Trekking in Bolivia
This is an article I wrote for the YMCA newsletter after a trip to Bolivia in April '02.
Sometimes what makes or breaks a trip is the kind of people on the trip. I was very lucky with the bunch I had on this trip to Bolivia. For a group of people who didn't know each other from Adams before the trip, we got on amazingly well together. We were a diverse group ,each with her/his individual needs and quirks, but somehow managed to meddle along , assisted and encouraged each other, and struck up some real friendship on the way. We were a good team.
The expedition was a good learning experience, not only did we come to know something about South America and an alien culture, but also something of ourselves.
The trekking up to the Glazier Lake was the hardest 10 hours of my life, and I never thought I could make it. My guardian angel on the trek was Rene, the porter assigned to help me . This he did faithfully, holding me by the hand the whole time. With no common language between us, I had to learn very quickly to read his mind, and somehow knew exactly what he wanted me to do and which rock he wanted me to step on next . But the going was tough. There were many a time I had wanted to turn back, but each time Rene would hold out his hand with a little gap between his thumb and index finger to indicate we're only a very short distance away from the top, just to spur me on.
We would never know what we're capable of until we're pushed to our absolute limit , and I believe I realized my physical limit on that day. I had only patchy memories of the last 2 hours to the top and even less the trek back down , I was so exhausted !
I said to Juan Carlos our Bolivian guide later, "My body might be back at the camp, but my soul's still somewhere lost in the mountains." Those mountains're not such bad places for souls to get lost in , they're so beautiful ! Throughout the trek I was so bent on getting on and not tripping over I had my eyes glued to the ground most of the way , that I didn't fully realise what a beautiful place I'd been to until I saw Karl Chan's photos.
I'm thinking the intelligent thing to do for my next trip would be just to stay home and wait for Karl's pictures !
This trip is unusual for me on 2 accounts: I'm more a sea person and treking's not really my thing , secondly I'm not a big one for group tours, preferring rather to wander off on my own and mingle with the natives. So it's rather a pleasant surprise that I did enjoy the trip.
To live in such close proximity with a large group of people you don't really know and under less than ideal conditions for 3 weeks require a lot of tact, forbearance and consideration . We all have our own particular brand of idiosyncrasy so having a good sense of humour is a definite plus. The ultimate proof of our success in coping with adversity is the fact that nobody blew up during the 48 and 1/2 hours flight (each way) to and back from Bolivia !
I think the people I have the fondest feelings for in the whole trip are the crews up the mountains ; simple, hardy and genuine, they represent a value system in stark contrast to the high-achiever , go- getter, materialistic culture we've been brought up with .
Sometimes I wonder if we haven't gotten the wrong end of the stick, in that we've multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; learnt to make a living, but not a life .
Trekking in Bolivia - the painting
A moon and a sun , and a moon and a sun, it took us 2 full days to go from H.K. to Bolivia, thanks to Spenser's ( Spenser is the YMCA's co-ordinator ) travel agent.
The trekking was hard and literally brought me to my knees, we had to climb over a lot of big boulders to get to the glacier lake and there were no proper treks ! And yet our porters had to haul a couple of tables up the mountains so we could have tables to sit around at !
Our beasts of burden were the llmas, which were as temperamental as the mountain weather and it was a heck of a job getting them loaded up every morning.
Coming down from the mountains we missed a train, passed by a lot of potato fields ( I was told there're over 200 types of potatoes in Bolivia ) as well as a local plant , the quinoa, which the locals make soups with, and visited a textile museum, among other things .
I was happy to see even at this altitude scattered in the fields my favourite flower, not for me the sheltered flowers of the green house, my heart goes to the indomitable dasies, so wild and free.
On the way we also saw crosses by the road side marking the spots where people had died from accidents, the crosses on earth mirrored by the Cross in the sky.
The Southern Cross has deep religious significance for the Bolivians and certainly it has protected us in this trip.
Photo : By the glacier lake. See what Rene's wearing on his feet in the mountains !