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To the end of the world, back, and everywhere in between Some take holiday, some go on gap year and some never come back...this is for all of us, lost in travel

Bolivia; Lucha Libre and my first 6000m climb (Isla del Sol, La Paz, Huayna Potosi)

BOLIVIA | Sunday, 11 November 2012 | Views [1127]

Huayna Potosi

Huayna Potosi

After incredibly painful overnight journey I arrived at the border with Bolivia. Considering my previous experience with border crossing this has turned out to be pretty easy and painless.

As I was alone again after leaving my international trekking team in Cuzco I was really happy to meet some people in the line for the visa who were heading in the same direction. My initial plan was to stay a night in Copacabana and then a night at Isla del Sol but got convinced that I will not be missing much skipping the town.

Isla del Sol is incredibly peaceful and relaxing. Not many people actually stay the night and so after  the last tourist boat left there were only a few of us there. I was also really glad for company as otherwise it’s pretty difficult to meet anyone.

The sunsets were incredible! I can’t speak of sunrises as I didn’t manage to wake up… well, going to toilet and vaguely noticing the fact that the sun is rising and that my fellow traveller is manically taking pictures, does not count as watching the sun rise.

We went for a walk around the island which takes about 5 hours and it is OK, I wouldn’t say it’s a place for amazing scenery; it’s more of a tranquil and meditate kind of place. But it is beautiful and comes with amazingly tasty trout.

After couple of days on the Island we headed to La Paz.

It is not an attractive place. The way in is horrible, driving through the chaos of small local markets, rubbish and endless stream of combis. It doesn’t get much better closer to centre either. La Paz, however, as a redeeming feature has some great hostels and a lot to do in vicinity.

My plan was to stay there for couple of nights and head out to Sorata, a much more pleasant location in the mountains.

The first night, however, I run into some old friends from Peru and it turned into a bit of long night fuelled by endless free shots (oh so dangerous!). And so clearly I did not make it to the ruins of Tiwanaka next morning but instead found out that there was Cholitas fight (Bolivian Lucha Libre that involves women fighting) that afternoon and as seeing one was on my long to do list for South America I decided to head there instead.

It was also a Foundation of La Paz day with a massive parade rolling through the city. Unfortunately it seemed to start right in front of the windows of my hostel making it impossible for me to sleep through my hangover. So instead I headed to town to see what else can be done around La Paz and after already being tempted the previous day, I booked my first 6000m climb to Huayna Potosi.

Late afternoon we headed to the Cholitas… It was, without a doubt, one of the strangest things I have ever seen.  I have watched some wrestling before but it was a rather more professional performance.

The show started with 2 guys, pretty standard kind of thing… Then there was another couple of man until we started to get to the main attraction of the evening… First up was a girl fighting the clown… We were previously advised not to sit in the corners or in front row if we didn’t want to be involved. It was a sound advice as otherwise you get covered in water, coke, popcorn and whatever else the fighters choose to throw at each other.

Although it’s clearly mostly arranged (especially the acrobatic parts) it does get very aggressive at points, like when the clown started bashing the girls head against a metal pole… You can see from the expressions when the real pain happens and in most of the fights someone did walk away injured…

After the clown came a couple fight which was a complete mess…and one of the girls ended up actually hurt. What followed were two women match, and finally, the most ‘exciting’ fight, in the ring of fire.

The whole thing goes on for about 3 hours and the last hour gets a bit same old same. The locals do love it though and get involved by booing, throwing popcorn, chicken wings and whatever else they have in hand. One of the contestant ended her fight proudly stating that finally women can participate in male fun but for me it was more a really bizarre display rather than liberation of women kind of thing…

Nevertheless I am really glad I went even if I left a bit disturbed…

The next day we went to Tiwanaku – the most impressive pre Inca ruins in Bolivia. I don’t know enough about the Tiwanaku culture to be able to fully appreciate it so even though the site grew on my (initially all I saw was a disappointing pile of stones with some mud) I didn’t really understand the significance – you really need a guide for that.

Upon return to hostel I had to prepare for the climb and the nerves started to set in. I was the only person doing it from the hostel and so I decided that I must be completely insane  - I could have just gone to Sorata, relax, do some hikes, but no, I decided to climb the mountain… I started doing research and it finally occurred to me that not everyone makes it to the top…

But it was too late to change my mind so after a night of no sleep I got picked up in the morning and driven to the first camp.

I opted for doing the climb in 3 days. There is a 2 day option but only 50% of those who attempt 2 days make it to the top as you need to be very well acclimatised.

The first day is rather relaxing, we spent few hours on a glacier practicing ice climbing which was actually a lot of fun and put my mind at ease about being able to go over the couple of walls we encounter on our way up.

The second day we moved to the hire camp. The difficulty here is that you are carrying your all equipment but the trek itself is only 3 hours and not too challenging. It gives a chance to the guides to see how fast you are walking and whether you have a chance of making it to the top.

After the trek it’s all about eating and resting. At 6 pm it’s time to go to sleep, or at least attempt to.

Wake up call is at midnight (or 1am for those lucky buggers who are staying in the next shelter about 300m above) and after a small snack and some coca tea it’s time to set out at 1 am.

Obviously its pitch dark and all you can see is about a meter ahead of you and then the flashing lights of your companions.

I was trekking with some experienced mountaineers so after about 4 hours and when I was starting to get tired we separated and I chose to go at my own pace.

It’s hard work going up. It’s cold (-15), there are no views, all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep thinking that getting to the top is totally worth it.

There are few beautiful moments though. When you get to Argentinian camp you can see the lights of La Paz down below and about an hour later the sky turns red as the sun gets ready to rise.

Apart from that there are some water breaks – my guide was very insistent on my drinking water even though it was freezing cold and more of a pain than refreshment. I have to say that I did not drink enough and also didn’t take time to eat anything which did actually make a huge difference in the last hour when I literally had no energy left…

There are a few of more challenging bits when you need to scramble up the ice wall or jump through crevices.

I was warned about the last couple of hours when you need to climb up 200m of a glacier and yes, it’s hard, but mostly because it’s still dark and cold and you have already been walking for 4 hours.

And so after 5 hours and few meters from the top the sun rose and I made it to the top!

It is so beautiful there. No clouds, sunshine, snow and all the other peaks below you. It was amazing!!! Totally worth the pain…

After about 15min on the top it was time to head down. The climb down takes about 3 hours and I really enjoyed seeing what I walked on. There are beautiful ice walls and other formations. The snow is sparkling in the sun and you are coming down with a great sense of achievement… Amazing stuff.

Things got a bit hard for me in the last hour of going down as I sensed that I cut my foot and my snow boots were rubbing against the wound so it was a bit of a slog down from that point on but I couldn’t do anything until I got to the camp…

All in all I was somewhere in the middle of all the climbers. The fastest made it 20min before me but, in my defence, they had 5 years of climbing experience. 4 people from our group did not make it to the top and 2 people struggled to come down.

The very worst part of the whole experience was, after only 15 min rest in the second camp, having to pack all the gear and walk down to the 2.5h to the first camp. We still had no proper food and only a cup of tea to drink. My legs were hardly working and it’s a really slippery path.

But, upon arrival to La Paz we were handed the victory T shirts and I headed to my hostel for a big fat victory veggie burger J

The rest of that day was pretty much spent trying to get few hours sleep and generally recover.

Next day I have decided to change my plans - I was meant to go to Cochabamba but after hearing that there is nothing there to keep me I opted for going straight to Sucre.

Tags: 6000m, bolivia, cholitas, climbing, huayna potosi, isla del sol, la paz, tiwanaka


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