, I didn´t suffer any of the expected headaches or vomiting. While climbing we had great views all around us, sometimes you could see back down to all the lights in La Paz, we could see across to other mountains and could see a lot of stars and the moon. After several hours walking we reached the foot of the most difficult part of the climb, the last 200m was to be the steepest. At this point it was still dark so after setting out on the climb I couldn´t see the bottom or the top and seemed to be stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere for ever. It felt like I was climbing and getting no where, just following the rope in front of me. Even when we stopped I couldn´t get my breath back as now we were so high up. But then all of a sudden I could see the top and it was only a couple of meters to go. We arrived at the top just in time to watch the sunrise over the mountains ahead of us. With this and views over Lake Titicaca behind us, the scene was unforgetable. Which is lucky because it was too cold for my camers to work so I have no photos. So you´ll just have to believe me that I did make it to the top.

The walk back down to high base camp was OK, except by then the sun had come out and it was really hot. Unfortunately everyones suntan cream was still frozen so to avoid getting too burnt I still had to wear a lot of clothes, so I now have blistered sunburnt lips from the balaclava.

After arriving at high basecamp we had breakfast again as it was still only about 8.30am. We had a bit of a rest before continuing down to our first camp site. We made it back into La Paz in time for a quick shower before watching the Champions League final and then a very early night.

Posted by katiew 17:09 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz

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I arrived in La Paz only expecting to spend a day or 2 there, as I normally don´t like big cities and from what I had heard from other travellers I wasn´t expecting to like it. But in the end I stayed about a week and really enjoyed it. Unlike most capital cities that could be anywhere in the world, La Paz is still very Bolivian. The day we arrived we went up to the market in El Alto. It was huge, every street we went down was full of stalls specialising in something different ranging from food to animals, cars, sewing machines, clothes, lizards for herbal remedies and anything else you could think of. In the afternoon we spent more time wandering around getting to know the city, visiting the main tourist areas such as the witches market where you can buy a lot of woven items and llama foetuses. In the evening we went to the worlds highest microbrewery for dinner and to try some of the beers, which were surprisingly good.

The next day we took a bus tour around the southern end of the city. First it went out into the rich suburbs, very different from anywhere else in Bolivia and then we went to the Valle de la Luna on the outskirts of the city. La Paz is in an amazing location for a capital city, built in a canyon at high altitude surrounded by even higher mountains. The Valle de la luna is a group of eroded canyons and pinnacles just outside the city, which was interesting to explore. In the afternoon we went to the Coca museum, which explained everything about the coca plant, from the history of when people started to chew it, the traditions and benefits associated with the use of coca leaves now and the conflicts caused between growing it for cocaine and just for using the leaves. It was a really interesting little museum but having tried chewing the leaves in several different forms, coca tea and alcoholic coca I still think it all tastes disgusting. That night was my last with Andy, Jodie, Peter and Sofia that I had been travelling with for a while so we went to a pena, a meal with traditional music played by a live band.

The next day was the Gran Poder festival, an annual event in La Paz. After a few too many glasses of wine the night before we were woken up at about 9am by the start of a parade. Our room in the hostel overlooked part of the parade route so we were able to watch some of the parade from there. Was reallyu interesting to see all the elaborate costumes of people in the parade and even a lot of the Bolivians watching hads obviously dressed up in their finest traditional dress for the occassion. Well for the first few hours it was interesting, then we realised how difficult it would actually be to even get out of the hostel let alone go anywhere or do anything and Jodie and Andy were trying to catch a bus out of the city that day. Eventually we found a way out, they went and caught a bus and I spent the day wandering round the city, occassionally watching bits of the parade, which went on and on and on. I think it eventually finished about 1.30am.

