La Paz, Huayna Potosi & Sorata
February 10 – 16 Monday – Sunday: La Paz
Following heavy rainfall, there was serious flooding in the southeast (including the Santa Cruz Department) and the Amazon Basin of Bolivia. Originally I planned to take a trip to the Madidi National Park, the jungle and the pampas to get a glimpse of the Bolivian Amazon Basin. But all travel agencies advised me not to go as many places had been flooded and local transportation could be difficult. So I had to drop the idea.
In any case, as a result of strenuous walking in the rain on the El Choro trek in wet boots, I had strained my leg muscles and hurt my knees. I spent the whole week resting in a nice hotel next to Plaza San Francisco. Every day I took a short walk to explore the area on foot. I also made a few trips to see the Lanza and Rodrigues markets and particularly enjoyed the latter’s Saturday market when hundreds of stalls spread out in the area.
There are many museums in La Paz. On Tuesday afternoon, I went to the Museo de Etnografia y Folklore near Plaza Murillo. This museum housed in an old elegant building has a good collection of textile and a special exhibitions with 59 masks. On Thursday morning I went to the museum at San Francisco Basilica. There is some information in English on the history of the basilica and monastery, the Spanish rule and the road to independence.
I heard lots of noises and gun shots when I was in the museum. It was a protest against a road project which requires clearance of a large market place. Many indigenous people in their traditional dresses were taking part in the protest. I rushed back to my hotel to get a camera and then followed the crowd which gathered outside a government building. There was a large presence of policemen. The protestors stayed there for the whole day chanting and waving placards and the national flag.
My time was not totally wasted. I worked on my website and took Spanish lessons almost every day. On Saturday night, I attended a wonderful concert at the small Teatro Del Charango located at the Museo de Musicales de Bolivia in Calle Jaen. The evening started with two young female musicians playing guitars. But the stars of the nights were three men namely Rolando Enanas (flute/pipe), Franz Valverde (guitar) and Ernesto Cavour who played a dozen types of instruments. Though the audience was small (about 50 people), the ambience was fantastic. Edgardo, a tourist from Chile sat next to me. He does not speak English and this gave me a chance to practise Spanish. Well, I was able to have a simple conversation without problem!
The weather was improving and we had gorgeous sunny and clear days by the weekend. On Sunday, the sun was out and the sky was azul blue. I first walked to San Pedro Iglesia. Then I took a taxi to a lookout point in Killi Killi. The panoramic view of the expansive valley covered mostly by red brick buildings and some sky-scrappers and surrounded by over 4000m high mountains is breath-taking and surreal.
I walked to Plaza Murillo and entered the Catedral of La Paz where a service was going on. Then I went to the nearby Iglesia San Domingo which interior is simple and mainly white in colour. A few girls were being baptised and I was glad to be there. At the end of the ceremony and outside the church, family members and friends threw flowers on the girls. Finally I walked back to Plaza San Francisco and went into the Basilica which was packed with church-goers. The ambience was wonderful.
On the way back to the hotel, I found a native lady selling roast pork and chicken on the street. She gave me a piece to taste. Wow, fantastic! The pork was fresh and tasted like the roast pork in Hong Kong. As a result, I paid B$20 for two pieces of meat and half a sweet potato and had a delicious Sunday lunch!
February 17-19 Monday – Wednesday: 3-day Trek to Huayan Potosi (6088m)
I have never trekked to any place of over 5700m. Huayan Potosi at 6088m has been said to one of the easiest 6000m-peaks for beginners. I was lured to take on this challenge. But given my knee problem, I was not sure whether I could make it. To make things easier, I took a private guide and a porter so that I could feel more comfortable and walk at my own pace without carrying a heavy backpack. I paid about US$300 while trekkers with a group would only pay half of the price for a 3-day trek.
Day 1– Five men on a group trek (a French, a German, a Japanese, a Spanish and an Argentinian) and I were taken to the refugio by minibus. The refugio at 4650m has good facilities including hot water. We also had a chef who cooked well. We had nice lunch, dinner and breakfast.
After lunch, we walked for an hour to a glacier where we had instructions on ice-climbing and walking with crampons on ice. This was my first time to put on crampons and use ice-axe. I was surprised that I managed to climb the ice-wall without difficulties. But my arms and legs were too weak to enable me to make my way to the top. I slept fairy well as I was warm in two down-sleeping bags.
Day 2– We had a leisure day with an excellent breakfast at 8am and lunch at 11:30am.
The weather turned bad with snow and rain. We set off around 1pm. The walk normally takes two to four hours. The trail is well-defined walking through rock outcrops. I do not like rock climbing especially after rain and snow. My legs are short and weak and I had an agonizing time in make my way to the high refugio at 5300m. When I arrived in time for dinner at 5:30pm, the five young men gave me an applause!
