2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Logistics I - Overview and La Paz
This page and the two that follow describe the logistics and planning aspects of our expedition. The information provided ranges from air travel from the U.S. to the camps we used during the course of our trek and climbs. Its kind of a brain dump of information but you might find some of it useful should you are nurturing similar climbing interests.
However, before I start . . . a preliminary note about our logistical style:
Let me preface all that follows with a word about our climbing style and what we expect in the way of creature comforts. I've climbed and traveled on the cheap and spent more than a few nights sleeping at Chateau Toyota and riding buses with chickens and pigs. I've also managed to make it to my mid 40's and pull off a career of sorts that allows me to insert a degree of comfort into my travels. Given the choice, I'll spend $35 per night for a room in La Paz as compared to a youth hostel replete with lots of noise and shared accommodations. Likewise, I'll line up a jeep to get from point A to point B as compared to waiting two days for the overdue 2 a.m. chicken bus that will take 24 hours to get there instead of 12.
Some of this is a matter of efficiency. We are also from the U.S. and we do not benefit from the Canadian or European multiple week holiday concept, meaning we get two weeks to play and then it is back to the grind. There is also the wife and kids factor which does not preclude travel but does require some conscious thought with regard to communications and safety. It's not that I sweat getting killed, its just that it would really piss my wife off.
All that said, the logistics described are not for the bare bones backpacker but are closer to those provided by a bottom half commercial climbing expedition, i.e. I cut the middle man out and find my own local logistics arranger to line up the local talent. The net result is a trip that I can enjoy with a minimum of worry, after I finish my homework, and a cost of 1/3 to 1/2 that of a commercial expedition. Oh, did I tell you the best part? I get to change the plans anytime I want and there is no guide telling me when to eat, drink, or pee.
That said, lets look at the breakdown of responsibilities as it applied to this expedition. We came up with the plan, selected the approach and climbing routes, put together the gear and pharmaceuticals list, planned the travel to La Paz and the ride to the hotel, and finally picked the hotel, the La Paz feedings and the non climbing tourist activities. I asked the local provider to arrange reliable 4wd transportation to and from the Apolobamba, arrange for an arriero and the appropriate number of mules, hire a cook and purchase all the food that will be consumed by both us and the local staff during the course of the trip.
Bolivian Logistics Provider:
We used Dr. & Sra. Berrios' Huayna Potosi Tours. We met Hugo and Dani Berrios in 2001 when we climbed Huayna Potosi and stayed at their Refugio at the base of the mountain. They also provided ground transport to the Condoriri Cirque and took care of arranging for mules and porters as required. However, what I will really give them credit for in 2001 is checking at the airport every day to see if a missing bag had arrived and when it did arrive, they made sure it got to the Refugio. That made for one very happy member of our group as we were to leave for the high camp the next morning and a lasting impression on us.
I contacted Hugo in the late Spring regarding this trip and through a series of emails detailing routes and needs, we arrived at an overall cost. Dr. Berrios agreed to provide jeep transport from La Paz to Pelechuco, transport back from Charazani, an arriero and three horses for the entirety of the trek/climb and a cook for the same duration. He also provided cook tent, cook gear, stove, and fuel. We considered an alternate provider but were more comfortable with the Dr. Berrios' company and we were not disappointed.
We flew American Airlines from Denver, CO to Dallas, TX to Miami, FL and then onto La Paz, Bolivia. American is the only U.S. flag carrier servicing Bolivia and we flew American on all legs to help assure that the bags would have the chance to make it to La Paz. American has a ticket office in the Calacoto district of La Paz (across from Alexander's Cafe), thus making changes to reservations and reconfirmation of a departure flight very easy. (La Paz office staff fluent in English)
Ground Transportation from El Alto Airport to Hotel:
This was our fourth trip to South America and at this point, I'm fine with just catching a cab from the airport to whatever hotel we are headed to. The airport at El Alto is not a madhouse and taxis dutifully await the daily American flight. The cost of the ride from the airport to the Calacoto district was 30Bs.
