Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Illimani - report from Fred & Hazel

Yes we´re already back from our latest jaunt.
Getting to Illimani starts with a 4 hour drive by 4wd through mountainous terrain (only 46 kms), and finally arriving at a tiny village at the end of the road where the main occupations are growing papas (spuds) and other crops, and supplying porters and mules for the fairly frequent expeditions. From there mules took our packs up to base camp at 4400 metres. Next morning Andy measured the air temp at minus 17 deg C. Its a very dry cold so we were cosy at night. (Every day is sunny and hot in the sun and every night is clear and cold and it is usually not very windy - this is Bolivian weather from about May to September. The rest of the year it is wet - ie topsy turvey when compared to most other countries)
The next day we carried our day packs up to high camp at 5400 metres (at the snow line) while we trudged up with our day packs.
The high campsite had about 20 people in a small space when we arrived. Luckily most of them were on their way down so we had somewhere to pitch our tents. Hazel and I were very comfortable on the snow.
Unfortunately for me this seems to be the limit of my energy so I stayed behind while Hazel, Chris, Andy and Jesus, our guide headed up the snow at 2 am (so as to be back before the sun softens it). They finally reached the summit (6400 metres) at 8 am. It was apparently very cold up there so they set off back down straight away and got back to camp at about 11 am.
Meanwhile I had been melting snow for 2 hrs to have enough water for drinking and cooking. Our petrol stoves worked well.
After an hour to recover we set out for base camp again, where we stayed last night, and this morning headed back to La Paz.
Its been a very exciting mini expedition but nice to get back to the comforts of the hostel, and a couple of days to recuperate.
All the Best

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Highs and lows

Hi Everyone
Since my last post, Chris and I arrived in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, expecting to meet friends Fred and Hazel. However, they hadn´t arrived. And they didn´t the next day, or the next day. Finally, 3 days late, they arrived. Through no fault of their own, they missed a connection in Miami and American Airlines left them stranded with no compensation at all, having to queue daily for stand by flights. They camped in the departure lounge!

Meanwhile, we got fairly sick of La Paz- metaphorically and physically. Its a cold and very smokey city in a valley where pollution can´t escape. Walking the streets is like smoking 20 cigarettes! Why they can´t tune the deisel engines properly, I don´t know. We saw all the sights we wanted to see ( shops selling dried Llama foetuses, amongst other things- apparantly to bury under the foundations of new houses to appease Pachamama, the Earth Mother Goddess. They do this despite being nominally catholic).

Then, about the time Fred and Hazel arrived, we both got very sick with the worst cough/ flu thing I´ve had in years, so we were stuck in bed for another 3 days or so, sounding like tuberculosis sufferers ( we were told). Finally, a week after arriving in La Paz, all 4 of us escaped to the cleaner (and thicker) air of Sorata, at 2500m ( a thousand metres lower than La Paz). Sorata was lovely, a relaxing place where we spent 2 days before all heading up to Laguna Chiliata ( a lake at 4200m on the flanks of Ilampu, a 6300m mountain). We hired a couple of mules to get our gear up, which really helped!

Chris and I camped just one night, and returned to Sorata the next day (due to a cycling thng we´d booked on the following day), but Fred and Hazel went higher, to 5000m for a few days to acclimatise.

Chris and I had booked on a 5 day trip- 2 days mountainbiking and 3 days down the river thru jungle, to the Amazon town of Rurrenabarque. The first day mountainbiking was amazing! Jeeps took all 9 of the people booked on the trip to 4800m above Sorata, a dry, windswept and (in places) snow sprinkled mountaintop, where we were given rather heavy, full suspension downhill
bikes. The rest of the day was spent tearing down 4WD tracks, thru villages, along ridgelines, and finally down to the river at 800m altitude- a 4km drop! The vegetation changed from tussocks and flocks of Llama to a beautiful dry landscape of many different cactus, bromeliads and agaves (succulents). The jeep then picked us up and drove the last 15km down the valley to Consata, and in 15km the vegetation changed from desert to tropical rainforest, the most dramatic vegetational change I think I´ve ever seen!

The next day was hot and rather cross- country, so was less fun- but ended at Mapiri, a town having a fiesta, with many dancers and rival bands trying to drown each other out! The next day, we took a riverboat downstream- along a very silty river, with small goldminers every few hundred metres sucking up river sediments with small petrol powered dredges. More unpleasant were the huge chunks of hillside washed away by miners, silting up the river. We camped at a rubber tappers camp, and the next morning, walked up to some delightful waterfalls
and plunge pools on a side valley for a swim. Unfortunately, I was unwell again with the squits- a hazard when travelling- which made me feel rough for the next day or so.

The next 2 days we boated through Indian reserve, then National park, with regular walks in the forest. Unfortunately, the wildlife kept a low profile-plenty of tapir, peccary and puma tracks were seen, but no actual animals. The biting flies, on the other hand, were evil.