Posted by katiew 17:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Rurrenabaque Pampas

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After we had such a good time on the jungle tour, the evening we arrived back in Rurrenabaque we booked a 3 day tour of the pampas starting the next day.
After an uncomfortable 3 hour jeep ride it was another 3 hour boat ride to the Indigina lodge where we going to be staying. For me this was one of the highlights of the trip, we saw so much wildlife, it just didn`t seem real, more like a disney ride. Everywhere you looked there were animals and birds, including alligators, cayman, capybara,, pink river dolphins, turtles and monkeys.
After settling in to the lodge, a game of volleyball and dinner we went for a night time trip down the river to see the wildlife at night, when the alligators and cayman go hunting. This was also really good, apart from fireflys you could just see the eyes of things in the river and on the bank and hear all the sounds of the animals and birds.
The next day it was overcast and raining a bit, unfortunately the wrong conditions for our morning activity of a walk across the pampas to find anacondas, which are apparently easy to find when its sunny because they like to lie out in the sun. The walk for us basically involved wading through really smelly, swampy water for 3 hours, although we did see a lot of birds we didn´t find any anacondas.
In the afternoon we went a bit further up river to an area where a lot of dolphins are commonly found. We did have the chance to swim with the dolphins, but only Peter was brave enough to get in the water. As our boat stopped in the dolphin area, we could see that there wasn´t just dolphins in the water, but also alligators and cayman and we knew there were also piranhas. It was still good just watching the dolphins swimming round the boat though. By the evening the weather had improved so we went down river to a mirador to watch the sunset over the river and pampas.
The next morning we went piranha fishing again. this time we were a lot more successful and I lost count of how many I caught, although they were all quite small. But we kept a few to feed to a ´pet´ alligator that lived at the lodge called Casi Miro, because it only had one eye.
After lunch it was time to travel backto Rurrenabaque. Unlike the first day we arrived, it was really sunny and this made a big difference to the wildlife we saw. A lot morealligatorsand cayman lieing out in the sun. Some of themwere huge,at least 5m long. Alsosaw a green mamba snake in the river,which made up for not seeing any anacondas and was another good reason not to go swimming.

We had another night in Rurrenabaque before getting the bus to La Paz next day, a 17 hour trip known to be the most uncomfortable journey in Bolivia. But it wasn't actually too bad. The first few hours were very bumpy on dirt tracks but then it did improve as we went up into the mountains, where we had spectacular views but you had to ignore how close the bus got to the edge of the cliffs. The last part of the journey was along the road of death, just since I have been in Bolivia at least 10 people have died on this road. But I managed to sleep through most of it,which was probably for the best.

Posted by katiew 07:39 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Rurrenabaque, into the jungle

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After having to postpone our trip into the rainforest for a day because of the referendum in Santa Cruz, we finally made it to Rurrenabaque where we met the other guys joining us on the trip, Paul an Irish guy we had met in Sucre and Peter and Sofia, a Swedish couple Jodie and Andy had met in Argentina.

With everything organised we set off early the next morning on a 3 hour boat trip up the river into the rainforest to the Mapajo Lodge in the village of Asuncion, where we would be spending the next few days. Our accommodation was a wooden hut in the forest, basic but very comfortable and in a great location overlooking the river. After lunch we went for a really interesting walk in the forest where our guide explained how the people in the village used all the different plants we saw for everything from medications to building their houses. After the walk we went into the village for a game of football. Even the smallest, most remote villages in Bolivia seem to have a football pitch in the centre and it is a popular game for men , women and children. It was good fun and a nice way to meet people from the village. We were also introduced to a monkey that had been adopted as a pet by the village and was keen to play in goal during the game, but spent most of the time playing on the goalpost. We went back to the lodge for dinner then returned to the village in the evening for some traditional drinks, music and dancing. I have to say the drinks were horrible, alcohol mixed with a kind of coca leaf tea and fermented uka juice, which is similar to potatoes. But the music and dancing was really good anyway.

The following day we took the boat further up river to another village, Gredal. Near the village is a lake where we went fishing for piranhas for lunch. I failed to actually catch anything but between us we got enough piranhas and a surubi (a kind of cat fish). After a very nice lunch we went for another hike in the forest in an area where it is common to see parrots and animals including wild boar, armadillos and jaguars. Unfortunately it wasn´t really the right time of day for seeing anything so the best we could find were footprints and claw marks, but it was still a good walk.

During the night it started raining, and the next day it was still raining hard so we stayed in the lodge and were taught how to make rings and other things from nuts found in the forest. Then we had a really interesting afternoon in the village learning about all there traditional skills and trying them out. Things like, spinning cotton, preparing rice, weaving baskets, mats and material and hunting with bows and arrows. They made everything look really easy but it was actually really difficult, none of us managed to hit a coconut with an arrow from just a few meters away.

