Thursday, May 3, 2007

Apologies to all for the two week stretch without a post. No muse was flowing.

The picture from the April 18 post is in the Cordillera Real, a range of 21,000 foot peaks in the Central Andes of Bolivia. The provide a boundary between the 12,000 foot Andean plateau and the Amazon forest. The latter is the world's largest forest, encompassing 2 million square miles of tropical rain forest in 9 countries. Visit while you can: it is being burned at an alarming rate to make room for cattle.

I found myself in South America in the late summer/fall of 2006. I initially spent a week in southern Peru. The landscape and history are stunning, but the ancient cities and ruins were swarming with fanny pack tourists on 10 day package tours. So I jumped the border into South America's most indigenous and rugged nation, Bolivia.

After reading reports of a 3 day hike to a sixteen thousand foot glacier lake, I had to do it. My initial departure date was postponed, as it took a week to recover from a bought of dysentary. In the meantime I met Mike Lewis, a fellow Virginian and soon to be travel mate, roomate, and best friend. I convinced him to make the trip with me.

After finding a guide service, we stocked up on quiona, pasta, tomato sauce, oatmeal, avocado, cheese, bread, and chocolate. We departed with two indigenous Aymara guides, who speak Spanish as a second language. Mike and I carried a daypack, as a horse and the guides distributed most of our equipment.

We began in a lightly forested valley, with flocks of squacking flocks of parrots dusting the sky with emeralds. The trail meandered trails through small villages and farming plots before reaching high grasslands. The peaks of Illampu and Jackhouma towered above, cloaked in glaciers.

We finished the day camped a lake that the guides said was enchanted. Some whacky Dutch claimed an alien race had left signs in the lake, and dwelled in a kingdom under the mountains. We camped there two nights. As I did yoga both nights, I felt strange energies looking at me.

We arose early the next morning, and hiked off into the rocky ethers. For 5 hours we ascended over scrabbly rock, filling our water bottles with glacial melt. The oxygen decrease became evident. I drunkenly stumbled over boulders, my body not used to altitudes higher than the highest peaks of the continental US.

The trail ended at the Laguna Glacial, a 16,500 foot glacier lake. A glacier is in a col separating and Illampu and Jackhouma. It feeds into the lake, with pieces of the glacier calving off and cannonballing into the milky water. The lack of oxygen clarified the air, illuminating Lake Titcaca's distant gleam. An Andean falcon stood on a boulder 20 meters away.

Seizing the oppurtunity, I replaced my Incan stocking hat with a turban, and began remembering past lives meditating in the mountain ethers. Mike grabbed a camera, and caught a few photos.

After a lunch of cheese, avocado, and tomatoes, we began our descent to our base camp. We camped another night, where I stayed up until one in the morning reading a novel about Madam Lynch of Paraguay.

The next day we arrived back in town. What a trip.

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