We are now set up in our second camp of our 12-day trek in the Cordillera Real [Bolivia]. We are a team of four: the guide, Andres; the cook, Felix; and two arrieros, Hugo and Narciso. And of course, our four-legged friends: three horses (with colourful tassles between their beautiful eyes) and two donkeys.
The drive from La Paz to the start of our hike took about three hours. Along the way we picked-up Andres and Felix, who live in the same small community in the country. You really need to know that these pueblitos exist if you want half a chance of finding them; there are no signs and random dirt roads seem to lead nowhere. Vast lands.
We had been advised by several people as well as by reputation, of the lack of skilled mountain guides in Bolivia. Although Inga and I were feeling pretty comfortable with our research and choice, I was nonetheless happy to spend two hours with Eduardo, the owner of Bolivian Mountain Guides. At this point in our trekking as well as in our guided experiences, we know enough to know what we don't know as well as what we do know. So, as it turns out, I am happy with the team and feeling quite comfortable. This trek is not precipitated by our egoes so if we don't feel comfortable with either our skills or our guide, we will not ascend Huyana Potosi at 6,088m. I would of course love to have this experience but logic and instinct will determine the turn of events.
I have been surprised by the landscape of the Cordillera Real; it is completely different from the Cordillera Blanca in Peru (not that I didn't expect it but, in some way, it was unexpected). I imagine that this is what walking on the moon must be like. And then, over a pass, you bear witness to spectacular mountain peaks resplendant with glaciers. Definitely all very awe inspiring.
We have seen many llamas along the way, including where we camped last night.The herd of llamas belonged to the pueblo we started from and yesterday was tended by a young man from the pueblo, and an older man from the pueblo this morning. The elderly llama herder appeared to have many concerns. A long discussion ensued between the herder and each and every member of the team, in various formations. It was a very intense yet quiet conversation that seemed to have no end. The herder first wondered what we were doing in this particular spot, given that there is nothing but desert. He suspected us at first of being involved in the cocaine business. Once this suspicion was put to rest, he then suspected us of having killed and butchered one of his llamas (there are ladrones who do steal herds of llamas to sell the meat). In order to convince him that no such thing had happened, the man was invited to "search" our stuff. And search he did, as if a customs agent. Finally, all was good. I guess that it is hard for this herder to comprehend that we are trekking through the mountains purely for the pleasure. For him, it's a way of life.
As seems to be the tradition in mountain hiking culture, we will soon head into the cook tent to have 4:00 tea with our guide. It is a nice pause in the day, and depending on the weather, a hot cup of tea warms the body quite efficiently. Supper at around 6:30 finishes off the day. We then crawl into our tent to talk and read and write until sleep takes hold (along with the cold) at around 8:30. It is so different living by the rhythm of the day's natural cycle.