“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
― Henry David Thoreau
Posts from the ‘Bolivia’ Category
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
Note to self…. if you are quoted a price, always make sure you ask if it is in dollars or in bolivianos or pesos or rupees or whatever currency you are currently using…..
Yeah…. the quote for the second climb – WAY out of my budget. Like, out of the ballpark.
Unfortunately, I have been hanging out in La Paz waiting for the climb for two days. And though it is a great city, I am so ready to get the hell out of dodge.
So, tomorrow, I will head to Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then visit Isla del Sol before heading into Peru.
My time is quickly dwindling, which is very sad indeed. For those of you who don’t know — I am leaving South America on April 30th to fly to NY to then fly to Denver.
What??? you ask? well…..
On day in Vietnam, on a whim, I applied to present at the National Expeditionary Learning Conference (http://elschools.org/) . To my surprise, I was accepted, which will be a great experience — however, it meant cutting my trip short. But — since I am returning to South America – to Ecuador — in July with a group of students, I figured I would be still getting 5 months in South America.
So — that means that I have just 5 weeks left…. which is a little mind-blowing to me.
Better start livin’ it up…..
As I have told you all, Bolivia is the land of amazing geography — from salt flats, to one of the highest plateaus in the world to amazing mountain ranges, Bolivia seems to have it all. Among mountaineers, Bolivia is well known for the Cordillera Real (the Royal Range) – home of some of the highest mountains in Bolivia, many of them over 6,000m.
[side note for all my American readers — I know that we are still stuck in the world of feet and inches and pounds and gallons, alone in the world, sticking to our guns… er, measurements. But, as you probably also know — the rest of the world has agreed to all use the same measurements, making it easy for everyone else to understand meters and celsius without needing to do quick math in their heads. My tactic? Just go with the crowd….]
In any case, if you know me, you know that I have a thing for mountains. Especially the big snow covered variety. And since every tour agency in La Paz offers a climb to Huayna Potosi, I decided to investigate. Turns out that I could take a guided climb for 3 days and try for the summit, 6,088m. I spent a while talking to one tour agency run by a Bolivian doctor who is also a climber (and starting some studies on high altitude health). We had some fun talks about mountains and though he was quirky (to put it mildly), I felt pretty good about the agency and decided to sign on. It took a few days for their to be a group for the day(s) I wanted, but finally it looked like it was a go as one other person signed up for the day I wanted to go!
Now, I have never done a guided climb before, being the guide myself or going with friends. But, not having any firends here to go with, it makes it a whole lot harder to go climbing. I tend to not love guided trips – as I do not like people waiting on me and I always want to help – which makes them uncomfortable (as that is not how it is done). But, as one friend pointed out, how nice would it be to show up and have all the food already taken care of? Good point.
In any case, our group of 3 — Feliciano — our guide, Elad — an Israeli navy lieutenant traveling in South America for 4 months after his 7 years of service, and myself, headed up to the mountain. Feliciano, who is 40, has been spending time in the mountains since he was 14 and has been a guide for 16 years. He has climbed all the mountains in Bolivia, and most major peaks in Peru, Argentina and some in Ecuador. We had fun talking about Aconcagua (he has climbed all the routes there — which is super impressive!)
The refugio we were staying at the first night was pretty close to La Paz — just 14 or so km from the city boundary. After arriving and eating lunch, we headed up to the glacier for snow school — which was pretty much just learning how to use an ice axe, walk with crampons and play on the snow. Technically, I probably did not need this day as walking in crampons is something I feel pretty confident with — but at the same time, it was nice to go out their with the guide and feel confident about their skills and their method of teaching. And, I will always take a day to go play in the snow!
In any case, before I bore you non-mountaineering-types with stories of snow and ice, the schedule was to get as much sleep as possible the first day and then to head up to the high camp the next day (which can take our guide close to 40-50 minutes, but took us about 3 hours – but more on that later), eat dinner there and then try and get a few hours of sleep before waking at midnight to head up to the summit (anywhere from 4-8 hours).
