AAI’s 2013 Bolivia expedition has begun! Team members arrived from all over the US (with one token Aussie!) late last week to La Paz, the country’s capital. Bolivia, the highest country in South America, is nestled inland in the heart of the Andes, and offers an amazing mix of culture and climbing. The land-locked country, bisected by the Andes, has rich Amazonian jungles to the East, and the Altiplano (high plains) to the West of the mountains. Our expedition, naturally, focuses on exploring the Bolivian Andes, one of the best alpine climbing destinations in the world. Bolivia is also known for being a bastion of traditional Andean culture, with the majority of citizens having indigenous heritage. More than any expedition we offer, AAI’s Bolivia programs combine world-class alpine climbing with rich cultural experiences. This is truly an amazing place.
We were even willing to leave the amazing weather of the Cascades in the heart of the summer season to come down here! We (Chad Cochran and Mike Pond) traveled for two days to arrive at the highest international airport in the world. At over 13,000 feet, we felt the altitude immediately upon landing in La Paz. We have been busy preparing this expedition while feeling mildly hypoxic here in the city. We have been working with our Bolivian counterparts (local Bolivian guides; more to come in upcoming posts).
Edward Whymper, the famous classic mountaineer who made several first ascents in the Andes, once wrote that it is possible to find nearly everything in Quito, Ecuador. He said that it was also nearly impossible to find anything in Quito! While La Paz certainly is more developed than Quito in the 1800s, the sentiment rings true today. While it was easier to find many things we needed for this expedition in the U.S. we could only carry so much down with us, and while most things can be found here in La Paz you don’t tend to have the mega store or one-stop-super-shop to pick up everything. Instead, street vendors color the narrow streets here. One has to sort through nick nacks and pindly winks to find just what they need and at the price they’ll accept to pay. It makes shopping into almost a game.
In between tracking down the last of our supplies and plan the expedition, we have been able to enjoy some of the diverse food La Paz has to offer. Being a major hub and a large tourist destination, the city seems to have a flavor for every nationality that come to visit. From Japanese to Indian food, (yes, there’s even a Burger King if you can’t go without a Whopper, though there are very few multinational chains here) one is able to just about find any cultural cuisine experience they are looking for. This all wouldn’t be complete without a Bolivian touch to the dishes and drinks. Traditional soups are also found on most menus, consisting of vegetables, potatoes, quinoa and a little chicken or beef. The fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and of the highest quality. The ubiquitous juices are phenomenal: fresh-squeezed pineapple, maracuya (passionfruit), orange, grapefruit, and many others grace nearly every restaurant, sidewalk vendor, and street corner.
Our team also did a city tour yesterday, where we walked past UMSA University, toured the Cathedral San Francisco, past Witches Markets, toured a Bolivian history and culture museaum, the coca museaum (not cocoa, coca - the sacred, healthy, and safe leaves that are sometimes made into cocaine), bought colorful alpaca clothing and articles, browsed the shelves of modern mountaineering stores, and ate at a quirky but intimate restaurant in the heart of town. All in all, a great day!
Today we head out on the first part of the expedition – a four-day trek along the base of the Condoriri Group, one of the major mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. Stay tuned to hear our daily dispatches of our adventures and keep up with the blog here for more posts. We will give stories and pictures when we come back into town after each section.