“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rising up from the Pacific coast, the Andes mountain range is the longest and the youngest mountain range on the planet. After the Himalayas, it is the second highest range and is still growing. The Condoriri Valley lies within the 100 kilometer-long Cordillera Real mountain range northeast of La Paz, that separates the lowlands of the Amazon River basin to the east from the high plateaus of the Altiplano (highlands) to the west. The Cordillera Real is the most accessible and spectacular mountain range in the entire country and I could hardly wait to experience it on foot.
Our first big climb in Condoriri Valley was to Mount Jaillaico at 16,899 feet (5,152 m). Known as the “Mirador”, our trekking guide called it a relatively “easy” trekking peak that can be reached through grassy hills, glacial moraines and rocky slopes with no technical ability. Basically it is a warm-up climb for those serious mountaineers who are hoping to climb some of the bigger beasts in the area like the mighty Huayna Potosí (at 19,974 feet/6,088 m) or Illimani the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real at 21,122 feet/6,438 meters.
I wasn’t sure what Javier meant by “easy” but starting out from our base camp at 15,500 feet on only a few hours of restless sleep did not make this a walk in the park. In fact, the first hour into our trek I wasn’t exactly sure that I would be able to make it, I felt so light-headed and fatigued. Every step was an effort and I felt out of breath. But thankfully, as I focused more and more on my breathing I felt better.
We passed Chiar Kota, the black lake, which is known for its delicious trout. In the summertime it is a popular place to fish and the colors of the lake were amazing as the day passed turning from black, to gray, to aquamarine and blue.
Javier was a chatty guide telling us a lot about the history and culture of Bolivia. I didn’t have my notebook with me but took mental notes of all the fascinating facts he told us. Like most developing nations, Bolivia has experienced a huge migration of people from the countryside to the cities. Fifty years ago most people lived in rural areas yet today almost 70% of the population lives in urban areas, causing a lot of problems with unemployment, crime, and over-crowding. It is hard for rural farmers and shepherds to keep their children in the countryside as many leave in search for a better life in the city. Sadly, this is not always the case.
“Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.” – Sai Baba
We were so thankful for the beautiful blue sky. The clouds and rain from the night before had miraculously cleared affording breathtaking views the entire way.
After leaving the lake, we begin our ascent up. The terrain was slippery and we had to dig the toes of our boots into the moraine in order to not slide back down. It wasn’t particularly hard yet the air was thinning with each and every step.
Since we were above the tree line, the terrain was relatively sparse. Given the altitude each step was up was at a snail’s pace. Step, dig, breathe. Stop. Step, dig, breathe. I dug my toes into the ground as hard as I could as one wrong move would send me spiraling down.
The higher we climbed, the more incredible the views became. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that places as magical as this exist.
We could see Lake Titicaca off in the horizon. We wouldn’t have time to visit it on this trip but it gives me a reason to come back. It is supposedly incredible. Obviously I couldn’t stop taking pictures along the way nor could I leave many of the photos out of the post. The views were too beautiful to ignore.
“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
After a few hours, it was finally time to get up to the top. All we had to do was climb up over a little group of rocks and we were there. I got up first with the help of Javier below. Next came my dad and I caught it all on film to my mother’s dismay. (It really wasn’t as insane as it looks!).
(Sorry Dad, but I couldn’t resist all these shots!)
By eleven o’clock we reached 16,899 feet. We made it. There was no better place for a picnic lunch than this spot.
Believe it or not, getting down was harder. The slippery terrain meant you had to sink your feet into the rock, slide and then sit on your bottom to stop yourself. It was of course easier to breathe but it was hard on the knees and quads.
But once again, the views of our surroundings were surreal. What a place!
Sliding down the terrain…
And we made it!
The black lake was now green.
I was going to sleep like a baby that night.