“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. – Jawaharlal Nehru
We had reached our first test of adventure getting to the base camp at Condoriri Valley when we arrived at a collapsed bridge. Heavy rains that are common during the early summer season of November had washed it away and Javier, our guide, informed us that in rural Bolivia, infrastructure like roads and bridges are the responsibility of the village. Therefore, everyone in the neighboring community was required to spend the day repairing the bridge. No one in the community was excluded from helping out, even the women and children had a role.
Thankfully we had a land rover that enabled us to drive off road otherwise we would have been stuck. The bridge is essential for the community as is the gravel road that is a five-hour walk from the base of Condoriri Valley to the main highway. For those without cars, it is a long commute to civilization either on foot or bicycle. I learned that rural Bolivians are hardy people.
As we drove further and further away from the main road, the dramatic scenery became even more breathtaking. We passed traditional rural homes made of mud bricks layered tightly one on top of the other, covered with thatched roofs, and the brownish-green rolling hills of the glacier moraine that rest below the mighty Andes.
Llamas and alpacas are the primary animals that live in the highlands as they are well-adapted to their environment. They thrive in this harsh environment mostly because they can eat almost anything including the yellow-spikey ichu, a grass native to this land that grows up the steep slopes of the mountains.
To get all our camping gear to the base of the Condoriri where we would be spending the next three nights, we had to employ the help of a muleteer. I told Javier that I was interested in seeing a traditional house up close so we stopped at the home of our muleteer for a tour.
A traditional home is made up of three to four small buildings like seen above. Each house has a corral around it for animals, a central patio and several small buildings that contain a kitchen, a storage area and living quarters. Typically one or two families live together in a compound and they are entirely self-sufficient. They make their own clothing, grow their own food and raise llamas, alpacas, mules and sheep for their living. Even their savings are tied to their livestock.
The homes have no electricity or running water, and the latrine is located outside. Yet despite being basic, they are sturdy and warm.
We thank them for the tour and head on our way to the end of the road where we will load up all our supplies on mules and be on our hike to the base camp. We realize that we had to hurry as the clouds were thickening and becoming laden with rain.
Finally we arrive at the end of the road. Our muleteer, Gregario and his wife and daughter would be arriving shortly with the mules that would carry all our belongings and supplies. Once the mules were loaded up, we would have about a two-hour hike to reach the base camp. Hopefully the weather would stay clear.
Before we head out, it is time for our first lunch of the trip. Eugenia, our cook, prepares a delightful picnic for us. We even have a table and chairs!
After we finish our lunch, it is time to load up the mules. We have three small sleeping tents, one large dining room tent, propane gas, food, and other supplies. Thank goodness we have the mules to help out.
The life of a rural farmer and shepherd is not an easy one. Gregario and the others in his community easily spend up to four hours a day walking to check on their animals who prefer to graze at the foot of the Condoriri. Most do not have decent footwear and the woman all wear flat shoes like shown above without socks. When it rains, as it often does this time of year, they have no rain coat or gear and carry everything on their backs.
Finally just as the weather is turning cold we reach Chiar Kota or “dark lake”, which is directly in front of our base camp. It is known for good fish.
We notice that there is no one there except for us. During high season, there could be 100 tents camped out at near Chiar Kota. We are the only ones. Soon we will discover why.
And here it is….our home at 15,500 feet, right below a glacier!
It was a beautiful place but one thing was for certain. It was going to be cold.