June 24 Joe has not
gotten over his gut bug. We all decide it wouldn't be smart or safe
for him to continue on the trip. Hope to hook up later, but this is doubtful.
This is very unhappy decision. Matt and I take off with Eduardo,
Pat, a driver and porter Anastacio in big Toyota Landcruisers for parts
remote around 10 am. The big surprise is that the highway across
the desert into Chile and Arica has been radically improved. It is
now the best road in Bolivia. This is to say that it is the equal of
a two lane US highway. The route is very important to Bolivia, because
it is the closest ocean going port. Fiesta San Juan last night
and the smog from bon fires is awful at first.
Latter the road passes all sorts of
marvels that remind us of the American west. Landscapes like Montana
and New Mexico, layers of eroded rocks, canyons, badlands. Stop at
some stone towers, an archeological site. These are chullpas, 500
year old tombs. Sure enough the bones are still inside!
Sajama soon towers over everything,
a great ice cap above huge cliffs, with several other 6000 meter volcanoes
nearby. We drive into the National Park, circling the mountain.
The village of Sajama is park headquarters and we are happy to see some
real park infrastructure. The town is our new base of operations.
About four blocks of adobe houses with wide streets that would film well
for a bad western, including the blowing dust. Also a large baroque
church, built out of stone and adobe, dating back to the Colonial period.
For a town of seventy souls it is very lively. There is an artisan´s
cooperative, several restaurants, numerous sweet and friendly children,
and a very entertaining dog population.
Situate ourselves in a refugio and
feast on Eduardo´s scratch made veggie soup. Our new home has
beds, windows, a door, a toilet (outside) flushed by a bucket of water
and single light powered by a propane tank. It doesn't have heat,
however. The nights at Sajama village, elevation 13,700 feet, last about
fourteen hours and the bucket to flush the toilet freezes solid.
June 25 In theory a
rest and acclimatization day. Decide to visit nearby hot springs.
Car has mysteriously been recalled to La Paz. Not a problem, it isn't
far, according to Eduardo. Walk out there. Beautiful hot pools
welling up amid sparse vegetation, ice, salt and huge peaks. Soak
our brains out. Walk back seems to take forever! Later Matt
and I figure out that the round trip is ten miles (not far for Bolivians!).
Do little painting of twin 6000 meter
volcanoes. Notice road running straight up to hill top. Ask
Eduardo, it is, as I suspected, a ceremonial road where the villagers make
offerings to "Doctor" Sajama. Prepare our gear for tomorrow's climb.
June 26 Muleteers show up around 9 am. Most of our
loads go on the backs of two burros. We still carry food, water,
pile clothes and a down parka. Follow road out of town, circling the
mountain. A very pleasant trail winds up a valley through quenua
trees, which grow higher than any other tree on earth. They look a little
like creosote bushes with red trunks. There is even a little stream,
which is unusual and charming.
Make our way uphill from 13,700 feet to Sajama base camp at about 15,400
feet. As we climb up valley the massive cliffs of the volcano
loom ever closer. There are vertical drops bigger than the Empire
State Building on this face and the entire mountain towers more than a
mile above us. Impressive as hell. Very cozy campsite, next
to a spring, on a flat meadow. Noticeably colder here though.
June 27 Matt had a bad night and has decided not to go
on to high camp. He describes himself as out of gas. High altitude,
the work and cold are very draining. He goes back to Sajama village
with a porter. I continue on up with Eduardo, Anastastio, and another
porter. Here the route is such that pack animals cannot follow.
We hike up loose screeflanking up and left to avoid the cliffs. Circle
some way around the mountain and acquire a ridge. We are making for
a massive rock, above which sits high camp. I am aware we are climbing
rapidly, despite rests every hour. It only gets hard when we reach
the rock formation and have to scramble looser scree to one side of the rock until
we are above it. Only this last part leaves me really winded.
Shocked to reach high camp, around 18,200 feet in under four
Fierce setting, at which perch several level tent platforms, snow and
glacier above, rock and scree falling away at 45 to 60 degrees on two sides.
Eduardo is brilliant and gets a tent up fast and very well secured and
cooks up some food. We watch two German climbers, clearly exhausted, descend
to our level. They made the summit after an 8 hour climb and are
now headed to base camp.
I settle in, pack for the 2 am start
and try to rest.
Unfortunately I am soon feeling symptoms of acute mountain sickness.
