6/23/2011: La Paz

On the overnight flight from Miami, I slept some, getting 4-5 hours of poor snoozing (helped by an Ambien), but between the lack of sleep and the altitude, I felt like a zombie.

We got our first view of the mountains. They looked high.

At the hotel, I had breakfast and then took about a 45-minute nap. I found that my tube of sunscreen had leaked big time, and that the plastic bag tore a bit, but fortunately most of the sun screen stayed in the bag.

We had two quick introductions. One climber, Agatha, was originally from Poland, about 45 minutes east of Kraków.

Then they did the equipment checks. I found that reassuring. They gave us 2 liters of water and told us to drink it all that day.

The room was very nice, with a kitchenette. I had the room to myself. This was to be a pattern for the rest of the trip. For reasons that were not entirely clear, this one guy and myself were always in individual rooms or tents, whereas everyone else roomed as pairs. Most of the pairs knew each other, but in at least one case they did not. I do not know why I always had a private accommodation. Perhaps the other guy had requested his own room, and without him I was the odd person out.

The weather was looking very good. There was a blue cloudless sky, and I just wore a fleece shirt on the trip down to the city from the airport. The city is down in the valley, while the airport is on top of the plateau.

After the equipment check we went on a tour of La Paz. I had a good time, and I was guardedly optimistic about this trip. I thought that if my joints (particularly the knees) held out, I would do OK.

I wore my orange fleece shirt over a tee shirt, and my green hiking pants. On the way out around noon, I was a bit warm, but on the way back, around 5, I was fine to almost cool.

The city reminded me of San Francisco with its hills. Just about every street goes up or down. We went up. I had a slight headache, but very mild. They wanted us to drink 2l of water that day, so I spent most of the day feeling like my bladder would burst.

We visited the witch’s market. This was a street full of shops with both medicinal herbs as well as amulets etc. In one stall, we saw a bin full of mummified (or at least dried out) baby llamas. I thought that they would be burned as an offering, but I heard that they were buried in the foundation of new homes for good fortune.

It was a holiday, I think to honor San Juan, so the restaurant we were aiming for was closed, as were the money changers. We eventually went to a different restaurant around 2pm. I didn’t feel that hungry and we were going to have a big dinner later, so I just got a sandwich. I wasn’t sure how grease would sit on my stomach, so I skipped the fries. But it turns out I was hungrier than I thought. After inhaling the sandwich, I was suddenly very hungry. Fortunately, the guide bought several plates of French fries for the table. I think I almost ate more fries than sandwich.

Afterwards, we visited the museum of coca. It (coca) is apparently very big in the culture of Bolivia. One basic theme of the museum seemed to be that coca wasn’t bad; it was just turning it into cocaine that was bad.

After the museum, we visited the “plaza of pigeons”. That was not its real name; it was the plaza in front of the government buildings (although they looked to me more like a state capitol than a national one). There were uncountable pigeons there with lots of people feeding them (which is why they were so numerous). They had plastic bags over the statues.

We then caught a bus back to the hotel. It was like a school bus back home, but less than half as long, with two seats on either side of the aisle. I ended up standing holding onto some rails like on a subway.

I forgot to bring my chap stick on the walk, and by the end of the day I was really missing it.

There is one woman client who is Malaysian, but who lives in England. It is odd to see an oriental face and hear a British accent. Half of the clients were there for the class, and half were there just for climbs (five each).

We didn't meet for dinner until almost 7 PM. My lack of sleep was catching up with me, and I would have loved to have napped, but I didn't want to confuse my internal clock.

In one sense, it is convenient having a room to myself, but it is also lonely. I wrote: When I’m sitting here alone, and very tired, it is easy to start feeling depressed. Dinner should be better, then I just need to pack up and go to bed—although I might defer packing until tomorrow.

Dinner ended up being very late. We met at 7 PM, but we didn't start eating until after 9, and we didn't finish until 10. At that point, I still need to repack things.

The rough itinerary was that we would leave La Paz for 3 days at Copacabana. Then we would go into the Cordillera for 5 days of class. We return to La Paz, and then climb Huayna Potosi. We return again, climb Illimani, then head home.

So we needed to divide our stuff into 3 piles. Stuff for the big climbs stayed at the hotel. Stuff for the school went into the duffle and bypasses Copacabana. Stuff for Copa goes into our day packs. I found it rather confusing.

The good news was that I’d be carrying very little other than on the two summit climbs.

The bad news is that I needed to get everything for Copacabana into one small day pack, and I needed to get all of the class stuff into the duffle without including the big pack.

I could not get everything into the day pack, so I ended up with my day pack and a separate stuff sack full of stuff. What I should have done, and what other people seem to do, was to put my Copacabana stuff into my large pack and bring that.

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