The walk to high camp was beautiful — though cloudy. But we got some great views of the glacier, distant peaks and the valley below. Plus Huayna Potosi is a beautiful mountain (see for yourself).
I would not say that I am in the best shape of my life — exercise has been intermittent, coffee and brownies are indulged in on a regular basis (‘oh, just a little treat for myself’), Bolivia hasn’t been super kind to my digestive system and every hostel I stay in seems to have a gazillion smokers. But, I tend to do well at altitude and my strength has always been in my ability to walk up hills for hours, albeit slowly. This trip proved to be the same, and though I don’t feel like I am in the best shape ever, I am definitely more in shape in comparison to other tourists. And when you are in a group, you know who’s speed you walk at……
The high camp refugio was small, basically a shack with a kitchen — an upper and lower bunk where at least 12-18 could sleep (if you were really crowded in). Us 3 showed up early, but then a group of 5 Israelis, 1 Dutch girl (the only other girl around), and their 3 guides showed up — making it a home for 12. After an early dinner of ramen noodles and hot dogs ((I know you are jealous), we tried to go to sleep at 6:30 for our midnight wake-up call. Between nerves (I am always nervous before a climb — just ask my climbing partner how I did the afternoon we spent staring at the west face of shasta before we climbed it!), listening to a roomful of snoring boys, and how hot a tiny shack can get with 12 bodies crammed into it — all I could do was rest my body as my watch registered the hours (and yes — I heard them all from 7 until 11, at which point I resigned myself to pulling an all-nighter – which of course lead me to try and remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter… but I digress).
Alpine starts are one of my favorite things about mountaineering. I don’t know why, there is just something so cool about waking up before everyone else and heading up the mountain. I love climbing in the dark – seeing the stars, faint outlines of the mountain before me and the sight of headlamps making their way up the mountain. And the reward for that? Seeing the sunrise from high up on the mountain.
This time was no different. We started off at 1:40 (following a cluster in the refugio as tired folks struggled to put on harnesses, plastic boots, and crampons — new for most of them) with Feliciano leading us up the mountain, followed by Elad and then myself. Though the climb was really hard for Elad, I was really impressed with his ability to steadily keep moving. Others (the other climbing party) were struggling — frequently throwing themselves to the ground desperately needing a break. But Elad really pushed himself and kept moving. Though we started at least half an hour after the other climbing teams (each rope team had two clients and one guide), we quickly caught up with them and leap-frogged with them for the rest of the climb.
It was a beautiful night, not a cloud in sight, fairly warm and no winds. In other words, a perfect climbing night. The snow was crisp, if just a bit sugary, and the climb was fairly straight forward. We snaked past some gaping crevasses and climbed a pretty awesome 45 degree slope over a crevasse (front pointing is ALWAYS fun!). The approach to the summit was steep and exposed, with the finally approach along the ridge to the small summit (that dropped off to the extremely steep west face). It was probably one of the more exposed climbs I have done, which was fine on the ascent, a bit spookier on the descent (requiring full attention which is why I unfortunately do not have any pictures of it).
We arrived at the summit just in time for the sunrise, which did not fail to impress. Mountains in all directions glowing from the rising sun and the pink clouds below us. But, in mountaineering, the summit is just a small part of the journey, so we took some pictures (weak shots as there was not enough light) and then headed down in increasing day light. I was astounded as we descended at how beautiful it was — Bolivia at that moment owning my heart (sorry Patagonia, India and Nepal).
Our descent was fairly quick and involved some fun ‘skiing’ down some slopes (once we were past the glaciers) and we arrived back at the lower refugio in time for an early lunch and our ride back to La Paz. My second highlight of the day? Playing with the concinera (cook’s) daughter. She was adorable, I only understood about a third of what she said (ok, make that 1/8th, so I just said ‘no se’ a lot), but we had so much fun playing outside!
