Dispatch #9b 4/2/2006 Condoriri Group
The good come with the bad and recently it seems like more of the bad. The best we can do is try to absorb it and take some good away.
I visited Bolivia 2 years ago and trekked from the town of Sorata, where the beginning of the Range of the Andes known as the Corderilla Real begin to Tuni a “town” about 2 hours outside of La Paz just a mountain over from the end of the Cordirrella Real. This “town” consists of 5 families, with the outlying communities even less. My friend Jen and I spent our last night of our 2 week trek camped at a beautiful lake at the base of the mountain Condoriri (the condor) surrounded by other intriguing mountains. The one night wasn’t enough for me and I wanted to spend more time in the area and climb Condoriri. So, for two years I have thought about returning to this magical place filled with mountains, lakes, llamas, and some of the most hardcore women I have ever encountered.
As you know I had been sick since we entered Bolivia, our 5-day tour from Tupiza to Uyuni was spent feeling awful. So we spent close to a week in La Paz just trying to get me feeling better and hoping for better weather. Finally we decided to head out to Tuni and make the 3-5 hour hike to the base of Laguna Churi Kota where our base camp would be. The drive from La Paz to Tuni was nothing short of typical, leaving the city was twisty and the streets hilly like San Fransisco, we dodged buses and other taxis, passing when you would never think appropriate to pass. The tire blew out and we had to change the tires on the side of the road next to people working in the Quinia fields. We arrived in Tuni, hired a woman named Regina and her two burros, as she went to retrieve the burros from grazing we watched another women herding animals up a hill while spinning a ball of llama fur into yarn. We loaded up and headed up valley to our base camp.
Despite Chris acquiring blisters on his heels and stopping to tape up, and me hacking and blowing snot rockets the whole way thinking we were making poor timing. Our phenomenal local woman in charge of our burros, Regina 26, and her two burros that were loaded with winter clothes and climbing gear were impressed with our timing of 2.5 hours. The kind gentleman he is, Chris set up the tent while Regina and I sat and talked about life. The two years she went away to school to learn to read, all the other animals she has, how she has to walk the dirt road it took us an hour to drive up and take a bus to La Paz where she can sell llama meat to buy food, as there is no farming vegetables in Tuni because of the cold climate. It had rained a little on the hike up but was now stable, she left and we cooked dinner and relaxed. We decided the next morning would be spent resting and perhaps taking a day hike to a nearby glacier then summiting the following morning, Cabeza de Condor. We slept badly that night 5,000 meters (15,000 ft) will do that. The middle of the night lighting storm down valley with reflections of the lighting bouncing off the glacier brought us both out of the tent to watch and wonder if it was coming up to where we were. The morning was clear and the views of the summit were inviting and encouraging. We decided to cook a little soup for a late breakfast and as we finally finished cooking a local woman began to approach our desolate campsite on the other end of the lake and up the valley from any of the houses. We greeted her and asked what she was doing. She just said walking, we offered her some soup, giving her one of our bowls and spoon, and she feed her 6-month-old baby girl a little. Her native language is Aymara and her accent thick made it difficult to understand her Spanish. She breast feed and bounced around little Maria on her knee. I offered them both a cookie as the time passed. She finally asked if we wanted to buy a llama hat that she had made from the llamas she owned, spun the yarn and knitted the hats. We explained that we had to pay for our burros and that there was a site fee for us to camp here. She didn’t seem to understand we didn’t have enough extra money for these hats and between conversations continued to ask us time and time again to please buy. Once while she was bouncing her baby and looked so happy with the mountain shining in the background I asked if I could take a photo of her (as I would any friend sitting in front of such a pretty mountain) she said know and I brushed it off. As we continued to talk she wanted to know if she could take us back to Tuni with he pack animals, she’d charge less and wanted to know how much we had paid for ours. We said we had made other arrangements with Regina but thank you. Later I asked again to take a photo and after her saying “no” again, I asked if she just didn’t like people taking photos. She laughed a bit and explained that people from other countries usually paid her money for photos, and sometimes people from the United States paid even more. This gave me a little twinge of anger as I had been feeling like we were being more friends than business partners.
