Tag Archives: Bolivia

Friendly Faces : La Paz Bolivia

We spent our last night in Peru camped along the shores of Lago Titicaca and got an early start to cross the border into Bolivia. Country number 13.

La Paz y mas 01  Views over Titicaca, from the Bolivian side

La Paz y mas 02 Ferry crossing, Lago Titicaca

La Paz y mas 03 Hitchhiker

After an uneventful stay in Copacabana we braved the mad rush of traffic as we entered La Paz. We’ve met quite a few people lately who seem to get lost in large cities when they follow their GPS. Since we don’t have one we have to use our intuition and ask directions from locals, which has been working fairly reliably. We made it to our destination quite easily, unfortunately the address we had was totally wrong, but nothing a little time in an internet cafe couldn’t fix.

La Paz y mas 04 La Paz y mas 05 La Paz y mas 06 Valle de La Luna (Valley of the Moon) and our cozy campground

La Paz is set in a high altitude valley surrounded by crazy landscapes and towering glacier topped mountains. There is a strong contrast throughout the different nieghbourhoods, of old and new, rich and poor, but throughout it all there seems to be a lot of energy and character.

We spent a day or two wandering the city, checking out the markets and testing out all the street food while we made arrangements for our Huayna Potosi climb.

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We left the van in the campground for a few days while we set off on the mountaineering trip. When we returned, we found ourselves in the middle of the celebrations for the anniversary of the foundation of La Paz. This is a big deal here, the entire downtown was taken over by marching bands, parades and partying in the streets.

La Paz y mas 12 La Paz y mas 13 La Paz y mas 21 La Paz y mas 22 La Paz y mas 23Chuflay – hot frothy spiced milk with a hit of singani liquor. Sounds weird, tastes amazing. 

The geography and demographics in La Paz are a bit of an anomaly. Due to the bitterly cold winds up on the altiplano, the good views are all to be had in the poorer suburbs. People with more money can afford to live in the bottom of the valley where the weather is more agreeable.

A cool new project that has just been completed in La Paz is the teleferico between the centre of town down in the valley and the densely populated El Alto neighbourhood way up high in the altiplano. It has only been open for a few months, but already thousands of people are using it everyday to commute, instead of taking the dirty old buses which struggle up and down the steep hills. For a few cents we took a ride, which only made us more excited about the upcoming ski season as we travel further south.

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The biggest highlights of our time in La Paz have actually been the great people we have met. We never feel lonely when we are camped out in the wild, but have often found cities to be lonely places when we don’t know anyone.

This was definitely not the case in La Paz.  We met a bunch of great people at the campground, mostly Europeans who are travelling in the other direction overflowing with tales of summer in Patagonia. This was also the perfect crowd to join at the pub for the world cup finals.

To top it all off, amidst a flurry of emails from interested buyers for the van, we found that what we were looking for was right in front of us. Leontien and Arjan had dreams of finding a VW Westfalia to take home to Holland… this dream will soon become a reality when we meet them again at the end of our travels.

La Paz y mas 24 Celebratory beers with the soon to be new owners of Oscar.

La Paz y mas 25 German party

La Paz y mas 26 Gooaaaaaaal – Germany for the win. (I think I was the only one hoping for an Argentina win)

We also had the honour of meeting up with our Bolivian friend’s Mum while we were there. The timing was perfect. Since it was a public holiday we were invited over for lunch, and also met some lovely members of the extended family. As Estela met us at the door she said “Please come in. My house is small, but my heart is big.” The way it should be.

She made us a delicious lunch (I still think about the quinoa bake) and we sat around chatting for the afternoon. Hopefully we will be able to catch up with her in Australia next time she is visiting her daughter, so that we can repay the favour.

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And so ended our time in La Paz. We arrived with the plan to get in and out quickly, we were feeling a little rushed about our schedule and a little stressed about finding a buyer for our van. After spending over a week here, we left with excitement for the road ahead, no stress about the van, and a bunch of new friends.

So far, Bolivia couldn’t get better… or could it?