The next morning it was still a bit wet, but we decided to go for a walk anyway, to see the giant Mapajo trees. The trees themselves were really impressive, hundreds of years old and it was also interesting to hear the people see the trees as a kind of sacred place with many stories of things that have happened because of the trees. We then went to see the farming area of the village where we learnt about the crops they grow. The village is basically self-sufficient with oil being the only thing they have to buy from the town.

Then after lunch it was unfortunately time for us to leave and get the boat back to Rurrenabaque.

Posted by katiew 14:22 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Santa Cruz

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We arrived in Santa Cruz early in the morning and as it was May Day everything was shut, so we got straight in a taxi to Samaipata, a small town about 2 hours drive away. Getting a taxi may sound a bit extravagant but it cost less than 2 pounds each and saved waiting all day for a bus. The area I am in now is very different from the rest of Bolivia that I have seen so far, its a very green area and looks very tropical, which is a big change from the cold,dry areas I have seen so far.

We arrived in Samaipata for lunch and had a look round the town. After speaking to a Dutch guy who lived there we followed his recommendation to go to the zoo. It wasn´t so much a zoo, but more of an animal sanctuary in the back garden of someone's house, but it was an amazing place. There were 3 different types of monkeys, most of which were just free to run around and climb on you. We also got to feed some of the caged monkeys. They also had a sloth, some parrots, toucans, deer, a wild cat and various other things. Luckily we had arrived at feeding time, so walked round with the volunteers while they fed the animals.

The next day we went to see el fuerte, a pre-Colombian fort that was about 10km from the town. It was in a spectacular location, on top of a hill in the middle of the valley, so you could see for miles all around. The main feature of the fort was a huge rock, about 200m long that had various different carvings covering it and no one really knows the significance of it. The fort had also been taken over by the Incas and then the Spanish so had a really interesting history. And then we had a nice walk back into town.

On the 4th May there was a referendum in the area to vote for independence, we had been warned to try and leave by then as strikes and riots were predicted, so we cut short our stay in Samaipata and went back to Santa Cruz on the 3rd to get a bus out of there. But just 15 minutes before the bus was due to leave it was cancelled because of road blocks. After desperatly tring to get a bus to anywhere we realised we were stuck and would have to stay a couple of nights. So after finding a hostel we went to the only place open for dinner, an Irish bar. Here things went from bad to worse as we found out that alcohol was banned 24 hours before an election. So we had dinner and an early night.

The next morning we went for a walk around the town, and found there were none of the riots predicted, apart from a few people sitting in the main square the place was dead and absolutly everything was shut. But then on the way back to the hotel we went round a corner as a few cars came round the opposite corner. One car was surrounded and lots of guys got out with big sticks and started attacking it and a few people around, so we decided it was time to turn around and walk the other way back to the hotel, where we watched the incident for a whilewhile playing scrabble. Couldn´t work out what had happened, one car had been smashed up, the others were gone, a crowd of reporters were around, and empty ballot boxes were being taken out of the car. Quite a crowd developed and a police van turned up but it was told to leave by people in the crowd, so they just did. Later on a lot more armed police and riot police turned up with tear gas, and eventually got rid of the crowds. Saw something about it on the bews later, but still don´t know what really happened.

In the evening the result of the vote was announced, so there was a big party in the main square just down the road from our hotel. A lot of firecrackers, fireworks, flag waving, and music. Luckily for us the Irish bar over looking the square opened again and we were finally able to get something to eat and drink while watching the celebrations.

The next day there weren´t any buses until the evening so we were stuck in the city for another day. We ended up going to the zoo, which was actually quite good, as it was all animals and birds found in Bolivia and Peru.

In the evening we got the overnight bus to Trinidad, where we then took 2 flights to Rurrenabaque. The flights were good, the smallest plane I have ever been in, only 19 seats. Had good views over the rainforest during the flight. The landing was quite exciting, just a muddy strip of land cleared in the forest, but by the end of all te travelling and waiting around we were just happy to have finally arrived.

Posted by katiew 13:55 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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