Feliciano, seeing my skills and knowing that I had climbed before, offered to guide me up other mountains if I wished. We spoke last night (my first spanish conversation on the phone!) and then texted today and I decided to try for Illimani later this week. It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision as he texted me saying I needed to decide quickly as he was headed back up the mountain with another group today. There were plenty of reasons to say no (money, spending more time in La Paz since we cannot go until Friday, money and more money), but then again — when will I get a chance to climb the second highest peak in Bolivia with a private guide?!
I’m a little nervous (when am I not?) as this peak is higher, a bit more technical and potentially longer. But, I guess that is why I have a guide! And, I’ll tell you what, it felt damn good to be up on a mountain again. I remembered that my goal on this adventure was to climb and trek as much as possible — and so this seems to be a good way to achieve my goals! So now, I am going to try and figure out how to entertain myself and not spend a lot of money for the next few days!
La Paz is a city of contradictions.
Peaceful protests, police in riot gear
Women in traditional dress, men dressed in handsome tailored suits
Young mothers working at street stalls nursing babies, business women conducting meetings on the phone as they rush by in their high heels
“Some people here call me a gringo, but i love country” – said the Bolivian doctor.
“Evo [morales, the first indigenous president here] showed us anyone could be president” — said the college student
Cobble steone streets, high rises, street stalls with traditional medicine
People for cocoa, people against it. Farmers fighting for their rights, kids listening to hip-hop.
La Paz is liveable, diverse, and an interesting mix of new and old, indigenous and ‘gringo’. There is an intensity here that I have not felt in other South American cities. Maybe it has to do with being tabouthe capital city or maybe it has to do with the fact that Bolivians seem anything but apathetic. Every morning, when I am out walking around, I see people lined up at the news paper stalls, reading the daily headlines. Every day that I have been here, I have seen some sort of protest, some sort of street blockade. One seemed to be against violence, another was in support of farmers, another was in support of cocoa growers (from what I understand an extremely powerful lobby).
It is a pretty great city though — music, art, and other cultural events happening daily. My ritual this week was to get a paper, sit in the Plaza San Fransisco (along with tons of other people and pigeons) and ‘read’ (as much as I could) the paper and people watch. Oh, and I am now hooked on Suduko (well if you count buying 4 papers hooked). Though i pretty much suck at it. I have yet to finish one! Dammit.
I drank too much coffee (and some really good coffee at that), ate too much street food, walked around a lot, saw enough art to fulfill my cultural needs for awhile and people watched a lot. I met up with some CS’ers, went to a yoga class (yahoo!), and got lost in the back streets. I went to dinner with the doctor who runs the climbing company that I am hiring for my climb (Huanya Potosi — see link below!) – who entertained me with stories of Che and living Bolivia in the 70s and mountaineering in Bolivia.
And though I find La Paz interesting and liveable and fun to walk around, I am ready to get out of the city. It is way too easy to spend too much money here and am ready for a new adventure. So – I am headed out to climb Huayna Potosi, a peak just over 6,000m. that is close to La Paz (http://huayna-potosi.com/mountaineering.html#huayna).
I look forward to telling you all about it. take care friends.
i haven’t posted in awhile about my travels….
after the salar de uyuni tour, I was so toured out — all I wanted to do was sit and read and wander and drink coffee and NOT ride in a jeep, going from sight to sight. So — that is pretty much what I have done for the past week. I spent four days each in Potosi and Sucre, two cities in SW Bolivia.
Potosi is an old mining town — they have been mining the main mountain, Cerro Rico, for about 500 years — mostly silver. The city sits at close to 4000m and has a working town feel to it. Sucre is a university town, much lower in elevation (I think around 2600m), and feels young and vibrant. It was definitely a contrasting experience being in both places. My friend Stephanie said that Potosi is like the old man who has fallen from wealth, but still dresses the part and Sucre is the young, new money.