Into Thin Air : Climbing Huayna Potosi, Bolivia

We have some regrets about not attempting to summit Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador, but at the time we were definitely not fit or acclimatized enough. After seeing the amazing photos taken by some friends, I suggested that we try and climb Huayna Potosi, a summit of 6088m near La Paz. Mark of course agreed right away, and ever since then I’ve been trying to back out. We often get into disagreements about my ability to do things. I think I can’t and he thinks I can.

Along the shores of Lake Titicaca we pulled over to chat to some cyclists. Tristan and Avalon are an awesome Canadian couple, who seemed ready for any adventure. They had canoed the entire Mississippi River, then sailed across the Caribbean before cycling from Colombia to Bolivia. Before long, they were also up for attempting the climb.

After a lot of research into the different guiding companies, I bit the bullet and booked the tour (and purchased some travel insurance for mountaineering up to 7000m, which is not easy!). We really only like booking guided tours when we don’t have the experience or the gear to do it ourselves. Crossing snow covered glaciers and climbing ice walls, definitely fits this criteria.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuayna Potosi in the background. Not feeling confident, I was totally out of breath after this little jog, post pee stop.

We booked the three day tour with Climbing South America. This gave us more time to acclimatize. It turns out we really needed it, as Mark got sick the night before we were scheduled to leave. This was after bragging to Avalon and Tristan that we haven’t been sick since Mexico. He was up most of the night with some serious tummy pains, and well, you can imagine the rest.

The extra day also meant we could practise the different skills that we would need with equipment we’ve never used before, such as crampons and ice axes.

IMG_2774 IMG_2753Going up, no problemo. Coming down, eeeeek.

IMG_2762Marky reaching the top. Our guide Augustin, pretty much always laughing…..probably at us.

After our skills day we felt a bit more confident, but still nervous as hell. Staying at base camp that night, the setting sun illuminated Huayna Potosi and highlighted for us the mess we’d gotten ourselves into.

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The next morning we hiked with all of our gear up to high camp. The local ladies put us to shame, hiking in their skirts and carrying everything in their mantas (blankets), slung across their backs. We spent the rest of the day just sitting around chatting and drinking tea, this is definitely the part of mountaineering I could get used to.

The butterflies in my stomach went into overdrive as the sun set. This meant bedtime, which was about 6pm, in preparation for the 12:30am wake up. Needless to say, no one slept much at all.

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We hit the trail at about 1:30am, with our headlamps and a full moon to light the way. We spent hours just watching the rhythm of the feet in front of us, breathing hard, and in my case concentrating on not vomiting (I think the altitude medication helped). This is one tough climb. We had to jump crevasses, scramble up ice walls and walk along a narrow ridge. All the while I felt completely safe though, roped between Mark and our guide.

I definitely had initial doubts, but once we hit the trail, turning back didn’t seem to be an option. It was just one foot in front of the other, with the conditioning from our Huayhuash hike definitely kicking in.

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The sunrise was magnificent, and definitely helped to lift our spirits and warm up our toes. It was also crazy to look out at the terrain we had just hiked over.

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The only downside to this climb was the crowds. We were there in peak season and as this mountain is close to La Paz, it’s easily accessible to hoards of tourists. It is also marketed as one of the easiest plus 6000m climbs and suitable for beginners.

Huayna Potosi 25 Waiting in line for the ridge.

All four of us made it to the peak, which was amazing. The view and the feeling of accomplishment were unreal. I was holding back tears when we got there. Mark on the other hand could not hold back the contents of his stomach, and had a celebratory spew right there on the summit.

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The landscape was spectacular and the snow was blinding in the light of day, the heat of the sun quickly warming everything up. We had to start moving to get down off the mountain before it got too hot, and the snow became unstable. It was easy to see why most mountaineering accidents happen on the way down, we were all absolutely exhausted.

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We made it back to high camp safe and sound, nursing some serious headaches, and more than ready for a cup of tea and a bowl of hot soup. Afterwards, we somehow managed to hike back down across the loose rocks to base camp, where even more snacks and our ride back to La Paz were waiting for us.

I hated and loved this climb all at the same time, and with the altitude this was definitely one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced. This time I guess Mark was right … I can climb mountains.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia