Here is one of my very few reports, so you can see it will be badly written and full of grammatical errors. (Well he wasn't wrong Ed.)
In April 1997 Carl Gibbs and Clare Pond set off on an eleven week adventure in Bolivia and Peru. The objective was not really considered except that somewhere hills would be climbed. Our 1991 guidebook was totally useless as the place is changing at lightening speed, with the fast growth of tourism and influx of money.
Flying into La Paz at 4000m was a real headache, but a few days just laying around, wheezing up and down the near vertical streets soon sorted us out. So we spent the first four weeks just back packing around and having fun before the walking started. This write up will mainly concentrate on the four walks and one peak of the trip.
POTOSI MINES TRIP
An amazing place just like Devon mines in the C18, but its now 1997! Firstly to the local stall to buy our dynamite, detonators and nitrates to make lots of big bangs with. Our friendly guide showed us how to set a charge (while smoking a cigarette),before handing it to someone to hold in the jeep, bumping up a 4WD track detonator bouncing around on his lap. Trusty carbides were handed out and Jesus (our guide) led the way.
The smell of marzipan and arsenic was soon forgotten as we climbed up inside the hill, for the main trunk route was full of 2 ton tipper trucks hurtling past, locals don't stop for tourists. Side routes end at the mine face, fully 2-3 feet high, and digging by small shovel into a truck inner tube bucket, to be hauled by hemp rope up to the letter-box.
The most interesting part was the ritual offerings to the Devil that lives there, he enjoys plenty of cocoa leaves, 96% alcohol and western cigarettes. Unfortunately our group was so healthy no one smoked so we had to re-light someone else's offering, but it was all taken very seriously.
Working down one of them would be no fun and it takes several hours of heavy drinking, chewing cocoa leaves (we're at 4600m) and smoking before starting. Every year an offering is made to the DEVIL of a Llama foetus and blood is splattered on all the entrances. Friday nights are filled with drunken celebration at the end and survival of another week.
The CHORRO Trek
Our first trek and one to really enjoy, with road taking us to 4400m, giving a 400m climb to the pass and then three and a half days of walking down hill to the town of Chorro, or so we thought.
Setting off late one afternoon we decided to camp at the pass for a good view of the valleys, unluckily we were dropped off in the middle of a fiesta in celebration of Jesus (a 15m statue pointing us the way from the road col.) Being the only foreigners we were an attraction and soon plied with much alcohol. Eventually we staggered to a lake 1 km away to sleep it off. Here we noticed that rice, pasta or anything else really didn't cook that well at altitude. But the sticky, glutinous muck did cure most stomach ailments. It was cold.
A staggering view down to La Paz to the West and the Amazon basin to the East started the norm. for most mornings. After one hour we are on the ridge line and following an Inca trail of incredible construction through alpine flowers, sheep meadows and humble hamlets to follow the rushing torrent of a stream down valley. That night our only flat ground was around a church in the village, wary of thieves - the only problems we encountered were from piglets, scavenging dogs and flies.
Early morning mist soon burnt off to a scorching day as we drop to the lowest altitude for four weeks. After two hours an idyllic group of huts are passed where we have to spend lunch being inspected by numerous children, and playing in the stream. Its hard to get going sometimes but this took the biscuit, now down to the tree line and bamboo was showing itself too. that night was spent on someone's front yard, with the same combination of sticky pasta, garlic, onion, carrot, meat and anything to hand. Even after six more weeks cooking we could never get the pasta-at-altitude right, and the rice only marginally better.
It's misty, very misty, the sun decided not to get up so its cold too. Cross our only bridge in true Himalayan style, and now the path goes up, it didn't mention this in the book, but small ascents of 500m one can forget about. Along with the other four descents and three climbs we did without actually changing height. Tent that night in a family settlement under their cooking awning, found a small hole under our wet sleeping bags the next morning and meet our fellow travellers, two OK Israelis (the girl limping behind a bounding boyfriend). Two Dutch super-women, porters trying pitifully to keep up carrying all and the kitchen sink, briefly passed us in a whirlwind of arms and legs.
The path gets narrow at times, about 18 inches wide clinging desperately to a near vertical jungle moisture adding a keen bite to the excitement, as one looks straight down to the river-bed now 1000m below. Yet still the Incas managed to build staircases of stone and occasional level paths along one of their main cross Andean routes. A knee breaking descent finally leaves us on the first piece of truly level ground in three days and a dirt road. But the bus left one hour ago, another one tomorrow, maybe. The sun comes out and heat burns off the road, at 2500m we cant believe our strength and soon eat up 12km of boring road bashing, finally a jeep, with the two macho Israelis in, comes along and eventually deposits us via one of many nail biting pieces of driving at the tarmac junction.
The walk ends in Choroco a perfect town perched on a spur of the valley with cascading waterfalls and dense jungle all around, good food and a soft bed.