I decided to go get water for tea, and walked to the lake through tears in my eyes. When I returned from the water, I sat and boiled water, I was very frustrated as I listening to Chris now trying to explain that we come to the mountains for solitude and that maybe she should go. She asked how we got to Tuni and after explaining it was by private car she wanted to know how much we paid, how much we paid for the burros, for the campsite, I was tearful and responded that it wasn’t important. She asked again, I asked “Why?” She didn’t seem to know what to say. In my horrible Spanish and tearful state I tried to explain that when we go to the mountains, or anywhere, everyone is our friend. We try to welcome everyone the same, and help and make conversation. In the US when we go to the mountains we don’t carry any money with us because we don’t need to. In the US we are considered poor, we don’t have a house, a car, a telephone, only what she saw in front of us. (At one point she wanted to trade the hat for some equipment, and we had said that the equipment was our life, our livelihood) I said that all everyone wanted here was our money; they just thought we had tons of money, and always carried it. She never responded to what I said and continue to sit there. The rains were coming and we told her she should go especially to keep her baby dry. She didn’t seem to care and just sat there. Finally we bid her farewell and luck and went into our tent hoping she would go. After a short while she finally left. We were both heart broken from the encounter, I was a little more upset and took the encounter fairly personally as I thought we were befriending her.
After a couple hours of rain we emerged, Chris throwing on his boots to see how his tape job was, I began dinner. Pasta, vegetables, and red sauce, we filled up fast being at the altitude we were and dark seem to creep up fast. We quickly packed up for our 1am departure and early morning ascent. We crawled into bed early both feeling nausea, and cramps stomachs. Maybe indigestion? Feeling like dinner was going to come out, just not sure which end.
I awoke around 11pm thinking that if I didn’t move I wouldn’t throw up. Then the whooping in the stomach came, grabbing my headlamp, and my little ditty I keep my tp in, I tried desperately to open the tent door, get on my shoes, and fiddle getting the vestibule open, it was all I could to make it out of that tent, the cold didn’t bother be so much at first with my silk weight underwear on as I dumped what I thought was all the food in my intestine liquid style. I grabbed some water and my down jacket and sat on a rock watching the lightening down valley reflect off the night sky and surrounding glaciers thinking that it may come up the other end, hoping maybe it’d make me feel better. No such luck, back out the bottom end for a second round. Chris fittled in the first aide kit for some Pepto, "that should do it", I thought. I crawled back into bed for a little sleep. Not 45 minutes later I was jolted back out of the tent, this time I was smart in leaving open the vestibule and grabbed my down. Another two rounds and I sat on my rock feeling refreshed by the cool air and sobbing that I was blowing our summit chance. I was exhausted, my stomach working overtime and feeling extremely dehydrated. I tried to drink my Gu2O (electrolyte) filled water and stay warm as I rocked myself crying into the night sky apologizing to Chris for keeping him awake and for ruining our climbing attempt. He wondered if I should start taking the Cipro (an antibiotic) and I decided I needed some sleep and to not loose too many more liquids and opted for some Imodium, as the diarrhea just started and if it persisted through the following day, then I’d reconsider. As I crawled back into the tent feeling as though I had not slept at all in the past 4 hours, the alarm sounded and Chris jokingly asked if I was ready to climb. I moaned and snuggled in. I slept for another couple when I was running to the rock again for more, it was a routine now, and I found some comfort on my little rock by the tent with the clouds moving in I was thankful that it wasn’t raining or snowing, that we weren’t on a glacier. But still, I just wanted to sleep. It seemed as though I had nothing left to excrete and maybe the Imodium was helping. I seemed to sleep into the morning, only having a few small episodes.