This isn't unusual and generally abates. I get a headache, and later
some numbness in my hands and feet. Also, it is nearly impossible
to sleep. Ed and I try coca tea and aspirin, but without success.
The sickness gets no better. Very frustrating. An extremely cold
and sleepless night follows. I make a judgment call that I
am in no shape to climb 3000 feet of snow and ice to the summit.
(I mean I could certainly attempt it if not for the high altitude sickness).
Feel very comfortable in aborting the climb, it is the safe thing to do!
June 28. That was a miserable night in my sleeping bag
with all my clothes on, checking my watch every twenty minutes. With
dawn comes gale force winds. Tell Eduardo I need to get down urgently.
We break camp in the cold. E. and A. pack heroic loads, as we don't have
a porter coming up today. Move well down the scree, sliding and balancing
on ski poles. When we have descended 1000 feet, my symptoms have
begun to fade. We arrive at base camp at 1130 am and I am feeling good enough
to eat lunch. Several good hard marches put us back in Sajama village
by 3 pm, a descent of 4500 feet in 6 hours. I am glad to see
Matt, and am fully recovered, excepting for needing to catch up on sleep.
June 29. Rest in Sajama village. Do a second painting,
this time of Sajama peak, with ceremonial line off to one side. Explore
every drop of this tiny town, draw the church, buy a Coke, visit the crafts
collective. Lunch with Matt by Rio Sajama, a stream really, but with
sea gulls of all things.
Plan to head back to La Paz tomorrow, but we are pretty restless by
mid afternoon. Fortunately we find a car and driver and with Eduardo´s
help drive out the geyser basin. (E. pointed out it was just an hours
walk each way... meaning ten mile round trip, but we insisted on a car!)
Got to see exciting geothermal actions, boiling pools, fumeroles, and geysers
just as sun was setting. Pretty thrilling wrap up to quiet day.
Got to take our guide and porter out to the best restaurant in Sajama.
No expense was spared. Great traditional soup, followed by rice,
baby alpaca meat, French fries and coca tea. (I had to try the alpaca...
which tastes better
than beef). Total cost for meal for four 31 Bs. That is
less than four dollars.
Car arrived late, to bring us back to La Paz in the morning.
June 30 Journey back to La Paz via a slow and long route.
But fun. Stop at another hot springs in the park, soak an
hour. Travel the old road (dirt) around Sajama. See herds
of rare and endangered vicuna. Visit another Baroque church.
Next to it is a new hotel, where, gasp, there will be heat, electric
lights and hot water. I think that is pretty good for $25 per night.
Really smart design too, traditional architecture, plus solar panels and
other middle tech features. Get back on the paved road. One more stop at
17th Century Church, interior covered with murals painted by indigenous
artists. It is unique. Arrived in La Paz 5:30 pm. Celebratory
self cleaning followed. Revel in heat, light and yes TV.
July 1 Matt unsuccessfully tried to change return ticket
to USA. American Airlines claims that there are only $500 extra
business class seats... the same story Joe got told. Sounds fishy
to us. Oh well, Matt decided to stay until the 4th.
Visit Andes Ex. and plan another climb for tomorrow.
Do some more shopping and visit modern art museum.
Then take a vacation from Bolivia and watch two Ed Murphy comedies
Go out to folk music club Huari. Truly bazaar. Fine Andean
bands performed throughout dinner, for a hefty (for Bolivia)
cover charge of $10. The setting involved lots of masks, black
light, ancient archeology rendered in day glow paint on
the walls. A dance troop took to the very tiny stage (8 dancers)
intermittently. They did lively interpretations of
folk dances... like the Diablada. Unfortunately several used
extremely racist stereotypes of Black Bolivians and forest
peoples. I don't care if they come from Bolivian traditions,
it rather spoiled it for me.
July 2 Wake at 7, Eduardo met me at 8 am. Go to Zongo
Pass, elevation 15,200. Climb for three and a half hours to summit of
Charquima, elevation 17,200 feet. Route followed a dramatic aqueduct
(drop off on one side), meadows, 800 foot gain up a
glacier, then scree, then snow fields, then a spiky rock summit at
1:00 pm. Great views of Huayna Potosi, and clouds
rising from the jungle. Fantastic final climb. By the way ALL
THE GLACIERS here have retreated dramatically here in the
last fifteen years. We noticed the same in Alaska. Global
Back safe in La Paz. Hope to meet Bill and Mary B. for dinner.
All is well.