La Paz Lodging:
We stayed at the Hotel Calacoto, located in the district of the same name, in the southern and lower altitudes of La Paz. We knew the Calacoto from our 2001 trip to Bolivia and found the staff and accommodations to be as pleasant in 2006 as five years ago earlier. The room ran about $36US per night. The place is just a few blocks walk from the Ketal supermercado and plenty of places to get great food at the right price.
We shopped at the Ketal market on the main drag in the Calacoto district. You cannot miss the place as it is in the lower level of a five or six story building with a big Ketal sign. The market has a selection equivalent to a U.S. chain grocer and should meet your food shopping needs. There is also a "Hippermercado" brand store just up the street, which I believe has the same type of goods as the Ketal.
For those who have not been to Bolivia or Peru and shopped in one of their upscale supermercados, they take U.S. dollars and local currency, i.e. Bs. They also give change in your choice of funds. The cardinal rule of course is that the bills have to be clean and free of tears, tape, stains, and serious use. A dirty $20 in the U.S. is worth $20, but in Bolivia, nobody wants any part of it. A work to the wise . . . bring clean new dollars to South America.
There are ATM machines all around the Calacoto and they cough up money in dollars or bolvianos.
Look for an Entel call center on the main drag in the Calacoto. Head up hill from the Ketal about 4 blocks or so and it is up the stairs on your right side, you'll see the sign. Of you cross a busy street before the funky looking church, turn around, you just passed it. These call centers, comprised of a row of glass partitioned phone booths, appeared in La Paz since our visit but we were familiar with the concept from our Peruvian travels. You just go in, pick an empty booth and call home. When you are done, hang up and pay for the call at the counter adjacent to the booths. My calls to the U.S. ran about 3 Bs per minute and there is a meter right at the phone so you can monitor the cost of the call as it accrues. Real easy.
Again, I'm talking the Calacoto district as that is where we have been staying. The Alexander's cafe at Montenegro 1336, Zona Sur is a good feed for any meal and they do not think twice about serving you lunch for breakfast. The coffee is good and the cheesecake can put even a healthy person into a diabetic fit. This is our breakfast/lunch choice.
For dinner, I head for the El Asador located at Av. Mcal. Montenegro No. 740, San Miguel. Don't let the San Miguel fool you, it is just around the corner from Alexander's and they specialize in grilled meats. The Argentine beef (Bife de Chorizo) cannot be beat . . . we went there two nights in row when we arrived and another night, when we returned. They also have a salad bar that caused no ill effects. Next time I am in La Paz, I'm going to make a dinner beeline to the El Asador on my first night in town.
How's about a massage?
Settle down, I'm not talking about a rub and a tug, but the real thing. (Maybe the rub and tug is the "real thing"? Assuming the first is of interest to you, we found that the Hotel Europa's health club has a nice pool, wet and dry saunas, and a masseuse. Neither of us had ever had a massage before in our lives but after two weeks in the Apolobamba and in light of our ride from Curva to Charazani, I needed to get the kinks out. $20US covers the pool, the heat, and the rub.
Taxis around town:
There is no shortage of taxis from Calacoto to the main part of town. If you want to go shopping or wander around Sagarniga and the witch's market, its just 12Bs away. The usual rules apply as to establishing the fare before you get in the cab, so set that 12Bs fee right from the start. The rate may be different when you go there but any local in the know can tell you what the going fare is so you can bargain appropriately.
I've not run into any problems in the Calacoto area and I've wandered about in a group of two until 10 at night. Remember, this is South America and they don't roll up the streets at dark . . . so lots of folks are out and about late. I cannot comment on other areas of La Paz and I'd sure be careful outside of any lit areas or the like, Calacoto or not. You have to use your head . . . wander around the best area in a drunken stupor and you will likely find trouble.
I will note that we make it a habit to hail only licensed taxis and generally only those whose phone numbers start with a 7, identifying them as based out of the Calacoto area (or so we were told). We also never had any hassles on the street but stories are out there and I'd at least read up a bit before wandering too far off the tourist path.