Here are my highlights (and lowlights):
- eating ranga stew in the market with the locals, which was mostly good other than texture. We looked it up later, only to find out that ranga is intestine…
- heading out for a hike up Cerro Rico but instead finding a futbol game with the mining cooperative teams. we were the only gringas in the crowd, solicited a lot of stares and were invited to drink beers with some very drunk miners. This was on a sunday, their one day off a week
- buying wine at one of the convents in town — in which you ring a bell, put your money on the lazy susan, and around comes your wine (which was pretty much overly sweet grape juice)
- Drinking said wine on a church mirador (look out) overlooking the city
- being stuck in town for a city-wide protest — no transportation in/out — which pretty much felt like a party in town with people walking the streets
- staying in a gross, gross hostel and getting thrown-up on (well, being on the lower bunk when dude threw up on the upper bunk) — definitely the lowest-of-the-low of my hostel experiences….. (and no, it did not get on me but still…… I feel REALLY over 20-somethings and their partying)
- Sucre is a beautiful, very livable city, full of white-washed churches, buildings and houses
- Students of all ages everywhere! Young, trendy, hip vibe to the city
- Visiting an indigenous art museum – highlighting the textiles made by all the different indigenous groups in Bolivia (if you are like me, you did not realize there are some many different indigenous groups living in Bolivia still)
- the faux-hawk is alive and well in Bolivia
- Running in the park — always my favorite thing to do in a city/country. Running with (ok, having them run by me) futbol players, college and high school students, moms, and seeing other folks exercising in the early morning
- staying in yet another gross, dirty hostel (though I opted for my own room in said gross hostel) and being woken up at 3 in the morning (and again at 4 or later) by drunk 20-somethings partying on a friday night
- Visiting the park in the afternoon – it is THE place to be for families and teenagers. Fooz-ball tables, popcorn, ice-cream, bikes you can rent, little motorized cars for kids to ride in, a guy in his car pulling a train around the park for the little kids, bouncy-houses. you name it – it was there.
- eating avocados for days (seriously, can you get sick if you eat that many avocados?) The ladies in the market had so many, and so good, and so affordable (if that is all you are eating).
It was a good week – and I accomplished what I wanted (no set agenda, coffee shop time, reading, sitting, wandering, running). Last night I took a 11 hour overnight bus to La Paz, where I am now, and treated myself to a fancy hostel (they have a midnight curfew! that means no drunk brits shouting at the top of their lungs as they flirt with each other. no offense to my british friends) that is clean and nice and the bathrooms aren’t scary and the kitchen is clean and useable and I have my own room – and, of course, a bit more expensive. But, I will write more about La Paz as I get to know it.
For now, sending my love from 3660m! 🙂
Sometimes it is hard not being ‘home’, though the longer I am away, the more I think about what makes up a home. Like other travelers, turtles that we are, we carry everything we need on our backs – moving from place to place, able to make that our home. Whether it is the dirty hostel or the place I have treated myself to in La Paz (clean, quiet AND friendly – whoa!), I am able to make a bed my home city after city.
But sometimes, I miss ‘home’. And maybe it is not home, as in a place, exactly – but it is being there for the important things. Like a friend’s pregnancy, a new baby or a death in the family.
So, today, in my new home (for a few days) of La Paz, I will raise a drink for the father of my mentor who passed away this past week. I have been thoroughly blessed in my life to have a series of amazing, kind, thoughtful and awesome mentors who have helped shape my life – both personally and professionally. My mentor’s father, who I met at least a half dozen times, was also kind, thoughtful, and funny. I always enjoyed meeting up with him.
Being a turtle, carrying my life on my back, allows me to see the world, learn from its people and experience what is our there. which, my mentor helped me be ready for. But, being a turtle, I am far away from the people I love.
I am thinking of you all.
Southwest Bolivia – volcanoes, flamingos, llamas, salt flats, cactus, geysers. It is hard to believe that it is all here.
I have spent the past week or so exploring SW Bolivia – including taking a 4 day jeep tour that allowed us to get into the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world. It also took us past geysers, volcanoes, flamingos and lots and lots of open countryside.
