Bolivian Adventure: Trekking in the Quimsa Cruz

Trip Start May 18, 2007
Trip End Jul 28, 2007

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Monday, July 16, 2007

The first night camping was a bit cold - not that cold, but I wasn't wearing enough layers. That's easy to address. Nonetheless, the sniffles and stuffy nose I had started to feel the day before just got worse during the night, leaving me no doubt that I had... a cold. I hate having a cold normally, at sea level, when the most I have to do is perhaps walk to the corner of the street. On trek, I started dreading what would happen when it became a chest cold, leaving me short of breath. But - when I woke up that morning, it was still just a head cold. No big deal.

However, both Tully and Bo woke up with their own nasty case of stomach problems. The Tom's were well on the path to recovery, but the GI Blues would not leave our group alone.

Tully seemed fine at breakfast, until his first bite of scrambled eggs. There was nothing wrong with the eggs (the rest of us were fine), but somehow, those eggs triggered something in Tully... As for Bo, he was just more quiet and subdued, and confessed to not feeling very well.

The weather was spectacular -- blue skies, no clouds, a nice cool temperature. We were headed to a high pass, the Obelisk Pass (4900m), that morning, so right after breakfast, we tackled the long uphill climb. Bo was trailing, accompanied by William, and Tully took the last spot, followed by tour leader Kate. I felt so bad for Bo and Tully --- I knew exactly how they felt, based on my previous experience on the Inca Trail and Colca Canyon: no energy, completely drained, and hardly able to put one foot in front of the other.

At the front of the group, a subtle little plot was emerging: Piter was, naturally, leading the way as the guide. Catrina, who had stated her fear of "losing the way", took what was to become her normal spot right behind Piter. Behind her, the first daily endeavour by Jeff and Judy to "make good time" and beat Piter's estimates started to unfold.

I was oblivious to it that day, I confess. After starting a little too quickly, and finding myself breathless about 100 meters out of camp, I finally slowed down, found my pace, and started counting steps as I went upwards. I had discovered the mind-numbing "power" of counting steps on Chachani, and there I went again, counting in French from "un" to "dix", and adding an "et" in between numbers when I needed to slow down even more. Going uphill, that results in a litany of "un... et... deux... et... trois... et... quatre...". Well, you get the drift, I'm sure.

Marcus chose to stay behind me, and we made slow, steady progress in silence, without much difficulty. More than ever before, I learned on this trek that I can make myself miserable by trying to match someone else's pace, or I can be blissfully happy by going my own speed and ignoring everything else around me. That's what I successfully did that day.

After a few hours of slowly edging uphill, we staggered, one by one, towards the Obelisk Pass. Bo and Tully, accompanied by William and Kate, came in a few minutes later than the rest of us, visibly exhausted and suffering. They found a couple of spots to lie down (kind of...), and rest, while the rest of us had a great lunch of tomatoes, avocados, cheese and cucumber, followed by an artistically carved pineapple for dessert. Surprising how quickly Pancho and Ruben could whip up a nice lunch at 4900m...

A little incident that I missed, at lunchtime, but which was related to me later by a few people who observed it: Catrina, while chatting with Tom Sr., lit a cigarette. Now, remember that we were OUTSIDE, in very pure (even if a bit thin) air, out in the wilderness, with lots of free space all around us. Ro, who had chosen to sit just a few feet above and to the side of Catrina and Tom, told Catrina loudly that smoking was just awful, and that she shouldn't smoke so close to her. This wasn't said jokingly... Catrina decided to move "to the next valley", ie, quite a bit further away, accompanied by Tom, as they continued their chat. It wouldn't be the last time that Ro would make a fuss about Catrina's smoking.

On the way down to camp, after lunch, I unexpectedly found myself at the front of the line when I chose to skip a break for fear of getting cold. Our group was a bit spread out by then, but we could already see the tents up in the distance, at the campsite by the Mama Ocllo lake, which the porters had already reached.

I wasn't aware I was at the front, until Pancho and Ruben passed me, and told me I could slow down, since the group was behind me. I had thought all along that Catrina and Piter were ahead of me.  As I continued on my merry way, neither fast or slow, I was overtaken by Catrina, Jeff and Judy, who sped along towards camp.

Now - Catrina is a fast walker (I'm considering taking up smoking -- clearly, it does wonders for high-altitude trekkers!), and she was just going her own pace. Jeff and Judy, however, were clearly hurrying in an attempt to be first in camp. In case you're wondering what we all do that is so exciting when we get to camp, we throw on more layers, then wait for tea to be served. That never happens until well after the whole group has come in... So the advantage of coming into camp early? Bragging rights, nothing else...

The campsite was great: wide, flat, by a lake that reflected the setting sun. Another tea time and dinner under the mess tent, shooting the breeze, trying to stay warm after sunset....

The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the lake, with a mass of clouds below us in the valley, and the glowing red Obelisk Pass behind us. Tully was feeling quite a bit better, and Bo was also regaining some strength.

We continued our trek through the Quimsa Cruz, discovering increasingly breath-taking landscapes around every corner of the trail. The changes, from one area to another, following a short ascent or descent, around a curve, were unexpected and surprising. We saw several large plants - whose name I will have to look up... - that looked like giant pineapples mixed with palm trees. For some reason, local people (there are few of them) choose to burn them, leaving scorched trunks along the path.

The lakes far below, granite spires surrounding us, and misty clouds thickening and dissolving in turn, kept us spellbound, and wondering if we'd walked onto a "Lord of the Rings" set.

After yet another subtle race into camp, we found our tents erected very close together, behind a multitude of rocks and boulders, by a mirror-like lake. Another beautiful campsite, where we would spend two nights, since the next day was a scheduled "rest day": time to relax, do laundry, wash a bit more than usual, and do nothing more tiring than enjoy some local hikes.
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