Chris took my pulse when I woke up that was racing at 120 beats per minute!!! We were both tired from the long night and rested and slept. I seemed to sleep more through the rain and into the early afternoon. Eating only a half a piece of bread and drinking my electrolyte filled water I was not in any shape for another summit attempt that night. In the middle of the long rains that afternoon the woman, Elaine and her baby Maria from the day before should up at our tent door. Chris sat up and tried to talk with her a bit through our screen door as the rain came in sideways. Elaine was breast feeding again and wanted to know if we’d like to go down, that she could bring her mules for us. Chris explained AGAIN that we had arranged this transport for the next morning with Regina, and no thank you. Chris said she brought her little sack with the homemade hats again, and kept her hand in it showing the fabric a bit as to entice us perhaps. Chris told her it wasn’t healthy to be walking around in such weather with her little baby, but she just smiled. He told her she should go back to her house for shelter, but she just sat there bouncing Maria around, finally she asked if we had anymore cookies, and as they were packed far away in a dry bag, he just said know. It was very uncomfortable, us dry and warm in our down sleeping bags and bright colors, while she said in the rain with only a wool blanket to protect her. Finally Chris said that our stuff was getting wet and he needed to close the door to the tent. We wished her luck and a good day. We watched her walk in the rain through the little plastic window of our impermeable tent. That short interaction left us drained and unsure of ourselves and her.
We spent the rest of the relaxing in the tent playing Back Gammin, reading, day dreaming that with the tent all closed up with no views and the sound of rain, we could be ANYWHERE in the world, (especially Oregon). Night fell with dinner consisting of another bread roll with a little butter. Both our stomachs churning, and Chris waking me up in the middle of the night to ask if my stomach hurt as much as his, as it was as load as his. I didn’t go to the bathroom once that night, as I normally pee at least once usually twice while camping when I’m hydrated. This just should me how dehydrated I had gotten, and was miserably tossing and turning the night away with racing dreams, and a raging headache. Dawn broke and I finally felt as though I had to pee, just pee, “yes!” only pee, I got out of the tent to relieve my bladder, and was disappointed when I was joined with more diarrehea. We rested until 10am when we made ourselves get out of the tent and start slowly and painfully packing up camp. It was all I could do to walk down to the lake and pump water while Chris played spy on a group of llamas and snuck up on them while hiding behind rocks in his boxers and primaloft coat and flip flops. The sun was out and dried things out nicely, but down valley were dark threatening clouds, we’d know bring the afternoon rain. South America is much like the islands, people are laid back and when you say a time like noon, it could mean anywhere from 11:30am to 2pm. So we left the tent to pack last but Regina is a good hardworking woman, and we saw here cresting the last hill to make the journey around the lake to our campsite. We finished packing we spent a few minutes chating and taking some photos before packing up the burro and beginning the short walk down to the road.
It took us 2.5 hours to hike up to our base camp, so we extimated at the most it would take 1.5 hours to hike back, as we both had eaten only some bread in the past 40 hours and were very weak. We all walked together and it wasn’t 10 minutes into the descent when those dark rain clouds were over us and dumping it’s moisture in the form of hail and rain. My caugh began to act up and we shortly encountered a German woman and her local Bolivian hiking guide going up for a couple days of trekking. They asked us about the weather and views. Telling them it rained everyday but was beautiful. At this point the rain had ceased and she seemed to be optimistic, once again we wished her luck and pressed on. I fell behined as I was futsing with my camera. The rains began again, harder this time and more consistant. I was feeling more and more tired and hoped the rain would stop, looking at my watch, thinking we should be closer than we were. As the final stretch came into sight I was cold, wet, exhausted and once again in tears. Chris and Regina were at the car, that goodness it was there! It took us 2.5 hours to get down! Chris only a few minutes ahead of me and he was in tears himself, thinking his heels were bleeding. I had wanted to get into our food bag and give Regina our left over food and thank her more. All I could do was sit my butt in the car and get off some of my wet clothes. Regina’s sister hitched a ride with us down valley and all I could do was cry, happy to be on our way to La Paz, a toilet, bed, shower, frustrated with my feeling sick, not summitiing, not giving Regina more.
Regina, wow, can I say enough. This woman, as most of the indeginous woman are, HARDCORE! Regina lives at about 14,000 feet, takes care of 5 burros, 1 mule, 25 llamas, 30 chickens, and is a single mother of 3! Did I mention she’s 25? She maintains her feminity by always wearing a skirt, two long breads down to her bum with decrotative hair on the ends. She wears dress shoes with no socks, while we are hiking in boots with orthodics, gators, water proof clothing. She draps a pretty wool blanket over knitted sweater, AND she still walks faster than either one of us!! WOW!