Shopping and a lot of altitude.

Trip Start Jan 28, 2005
Trip End Aug 2005

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, July 9, 2005

What an amazing sight La Paz is! After a hop and a skip (note I am not saying 'bumpy busride' any longer!) from Copacabana Sjoerd and me find ourselves in glorious La Paz. Seeing we're heading in the same direction and want to do the same things along the way poor Sjoerd has been lumbered with me. (I bet you he's never heard anyone talk so much in his life) I think he is excellent travel company however (he listens, I talk)

First thing we checked out in this glorious city was the Witches' market. For real. The Witches' market! Any amulet, incense, god and dried lama foetuses you'd need for your house you can find there. Perhaps I went a tad mad, I had to buy another bag by the end of my La Paz stay (a big one too).. I should however have enough power now to attract love, money and sex for this lifetime and the next 3. Whooppeeee may the attracting commence!!

One road from La Paz to the Yungas pass through a town called Coroico. This BUMPY road is also called 'the most dangerous road in the world' (not without reason obviously!) The start of the road is at an altitude of 4725 meters, the village of Coroico lies 3400 meters below, and it's only 80kms away.. Do the maths and you work out that that's quite a drop. Trust some clever soul to come up with the idea of organising biking tours down it. (Bet you 10 bolivianos it was an Aussie, an Aussie male that is) Had to be done! We were 9 in the group in total, 7 boys and 2 ladies. Boys will be boys, they literally threw themselves down the road (the first part is paved, so not that impressed with their bravery) as soon as we'd been handed our bikes. With all the testosterone fueled competition of course there had to be accidents. One poor young English lad now has a few stitches on his chin to show his parents when he gets back and I am sure a very dented male pride. Turns out there was a log in his path, silly log for lying obviously (and still) in the middle of the road and blocking his way. I was sensible (not scared at all, no no no) and stayed back of the class with the other female. We admired the view, had a few chats and got down with no scars and no bruised egos. Will admit though that my hands were really sore for the next few days after gripping the handlebar and the breaks for 3 hours. It was good fun, if I do it again I may dare to go a bit quicker (whilst watching out for vicious logs that is)

The next day, as if the mountain biking wasn't enough adrenaline for a month, Sjoerd and me decided to go climb Huayna Potosi, which is a staggering 6088 meters high. Now I've been complaining about it being cold recently, so spending the night at minus 12 degrees in a tent seemed the most logical step didn't it? We decided on a three day trip, seeing neither of us had much (actually, that'll be any) experience with ice picks and gripons from before. That's what this trip is about I reckon, doing stuff I wouldn't normally do.

Day 1, excellent, we meet our guide and practice with the gear (the boots made me walk like Robocop, the clothes made me look like Micheline man), we practice using the ice picks and climb up a very steep glacier. It was cool (and I was only a little nervous as I absailed down what I had just climbed up..) and only a little cold.

Day 2, excellent, we leave base camp in the late morning for a wee walk up from 4700 meters to the high camp at 5200 meters (Sorry I am a bit hooked on meters and altitude this week!). Here we are due to spend a few hours asleep before getting back up at midnight to start the remaining 888 meters (here I go again!) to the top of Huaya Potosi.

Day 3, not so excellent and not a complete success I'm afraid.

We started at 1 in the morning after catching a few hours sleep, I've had no problems with altitude before but mind you the highest I've ever been before is a mere 4900 meters. Literally as soon as we started working our way up the glacier, (in the pitch dark) I started huffing and puffing. Seems my lungs were not totally happy with me. At 5670 meters, after three hours of climbing (and being overtaken by almost all the other people who were on their way up), I had to admit defeat, I just couldn't do it. I was dizzy, I had a blasting headache and the most incredible desire to vomit. Symptoms of altitude sickness, mis amigos, are: headache and vomiting. Thankfully the guide, after a little persuasion, let Sjoerd go up with another group and took me back down to the high camp. Had he not I am afraid he would have seen a very angry Norwegian..

Of course I was disappointed I didn't manage to climb the mountain, yet I was ecstatic I got as high as I did (haha, that actually sounds very wrong!), and I am happy with myself for listening to my body and going back down, rather than stubbornly continuing (as I would most probably have done in a galaxy not so far away). I tried (and tried) and did the best I could. Apart from that I also got a little glimpse of a world I have never encountered before. The bustling life at the high camp was a world I have never met before. Up there I met three lovely middle-aged Americans (yet again, I meet a Montanan!!) who go on a climbing holiday together each year. As with Galapagos when I landed in the sailing 'community' it was excellent seeing this world which was totally foreign to me.

We got back to the high camp (5200 meters) after 2 hours of climbing down in the dark. I had a little sleep, hoping to feel better when I woke up. Unfortunately I didn't, I felt rather sh#t to the guide's surprise (I suspect he thought I was just lazy), and he decided I had to get even further down asap. As we descended the incredible urge to vomit diminished, but the headache clung on for dear life. As I turned around to see tiny little dots of people high high up on Huayna Potosi I felt a pang of jealousy but more than anything glad that I had made the right decision to admit defeat and descend.

When I got back to base camp I was met by a lovely South African couple I've been bumping into recently (I am sure they are following me). They had just travelled up from La Paz told me the horrific news about the bombs in London. I burst into tears. I suppose we've all been expecting it somehow, but still.. I cannot comprehend the incredible evil that work in the souls of the people behind it. Why? Why hit people who were just going about their ordinary life? Men and women who that morning got up as usual, had their cups of tea, perhaps bought the paper on their way to work and caught the tube and bus as they always did. Now there are distraught families and friends who are missing or have lost their loved ones, for what?

Sjoerd came back down from the mountain a few hours later, he managed to climb the entire 6088 metres. We headed back to La Paz and I hit the internet and my mobile phone before even glancing at the showers. I am fortunate, nobody I love and care for were directly affected by the bombs. But the amazing city I have called home for more than 12 years will never completely be the same again. We have been unnecessarily reminded how vulnerable we are and how evil human beings can be to each other. I suppose I am forever the optimist, I believe in the good in people, but I have read the stark warnings of further threats. I pray to the god I am not sure of the name of that it will never happen again, I pray we never again have to frantically call, email and text each other to see if everyone is alive and ok. I hope the bastards behind it are caught and that they will never again be permitted to do harm..

I must admit I have had very mixed feeling about London whilst I have been travelling, I moan about it, though I do really love the city. Yet I have wondered whether it's time for me to settle elsewhere, get out of the Big Smoke. But now I can't wait to go back and stick two defiant fingers in the air to the people behind the atrocities..
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