2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Logistics II - Backcountry Logistics
Transportation to the Apolobamba:
Dr. Berrios made arrangements for a ride to and from the Apolobamba. The trip from La Paz involves a 12 hour ride that demands an early morning departure to give an arrival at about 6 p.m. in Pelechuco. The return trip for us was from Charazani and our driver, Roberto, was a top of the line driver. He never missed making the sign of the cross at a cemetery and we stopped multiple times to pay homage to Pachamama. The means of transport is Toyota Land Cruiser complete with rack on the roof and room for all the gear, us, the cook, the driver and for the trip to Pelechuco, an auxiliary guide. Dr. Berrios had this part of the trip well in hand and I was really happy with the arrangements.
Pelechuco's lodging selection comes down to a choice between two places, Alojamiento Rumy Llajta and Hotel Llajtaymantand. The later was our intended lodging but was closed as the owner was away when we arrived. The Rumy alternative was our place for the night and it is seriously Bolivian backcountry, like $1 per night. So long as you are prepared to spread your sleeping bag pad on the bed to prelcude sleeping with your back bent into an acute angle, you will be fine. I did a similar place in Guatemala back in '94 but the place in Pelechuco is lacking the sandbagged gun emplacement the Guatemalan lodging offered.
Our final night was at the Hotel Akamani in Charazani and it was much nicer. The going rate was about Bs 15 per person and all four of us piled into one room. Plenty good by me, secure, and just a few blocks from the main square of the town.
Outside of the start and end points where we were under a roof, we used three tents for sleeping and one large pyramid tent for cooking. G and I each brought a sleeping tent, his mountaineering grade Bibler and my two person LL Bean dome tent. Both did fine as we were not camping on the glaciers and the weather was tame for the whole of the trip. We have taken to this two tent gig as it seems to cut down on spreading the respiratory crud around the party once the first person takes to a good coughing fit.
Mario, our cook, and Alcides, the arriero, used one of Hugo's mountain tents for sleeping. Our cook tent semi-comfortably accomodated the four of us for both meals and card games. Even if it was just on a two man trip, I'd bring a pyramid, even if just a light MegaMid, to have a separate cooking and eating area. I wouldn't call the cook tent a luxury but a reasonable necessity.
I usually do not mention sleeping gear but for this trip I'm going to pass along some information that you might want to consider. Firstly, most of the camps were at 15k or better and it was cold. The Kotani camp was as cold as I have ever camped, outside of nights on glaciers, and I did not realize the reason why until we left . . . permafrost. The camp is a hummock on top of permafrost and you are going to be cold as soon as you lay down. I have a -20 degree bag and I was shivering every night. I have laid with that bag wide open in Peru but not at the Kotani camp. You will be sleeping in your clothes if you don't have a sufficient bag and pad.
Secondly, if you bring an air mattress then you MUST bring a closed cell foamy pad also . . . you know . . . the blue foam or the ridgy roll ups. They are good insulators but there is a much more important reason. The Apolobamba has lots of seemingly plush moss covered patches that say camp here to the eye but are far from ideal once you figure out what is going on. That soft to the eye moss is full of thorns, meaning one false seat and you will be picking 200 spines out of your ass. I'm telling you that from experience, it takes like ten minutes of frustrated picking to get the ones out that did not come out when your dropped your pants. Well, these same thorns will permanently deflate your air mattress in night one, making you miserable for the rest of the trip. I quickly learned to put a duffle, an empty pack, and my extra clothes on the ground to protect the top air mattress that I placed atop the lower sacrificial air mattress. Take your closed cell pad!
Arriero and Mules:
We used a fellow named Alcides Emana Perez and he did a good job for us. He knew exactly where he was going, could tell you to the minute how much further it was to any given point and he was fine with our on and off plan of movement.
Before going on, let me explain how we use the arriero and mules in our expedition plan. An experience we had in both a guided group and again with our own group was the lack of travel freedom that comes with a set travel plan. Our 2005 trip to Peru broke us of that habit and now we look at the transportation portion of the logistics in the field as a continuum rather than a series of staged movements concerned only with getting from point to point. What I mean is we planned this trip to have Alcides along for the whole of the trip, not just to take us to a drop point and then pick us up at the end of the climb. We hired the arriero for the whole of the journey and just accept the fact that probably more than half the time, he will be getting paid not for hauling but for just being available. This gives us total freedom to go where we want, stop when we want to and pick a route off the beaten trail that just happens to catch our fancy. We found that Alcides was not used to our concept but instead anticipated the type of service requried by the trekking groups and their set schedules. However, once he realized that we are a mellow group and that we didn't care if he disappeared for a day or so while we climbed, then he fell right into the groove. "Tranquillo . . . "
Our group needed three and 1/2 mules to haul the gear, meaning until we consumed some of the load, we hauled about 20 lbs ourselves. We now have a better idea of what is required to move the amount of gear we use and will likely specify an additional mule/horse next time.
I'll begin with my thoughts as to having a cook along for a trip like this. Many commercial groups talk of the "joy and comradship of cooking mountain meals" and if you ask me that is a load of crap. You are going to be at 15k and your body will be hurting a bit . . . do you really think you will be excited about cooking and then cleaning up afterward. I know that I have no interest in doing so. You might say that we are missing out on part of the adventure but you know . . . at 45 years of age, I can do without the hassle of figuring it all out, buying it all, packing it all, cooking it and cleaning it all up afterward. Mario has to make a living, feed a family, and we needed a cook. Be it Peru or Bolivia, both of our cooks were great guys who told us about their lives, listened to our stories and taught us both a fair bit of Spanish during the course of two weeks in the tent and along the trail.
Dr. Berrios hired a guy named Mario Alana Llusco who came with us from El Alto. Mario was a good cook and made sure there was fresh food for the whole of the trip. I will note that the cooks in Huaraz are of a wholly different standard but lets be honest, the Peruvians are Swiss trained (no kidding!) and needless to say, Bolivia is a bit more remote. Mario was a wiz with the typical kerosene stove and provided three meals with dessert. Our lesson was that if we want a more Peruvian experience, then we need to put more effort into defining exactly what the cook will provide, i.e. afternoon snack, vino, etc. However, the most telling aspect of Mario's efforts was that we were never hungry and nobody got sick. That speaks volumes of any cook's ability and Mario pulled off both of these difficult achievements.
I'll also mention that we made one hard and fast cultural rule at the start of the trip, namely that we were not going to put up with the master/servant culture that many nationalities seem to adopt with local staff. We made it clear that all four of us ate at the same time, we ate the same meals, and everyone got the same portions. We made this a four man expedition where we all got to have a good time, hike around or wander as we wanted, and without the hierarchy that some nationalities seem to expect.