Though I had no serious symptom of altitude sickness, I had already lost my appetite. As climbers had to get up at midnight, we went to bed at 6pm. But most of us could not sleep. Some also had headache.
On my way to the high camp, I realized that I did not want to push myself and hurt my knees and already gave up the idea of scaling the summit. I told Herman that I would get up at 5am to watch sunrise. He must be relieved by my decision.
Out of the five trekkers, three made their way to the summit. As for me, I had a leisure time walking to a ridge at 5400m to watch sunrise and take pictures.
Then I set off with Herman to head back to the first camp. I stepped into the soft snow in my crampons without problem. Sun came out and it was nice and warm. I reached the first camp at 9:30am. After lunch, a minibus took us back to La Paz. I was back in the hotel at 2pm, washed my hair and took a hot shower.
Remarks: This is my second attempt to climb a peak of 6000m without success. I realize and accept my ability (or rather disability): I am old and physically unfit for such a challenge. I am not used to crampons and walking in heavy snow boots. Anyway, I had a lovely time in a white world of snow at 5400m and enjoyed walking down-hill in snow. Ice-wall climbing is also something new.
February 20-21 Thursday – Friday: Sorata (2600m)
I read about Sorata which is about 150km from La Paz. It is a centre for trekking sitting at the foothill of Mt. Ilamapu. I was advised not to go owing to heavy rainfall. But as weather had improved, I decided to make this side trip.
On Thursday morning, I got on a minibus at 10:30am. The fare was B$25 but the minibus spent almost an hour in filling up all the 14 seats at El Alto before it set off. The road to Sorata is paved and generally good. The mountain scenery especially on approaching Sorata is great. It however rained most of the way and I did not arrive at my destination till almost 3pm.
I had read about a hotel called Altai Oasis but the locals told me it was about 30-minute walk from town. As it was raining, I did not bother and found myself a room for B$35 at Hostel Jorden run by Patricia. I met Christiane from Germany, Denise, Victoria and Fedecan from Argentina at the hostel and learnt they planned to visit the Gruta de San Pedro.
After leaving my things in my room, I spent the next few hours walking in this sleepy town. They have a nice square with many palm trees park surrounded by a few nice eateries and a church. I had a nice trout for B$35. I also sat in a café to have a beer watching the locals walking by, children playing and the sunset.
The pace of life is very slow but lovely and tranquil. At 7:15pm I went to the church to thank God for blessing my home which had a near fire that day when a friend staying in the flat forgot to turn off the stove before leaving the flat. Fortunately, the security guard on patrol saw smokes coming out of the door which was not locked, got in and turned off the stove. What a miracle! When I got back to the hostel, Patricia was in the kitchen talking with her niece who is a doctor working in the hospital. We talked about everything under the sun and I had a chance to practise my Spanish. I had planned for home stay in La Paz but things did not work out. I must arrange something at the end of my trip in Guatemala in May.I had a most eventful day on Friday. The weather was fine. In the morning, I had a lovely stroll visiting a local school.
At midday, I shared a taxi with my friends to the Gruta de San Pedro (B$10 each). There are serious landslides on the 12-km dirt road to the grotto which approximately 400m deep with an enclosed lagoon. We walked down the cave and arrived at the lagoon where we crossed with pedal boats.
As I was waiting for my friends to arrive, I talked with a native woman, an attendant of the cave. All of a sudden, her dog gave me a bite before running away. I immediately realized I was bleeding. It was not a big wound but I was worried about rabies. My friends were very helpful and tried to ask whether the dog had been vaccinated. The woman was scared and gave inherent answers.
Once out of the cave, I took a taxi to hospital in Sorata. Denise kindly offered to accompany me while others would take a trek in the area. When I got to the emergency room, I saw Patricia’s niece. The nurse gave my wound a hard scrub and blood came out again. A doctor checked the wound and told me to take ibuprofeno three times a day for three days. He told me to check the wound and my situation in a clinic in La Paz and if necessary I could go to the rabies control centre (near Radisson Hotel) for vaccine.
My original plan was to return to La Paz after the visit to the grotto so that I could visit a few museums on Saturday morning. But as I could not walk too much and had to rest, I decided to stay one night at the Altai Oasis which is a paradise run by Johnny and Roxana. I invited Denise to join me for lunch. It was a lunch-cum-dinner for me. I felt relaxed and decided to take a T-bone (I cannot remember the last time I had a T-bone steak). I spent the rest of the day enjoying the lush green environment, listening to the rushing stream and bird singing and watching the beautiful mountain scenery.
I had a lovely room in a wooden hut. I slept early and got up at 2am for taking an ibuprofeno pill. It started to rain and I could not get back to sleep.