Before the tour, I first spent a few days exploring Tupiza with its red rocks, cactus and high desert mountains. It was great to get out and explore the landscape – I went for a few hikes, walked around town, bought the paper and tried to translate stories, went to the market for breakfast (cafe con leche and pasteles – basically fried dough) and ate saltenas (like empanadas but better — filled with meat, eggs, olives and other goodies!).
one of many cactus i took pictures of
cross on top of a mirador overlooking Tupiza, we climbed up there for the sunset (which was not epic)
The tour, though very expensive, allowed me to see parts of the southwest that would have been difficult to see otherwise. I was in a group with 2 Italians, 1 French and myself. Plus our driver and our cook. It ended up being great. The four of us got along great and the views were extraordinary, even with not great weather.
Basically, we spent the better part of 4 days in the jeep and we would get out and look at the ‘main’ sites. Ed Abbey would hate it. But, as I mentioned, it would be hard to get into these areas on my own unless I had own vehicle (note to self, next time I visit South America, it should be by bike or by vehicle!). But, the sites are tourist sites because of how beautiful they are!
Our day would start with breakfast (mate or coffee and bread) and then we would pile into the jeep and head off. Half way through the morning, Clemencia would pass back a snack (yogurt in a plastic sleeve or oreos), we would stop at various sites until it was time for lunch. Then Clemencia would prepare lunch on the back of the jeep and we would eat more, pile into the jeep and head off for more sites. We saw many many lagunas, llamas, flamingos and mountains.
During the afternoon, our jeep was pretty funny. Chewing cocoa leaves is very common in Bolivia (in fact the president wants to export it). Our driver and cook chewed it like it was going out of style – popping leaves into their mouths at a constant rate. We all (Elisa, Tommy, Kevin and I) also had a bag and would ‘chew’ it as well. Basically, you take a wad of leaves – chew them just slightly and then stuff them into your cheek. So, there were times when none of us spoke and we all had big wads of coca in our mouths. The cocoa leaves have a slightly bitter taste and are used medicinally here – good for altitude. But they are used in teas and for chewing and you can buy them at every market. The real connoisseurs (which is every Bolivian) take something alkaline with it to enhance the effects. Clemencia shared some with us and you can tell a difference.
Besides never seeing cactus and llamas and flamingos in the wild before, I had never seen geysers. They weren’t epic like I have heard they are in Yellowstone, but they were still pretty amazing. We got out of the jeep and were able to walk around — some were shooting steam into the air, others were piles of bubbling mud. It was all pretty amazing!
But the part that we were all waiting for was the salar — one of the largest and highest salt flats in the world. I was pretty excited because we were there during the rainy season – which meant that the water on the salt flat would reflect the sky. The pictures I had seen were pretty epic. We went out there early in the morning hoping to see the sun rise, though it was a cloudy morning – though, I am not sure there is a bad day on the salar.
Following the tour, I took a bus to Potosi – a town that sits at just under 4000m (close to 13,000 feet) and is well known for the silver mining operations. One of the big tourist things to do here is to take a tour of the mines (and you can bring the miners gifts like dynamite, cigarettes, beer and cocoa leaves). I am not sure if I will do it, but the town is quite beautiful (stay tuned for another titillating post!)
Take care friends — hope you enjoy the pictures!
I crossed over the border to Bolivia today.
I was behind a few other tourists in line, but they were part of the list of countries that is able to get into Bolivia easily.
I, on the other hand, come from a country that is listed in a secondary group — along with Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and other similar countries. And the good ol´US of A. So, I had lots of fun paperwork to fill out and a hefty entrance fee (though good for 5 years) in order to get my visa.
But, here I am – in Bolivia.
I left the border town and headed for Tupiza where I am now. It is the SW of Bolivia…. so think SW… supposedly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their demise here.
There are all sorts of tourist options around here – including day trips by horse, jeep trips, etc. This is also a possible jumping off point for a 4 day trip to Salar de Uyuni — the one tour I definitely want to spend the money on (anyone have suggestions?).
I have some great pictures from the past few days, but wifi might be hard to come by in the next few days…. I will post when I get a chance.
I´m off to walk around, buy food at the market (always an exciting adventure when you can´t really understand what they are saying to you), and enjoy the sun.
hope you are all well.