After a quiet spell the blogs are coming in thick and fast from the Bolivia Gap Year Team – check out what they got up to during their first week of expedition….
Expedition Blog Ice-Climbing, Death Road, the fall of Gabe and Apolobamba.
After our departure from Ambue Ari the team arrived in La Paz for a hectic first few days of expedition. The first day spent preparing for trek meant the cook team – led by Jack – had a fun day running around preparing the ingredients for the feasts we will surely be having in Apolobamba. Saskia also had an exciting day, having finally receiving her replacement cash card, only to find out (from an executive no less) that American Express does not have any representatives in Bolivia. However by the evening the sudden altitude change was beginning to get to us and a few cases of illness were ominously appearing.
The next day was ice climbing at Huyana Potosi a nearby mountain, unfortunately neither Gabe nor Jack could join us due to illness. This was particularly disappointing as it was Gabe’s last activity with us. A quick bus journey took us to the foot of the mountain and from there a one hour trek to the ice slopes showed us the effects of altitude very clearly as it was difficult to walk more than a few minutes without a break except Hugo who seemed to draw strength from his magical Bolivian balaclava – purchased the day before with a large amount of tack. The Bolivians with their usual nonchalance marched up and down the other-worldly landscape followed quite nervously by the team and after some walking there was a small climb to try with pick axes followed by an abseil. Caroline scampered up and down the fastest but there has to be some kind of award for Eshans vertical abseil resembling a fat man on a water slide.
There does need to be a mention here for Gabriel ‘Asher’ Gilbert-Lurie, leaving the team here. A recurrence of a rare foot infection has meant that over the last few weeks he has struggled to walk, nevertheless he bravely soldiered never failing to remind us of the pain. Gabe was known for his oral hygiene and also secreting sand from various body parts and he will be greatly missed by the group, the guys in particular for whom he was a constant target of abuse and back-handed compliments, and Katy who could always rely on him in any situation to put across the American view with tact and subtlety. But in all seriousness Gabe was a pleasure to have on the trip; he will leave a sizeable hole in the group (although he did lose weight) that will be hard to fill and we wish him a speedy recovery.
Following Gabe’s departure the group left to tackle the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ as featured in Top Gear’s Bolivia Special. The road consists of a 20 km tarmac section followed by a further 36 km dirt road which is the road proper. The first section was relatively simple with a few wide turns and a well maintained road – for Bolivia. We got to test our amazing mountain bikes on a small dirt track just before the drug checkpoint, a taster of what would be coming up. The boys were voted down on the uphill section so the group set off straight for the start of the dirt track part of the road. What followed was a three hour adrenaline rush. The group split up according to speed with Jimmy and Jack leading the way over some treacherous surfaces. The road wound its way down the side of a valley with several sheer drops and some amazing scenery. The waterfalls and creeks were equally astounding with the added challenge of a slippery trail. Thankfully the whole group made it through unscathed and settled down after an amazing day to enjoy the spa at Coroico.
Following the relaxing spa afternoon in Coroico the group, without Carolyn who had been forced to remain in La Paz due to problems dealing with the altitude, headed off to Apolobamba a small (7 hour) bus ride away from La Paz for the first trek through the cordillera and preparation for the upcoming weeks. Apolobamba provided us with many challenges; the first day was a short 4 hour walk with a slight climb up to a stunning lake in the mountains, however the wind and rain conspired against us to prevent taking advantage of the scenery. In addition some malfunctioning with the MSR burners meant that it took Emily and Jack three and half hours to cook dinner, and the end product of Quinoa was to have some unexpected results with the boys on the trip who, unwilling to waste food, had eaten as much of it as they could physically handle.
The following day was a mammoth 10 hour journey that began with a hour long climb up the side of a mountain to almost 5000 metres followed by a few hours of traversing the ridge and then down into a valley, followed by some more traversing, venturing through a village, up another hill and then down to the river to camp for the night. It was during this day that the effects of the quinoa were made known, resulting in the boys remaining at the back for most of the day. A further highlight of the day was arriving around 100m from the campsite and seeing the path ahead submerged in swollen river rapids, this resulted in the use of the emergency rope followed by a quick scramble over the nearby rocks and finally reaching camp.
Thankfully the third day was a much shorter 3 hour walk into Charazani, although the effects of the previous day were clear with many sore legs and stiff backs. Luckily a speedy finish to the trek meant that there was plenty of time to relax and visit the thermal springs near the town, which were enjoyed with a few cervezas courtesy of Eshan, and rounded off with some traditional Bolivian beef to end what had been an amazingly successful and rewarding first trek.