We arrived finally at Rurrenabaque, a pleasant small jungle town with fantastic cafes and restaurants. Here we booked a Pampas tour for the next 3 days. These had been recommended by many people, but when we arrived at the pampas after 3 hours bumpy jeep ride, we were dismayed to see a hundred or so backpackers gathered around boats on a small muddy creek. Oh no! I thought.... Mass tourism! I needn´t have worried- the people went away in small groups of 6 or 8 on dugout canoes. We were last to go, and from then rarely saw other boats. And the wildlife was ultra - stunning! Yellow caiman (a crocodile about 3m long) virtually smothered the creek sides ( at least one per 10m of creek), with the odd, much larger black caiman. Capybara (giant guinea pigs the size of a large sheep) lazed on the banks, and loads of Boto (Amazon pink dolphin) swam around- How could this muddy creek, no more than 20m wide, support so many predators? Well, there were masses of fish- later we went pirana fishing, and the water did boil as soon as we dropped out hooks baited with meat in the water. (Catching them was more tricky, but we did end up with a nice feast of Pirana and several other fish varieties to eat). We also swam with the pink dolphins twice (and with the caiman and piranas, but we weren´t eaten. In fact, we never met anyone who had been eaten).

The bird life was incredibly diverse too- at least a dozen sorts of heron, darters, kingfishers, Jabiru stork, cormorant, hoatzin (a primitive bird with claws on its wings), and many others. A small anaconda and a big poisonous snake were found in the camp. Red howler monkeys and black howler monkeys and squirrel monkeys all hung out arround the camp too- all totally
unafraid of humans. Just shows what wildlife should be like when its not hunted.

Altogether, we had a great, relaxing time in the Pampas, marred only by the jeep breaking down on the way back to Rurrenabarque. Today, we flew back to La Paz, where we will meet up with Fred and Hazel and attempt to climb Ilamani, a 6400m peak looming over La Paz. Watch this space!



Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bolivia - Fred & Hazel

Hi all

Here we are back at Arthy´s Guest House after fun in the Sorata area (to the West of here).

Sorata is 1000 meters lower and therefore a lot warmer than here - you can watch the humming birds hovering and feeding off flowers.

We stayed at a little paradise, camped amongst the trees, with llamas tethered here and there, quietly mewing and grazing. The Bolivian owner is a very friendly fatherly figure and makes everyone so welcome you want to stay on.

From there we had 5 days in the surrounding mountains, which we accessed with packs on mules, you know, hands (and back) free. A day later we headed without mules up to a glacier lake at 5000 metres asl, where we acclimatised for three days, wandering around, practicing with ice axe and crampons on the glacier, and taking in the fabulous views. What we confirmed is that that is about my altitude limit whereas Hazel seems to have plenty of go left.

I have had lots of practice with my Spanish, including a long conversation with the police at the Sorata Police Station about the why´s and wherefores of our camera being ´stolen´. At any rate we have lost it. Two elderly women had their boots stolen from under their tent fly at about the same time, and one of them had to descend 1000 metres of rocky paths in her socks (the other was lent a pair of shoes by a muleteer). Needless to say the local situation is a bit edgy, and some
of the locals don´t like tourists going anywhere without a guide (money) which goes against the grain with independent minded tourists who are pumping money into the economy in all sorts of other ways.

Bolivia has a very large population of campasinos, the people who predate the Spanish by millenia, and are still the vast majority. Typically they are a friendly lot, not excitable, better drivers than the Indians (in India), and full of confidence. Many of the rural women look just like the pictures in magazines, with long black platted hair under bowler hats and with multilayered colourful gathered skirts and shawls. The total presentation is what was imposed on them by the Spanish 500 years ago (taken straight from current spanish dress), we are told. They are extreemly proud of this ´traditional dress´ now.

The men by contrast wear ordinary clothing but often have a close fitting wool hat and a padded or leather jacket, not surprising considering the change in air temperature at night on the altiplano at 4000 metres.

Amongst others we have met two young New Zealand couples staying at this Hostal, on their way to the Northern Hemisphere for work.

All the Best

Fred and Hazel


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Stuck in La Paz & Miami....

Stuck here in La Paz, waiting for Fred and Hazel, who are inconveniently stuck in Miami.
Smoggy place- cheap but I´m gnashing at the bit to escape. Chris is ill though- has had a bit of a cough for a while, and now is feeling feverish and lacking in energy- possibly a chest infection. I´ve put him on antibiotics. Hope to do the El Chorro trek as soon as Chris recovers and Fred and Hazel get here.

Isn't life fun, especially if you're a cheapskate with a dud airline! If we thought Air Iberia, Spains airline icon, was bad two years ago we had another think coming!! Briefly, in perfect weather, with no aircraft engineering problems, we have been marooned in Miami for two nights so far, with no offer of compensation, free meals or accommodation etc and still on standby tonight (the daily plane to La Paz goes at 11 pm).

Welcome to the USA the home of the free! (more like the rip off merchant! Don't be cynical Fred!!)

Anyhow, being cheapskates we have been sleeping on the airport floor, then getting a bus downtown for a wander and a bite to eat etc. Today is our second day in town.

We are sending this from our third internet café. The first two were choked up with viruses of the computer kind so we left them amidst confused apologies and money back.

