Not for the first time, the Quest Group cruised down into La Paz’s famous bowl to be greeted by the vast array of lights which illuminate the city by night. This time though, I think it would be fair to say the group was much less impressed than our first visit; namely because we weren’t supposed to be seeing the city by night at all, if all had gone to plan we should have arrived from Santa Cruz 37 hours earlier. However as a result of a broken bridge and other random road delays still unbeknown to us, an arduous 17 hour bus ride was turned into an extra night in Santa Cruz and an out right horrendous 30 hour journey. Luckily, we were greeted by our new team leader, Jimmy, with the only thing that could salvage the situation – take away pizza and proper beds.
However such a rest was only short lived as the next day we set off to tackle Death Road, a feat which, just to save the suspense, I’m glad to say we all survived. After the 64km descent we ended up with a much appreciated buffet lunch at the local animal reserve, a place that was of particular interest when compared to the set up we were used to at Ambue. After heading back to La Paz, we all decided to celebrate our survival of the ‘World’s most dangerous road’ by heading out for some Indian food and drinks at Bolivia’s take on the local English pub.
The consequences of such a celebration led to the next day being almost as, if not more, stressful than the descent of death road as we scurried around the markets of La Paz in preparation for a three day trek that would begin the next day. Miraculously we all did make it the next morning, fully packed and with enough food to cater for the numerous emergencies that we had decided could possibly occur along the away. Unfortunately none of these included a cure for the altitude which became more than apparent as soon as we stepped of the bus at our first location and went for a short walk without our rucksacks. However we were met with the surprise that for our first night we wouldn’t stay in a tent at all but in a little lodge which also greatly helped to cater to our ambitious cooking ideas of Stir Fry and pancakes for the morning after. We therefore set off the next day, stuffed full and raring to reach our first camping location, which turned out to be a beautiful lake set underneath a snow capped peak. Along the way, we tried our best at mastering Quechua, our attempts at which seemed to culminate with us flailing our arms about in our own interpretation of traditional dance whilst surrounded by the men of the village playing their Andean flutes.
The next morning saw us reach the highest point of the trek and, indeed, higher than most of us had ever been at 4,500m. With the view of the nearby glacier behind us, we set about building our very own cairn to mark our summit after partaking in a small ceremony with our guide in order to ask for safe passage from the mountain god. From this high point we then made a long descent to our second camp site by a river. Here, we were visited by a local man who warned us of the devil which haunted the valley. Luckily, though, we survived the night in order to complete our last day of the trek which involved a steep start out of the river valley before a gradual descent to the village where we had left our bags.
On arrival to our final destination, we not only celebrated the end of the trek but also the pre 20th birthday of one very special American who was desperate to not celebrate her entire proper birthday on the bus ride which was scheduled the next day. We therefore had the nice surprise visit to the thermal springs which particularly went down well with our aching muscles, as well as a very nice dinner complete with 20 (slightly stale) fairy cakes for the birthday girl!