2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Travel to La Paz & Preparation for the Apolobamba
Flight South - July 14, 2006:
We left Cheyenne, Wyoming for the Denver airport all too early in order arrive with plenty of time to spare for check-in and security. We were flying on American Airlines so we did not anticipate the volume of passengers that we would have had our carrier been United. We had saved a little on the fare to La Paz by getting to Miami via Dallas - Fort Worth and though that bought us one more layover it also bought us 3 hour connections as our flight to Bolivia did not depart until 11 p.m. We did not want any part of a close connection in Miami as we wanted the bags to connect as well as we would . . . a climbing trip is no place for just in time delivery.
Following a timely Denver departure, we caught lunch in the DFW terminal before going on to the next leg of the journey to Miami. We arrived in Miami just late enough for the concourse eateries to be closed with the exception of a quick sandwich joint where a pair of surly Cuban immigrants prepared a surprisingly good ham and cheese sandwich. We killed another hour or so reading and pondering the upcoming trip before boarding our flight to La Paz.
The flight to Bolivia is an overnight that leaves just shy of midnight and takes about 5 1/2 to 6 hours to arrive in La Paz. I'm not sure, but I think it likely is scheduled to arrive when the density altitude is greatest as El Alto airport's elevation is 14,000 feet. We took off and I caught a decent nap, knowing that the coming days would offer opportunity for real little sleep as we had much to do in ensuring the in-country logistics were in place for our journey to the Apolobamba.
La Paz - July 15, 2006
Our flight to La Paz began its descent, passing over a line of peaks north of La Paz. Little did we know at the time that this was our first view of the Apolobamba, straddling the border of Bolivia and Peru. There were few lights to be seen but the moonlight left no doubt that this range was high enough for glaciers to form. The plane continued its decent over the blackness of Lake Titicaca and then onto the final approach over the dimly lit expanse of El Alto.
El Alto is a city unto itself that sits above La Paz on the alto plano and has come to surround the La Paz' airport. From the air, the dim light of dawn reveals El Alto to be a warren of streets and buildings seemingly forever under construction and punctuated by the subdued glow of streetlights on sporadic corners. The streets looked lifeless on our final approach but we knew from other trips that in fact life teems from dawn until well after dark in the vast urbanizations that surround cities like La Paz and Lima.
The 757 touched down smoothly, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it was smoothly flown onto the runway whose elevation is nearly as high as the highest point in the continental U.S. We taxied to a jetway and were soon delivered into the arrivals hall, a cool and cramped space containing immigration, a baggage carousel and a couple benches for Bolivian Customs to peruse bags seemingly chosen at random.
We exited the immigration que with 30 day visit stamps in our passports and joined the crowd awaiting their bags. After perhaps 15 minutes of sporadic bag delivery, our duffels appeared and we made our way for the customs portal where one pushes either the green button to indicate that you have nothing to declare or the red to declare a free for all on your belongings. I pushed the green and was promptly selected for a more detailed inspection of my bags; however, the presence of a climbing rope and ice axes along with my muttered "alpinismo" reduced the inspection to a cursory glance. G followed my course and we were soon on our way through the doors to the waiting arms of the taxi army.
We caught a cab to the Calacoto and within 1/2 hour we were in the lobby and on our way to a two bedroom apartment that would be our base for the next two nights. Our first order of business was to call Sr. Berrios to let her know we were in town and to set a time to meet and go over the in country logistics. We agreed to meet at five in the evening, leaving us time to take a really long nap and then wander up to the Ketal and then to Alexander's for lunch.
We met with Sra. Berrios and discussed in depth food likes and dislikes as well as the need to postpone our departure for Pelechuco by one day. We were aware of the need to sit for an extra day in La Paz before we left as Hugo had explained that our arrival day would coincide with a town festival and that there would not be a sober soul in Pelechuco, i.e. no arriero on that day. We were dead tired so there was not argument regarding an extra day to rest-up. We discussed the expedition schedule, drop off point, pick up point, tent needs, provision of food and cook, and other minor details before Dani took us on a driving tour of the Calacoto eateries and clued us into the El Asador.
We caught dinner at the Asador and it was great. If you have never had a nice chunk of Argentine beef, you have missed out on one life's pleasures. Afterward we wandered about the commercial zone to kill a bit of time and then it was back to the Calacoto for the night.
La Paz - July 16, 2006
Having been to La Paz before, it was all coming back, the dogs barking, the incessant construction, the broken bottles atop the walls surrounding homes and the ton of bedding that seems to be designed to crush any Anglo unused to the concept. We breakfasted at Alexander's and then took another power nap before heading uptown to wander the witch's market and governmental square. The festival in Pelechuco worked out just fine as we were both pretty beat from the flight down and a 12 hour jeep ride on the day after arrival would have been a real drain on our energies.
After a nap, we found an ATM and acquired sufficient B's for the rest of the day and the trip to the Apolobamba. Then it was into a cab for the ride uptown to the San Francisco church at the base of Sagarniga and the short but steep and malodorous walk to the witch's market. This is the part of La Paz that you come to for the trinket trade, tour operators, and cheap sleeps. The touts seek to ensure that you do not miss their wares, the pickpockets seek to ply their trade and the traffic works its way down the narrow cobblestones streets to the Prado below. You have to go there if for no other reason than to take in the sights, the smell, and possibly make the the logistical arrangements if you did not do your homework before you left home.
The witch's market was not new to us but it was a way to kill time as well as pre-view what we might buy later on in the way of souvenirs to bring home for the family and friends. We wandered about taking in the various wares spread on blankets and stacked in the various market stalls . . . you know the run of the mill llama fetuses, charms, silver jewelry and woven goods. That day, we were wanderers, not buyers, and we knew we would end up coming back at the close of the trip to do whatever shopping would need to be done.
We wandered back down and across the Prado (La Paz's main drag) and up the opposite hill to the square that includes the national cathedral and governmental palace. It was Sunday so the square was full of folks taking in the sun, feeding the pigeons, and hawking the same goods one would see at any parade or civic event in the states, balloons, popcorn, postcard, and the instant photos of couples and tourists. We caught the changing of the guard at the national palace and even got our photos taken with the boys at the front door.
Then it was back to the Calacoto, a final good dinner, at the Asador of course, and a final check-in with Sra. Berrios to confirm the next morning's 5 a.m. departure for the Apolobamba. The real adventure was about to begin.