For Chris and Andys' benefit we may see you tomorrow in La Paz, but don't bank on it!

Miami that we have seen is mainly concrete in large chunks with a fabulous tropical climate, and has plenty of buses and trains to trundle you around if required. Yesterday – the 4th of July – Independence Day – no wonder there were only the vagrants and black wheel-chair war vets hanging out. In the afternoon there was a big fair on the waterfront which we left as had to get back to the airline battle front.

Meanwhile Andy and Chris have been having a fantastic time by the sound of it – trekking in Peru and by now in La Paz probably sussing out the mountaineering scene. They will be fairly well acclimatized by the time we get there.

Miami is very Spanish, I'm told due to a lot of immigration from Cuba etc. Good for practicing our Spanish!

Fred and Hazel

Friday, July 4, 2008

Part 2

Chris and I took a trek to Macchu Picchu - not the Inca Trail, which was booked solid, but the Salkantay trail. We joined a commercial trip (as they are dead cheap and then we didn't have to carry our gear or food), on this alternative to the Inca trail. The trail starts at Molleparta, on the dry, dusty side of the watershed, and for the 1st day follows a rather boring dirt road to a campsite on a high meadow at 3600m. The second day was much better- the trail ran between high, snowcapped and very craggy peaks (very Himalaya like) to a pass at 4600m, on the shoulder of Salkantay, a 6300m giant covered in hanging glaciers. From there the trail dropped down to another meadow at 3600m where we had lunch. Just below this, the cloud forest started- this is the east side of the Andes, and convection pulls moist air from the Amazon below, allowing an amazingly rich flora to develop. Needless to say, I dawdled down, taking many hundreds of photos of exotic blooms on the way (This is the bit when everyone decides not to come round and look at my holiday pics!). Hummingbirds flitted around, and a pair of young spectacled bears showed themselves to our guide, who was 5 minutes ahead of us... they´d buggered off by the time I caught him up!

Camp was at 2600m, much warmer! The next day we descended thru the Banana belt, to the town of St. Theresa, where commercial hot springs eased our weary muscles. The day after that initially followed a hot and boring road up a valley, but the geology soon changed, as we entered granite country, and the valley became a deep gorge between soaring peaks. A hydroelectricity scheme had its outflow here, an impressive volume of water, with a 300m or so head, taken by tunnel from a low-rise dam some 30km upstream. An amazing engineering feat which provides a good chunk of Peru´s electric needs.

From there, we followed the railway tracks of the Macchu Piccu line as it circled the mountain that the citadel sits on. Rainforest filled with parroty things, and shear granite walls lined with bromeliads surrounded us. A fantastic walk! It finished at Aguas Caliente, a miserable and overpriced tourist town squished at the bottom of the gorge, where we overnighted.

An early start the next day- 4am- to climb to Macchu Picchu by dawn. (about 450m vertically). It may be touristy, but the place has a massive WOW factor! The photos don´t do it justice, its incredible. The best bit is the stunning setting- like Fiordland in NZ but with ruins. We also climbed Waynupicchu ( the big pointy mountain at the back of the ruins), which had the most amazingly steep paths up it. A great day!

Back at Cusco, we blew out our budget at a stunning restaurant - the Fallen Angel (www.fallenangelincusco.com) - the same place that hosted a fantastic party the week before (complete with DJs from Heaven in London, and several giant drag queens - Most unexpected in Cusco!). Highly recommended if anyone visits Peru.

Then on to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Puno is a miserable place, though for me its top attraction was a Puya raymondii - a truely spectacular bromeliad (a type of herbaceous plant). If anyone doubts its spectacularness, do a google search.

We took a lake cruise to the floating islands (artificial reed islands home to an Indian tribe), and to the islands of Amantani and Taquile. We stayed overnight with a family at Amantani, and visited the sacred shrine of Pachatata (earth father god) at sunset. (Catholicism seems a rather thin veneer here). The trip was touristy and a bit slow, though Lake Titicaca is very beautiful, reminding me of the Greek Islands in the Agean.

We have now just arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, a busy city overlooked by a whole string of massive snow-capped volcanos. Our friends Fred and Hazel arrive tomorrow, so hopefully we will soon be standing on the summits of some of these peaks with them.

Till the next time, all the best to everyone!


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Puno, Lake Titicaca

In Puno now a port on Lake Titicaca ... arrived at three pm after a 7hr bus ride from Cusco about 400km. We got picked up by a woman at the bus station selling accomodation... so as the place was in the guide book anyway and seemed good at $20 NZ for both of us.. a small but nice room with a double bed and a single... first time we will be sleeping in a double bed since we left NZ. Off tomorrow to visit the reed boat builders and a floating island, then to another island Taquile to stay with a local family overnight then to a second island Amantani to visit before returning here to Puno for night before catching a bus to La Paz on Friday 4th to meet Fred and Hazel.

We climbed up to the top of a local lookout Condor Hill jut over 4000m on top... we must be getting aclimtised cos it´s easier thn it was two weeks ago. Spent most of the bus journey on the altiplano -- dead flat and dry and around 4000m