Playing Mountaineers – Huayna Potosi

Huayna Potosi – Bolivia

I am not a bad ass bitch. But sometimes I like to think I’m a bad ass bitch. So when my boyfriend suggested it would be a cool idea to mission up above 6000m on Bolivias third highest mountain I was like Oh hell yeah. Challenge accepted.

Day 1

Huayna Potosi schooled me better then a 50s principal with a mad cane.

The day was unbelievably full of sun. Our group (two Swiss, one German and us two kiwis) were arrogantly full of cheer…4 hours later I was stomping and sliding down from the glacier. I could barely keep my eyes open or keep my big clumpy moonboots from lifting high enough off the ground not to trip me over a rock and smash my raggedy body into the Llama chomped dirt.
That was just the practise day. We had finished 2-3 hours of crampons on ice and a 90 degree climb to get us ready for day 3…
The fucking practise.

The law enforcement of my body had been activated in protest. My arms and calves were having mini muscular aftershocks, trembling constantly. My only comfort found deep in a murky brown blend of instant hot chocolate and instant coffee. Self-doubt steamed down my throat with every gulp. This was not good. For the first time I can remember the idea that I was quite possibly out of my depth and not going to make it crossed my mind. I told my adventure man of a boyfriend I don’t think I can do this.

He just smiled reassuringly.
Mandy the bad ass bitch was no where in sight.

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Made it…Just

Day 2
I woke up to the news that two of our 5 person group were going back to La Paz because of a stomach bug. The third guy,  the suave German with great chat, was considering catching a lift with them because the altitude was fucking with him too much. That would have left Ollie and I. His mountaineering experience, Mount Killimanjaro (5900m) circa 5 years ago. My mountaineering experience, trekking Salkantay (4600m) one month ago. It struck me that I was currently eating breakfast at low camp standing at 4700m above sea level. I was already on top of Salkantay. I could not breathe. My bad ass bitch ego was shrinking to nothing faster then cotton in a hot wash.
It gets better. The German decided to commit to a try (the kiwi charm).

Day 2 was supposed to be easy. Just a two hour walk to high camp they said. Then we relax they said.
They missed the part about clamboring up 500m of straight high altitude, following pathways carved out of what looked suspiciously like rock slides that happen on the regular.
Now, I struggle with my backpack on the flat. I’m like a fucking turtle whose eyes were too big for its head and over grew it’s home shell. As usual I over packed. So this 500m up to high camp was pure, back aching, leg straining undignified torture on my part. Suckling throat lozenges desperate for any kind of comfort (perfect timing for a head cold and throat infection to dig it’s viral little hands into me) i decided this certainly wasn’t easy. But I was soon to learn that the words “easy” and “not technical” translated completely differently from Boliviano to gringo. At least the views were pretty.

Blissfully content to be done with it and lazing on the warm rocks waiting for lunch lead to an almost false sense of security. Yet the peak was nowhere to be seen. Tomorrow D-day meant 1000m of steady upwards climbing through ice to get to Huayna Potosi summit.
The nausea set in. Fear or altitude? you take a stab. I slept and ate for the rest of the day trying to conserve every ounce of energy I could.
Badass me, little but a figment of the imagination.

Day 3
If they tell you it’s not technical imma tell you what they mean. You will be tied to a guide for at least 5 hours. Why? Because at any fucking second you could slip on that ice and be a goddam goner (maybe i exaggerate but thats how i felt at the time so…). You better hope to hell that guide has got your back because between yawning ice cravaces, slippery inclines, and rocky valleys it is not a box of teddies that meets a fall.

It’s not technical
but you will need ice boots and crampons for 95% of the climb. Again to stick you to the ice, insurance against the high risk of fall.

It’s easy,
but be prepared to use/cling to a rope and rely on the sharpness of your crampons to haul yourself up almost vertical icy slopes. If I’d had known I would have done some bloody pressups to get some arm strength happening.

You don’t have to have any experience mountaineering
but you better have a strong head for heights. Because the last 200m will have you scaling the side of a 6000m high mountain. At some point you might find yourself hanging on with the edge of a crampon and the ice pick as you swung yourself through the air to the next landing point.

I gave that mountain everything I had. Or rather she took everything I had to give. But Huayna is like one of those sublime woman who walk around breaking hearts and stealing boyfriends but never receive any hate because they’re so ethereally beautiful. Even after being totally rolled, broken and tested by her, at the top i was still so in love and  grateful to just have been able to experience her.

5 and a half hours of gruelingly slow upwards slog, are already such a blur. I remember; barely noticing my breathlessness from trying to control the empty vomit from spilling out of me…Pacha mama would not appreciate; all the moments that made me burst into tears out of fear of failure and fear for my life – which I really didn’t want to lose on a fricken  “easy” mountain; falling asleep and dreaming of walking to remember i was…ON ICE (that will wake you up); When the sky began to lighten and I collapsed exhausted against the ice , done, and Ollie comes up, his big brown eyes peeking out at me harping on about how epic this is and how we were gonna make it while I’m looking back like fuck this shit; our guides singing the last 300ms; the words, chicos, we have 30m left to go, YOU CAN DO IT; laughing and crying at the same time st the summit causing a great hiccup at the top.
These memories at least will stick, little treasures clear as day.
It was an emotional time getting to that final peak. For the third time I bawled. This time not because I was sure I was fucking dying but because I was so jubilantly shocked that there was no more left to climb. That I was actually up Huayna Potisi. That I had made it. THAT BAD ASS MANDY DID EXIST. The view was more then I could have ever imagined and that I could ever describe.

The journey back down (with the exception of having to reverse-climb some of the sketchy edges on slippery melting ice) was glorious. Ploughing down the glaciar in the early morning light we could finally see the magnificent mountain we’d conquered.  Massive ice walls, the peaks of neighboring mountains, cloud animals and shapes – Clouds look way better at eye level I promise you that! (I saw a cloud Shrek,  a giant penis and the best cloud  rabbit I’ve ever seen).

Credit has to be given to my fantastic little guide who whispered encouragement in my ear everytime I fell. And my adventure loving boyfriend who knew I was going to make it and would never have let me turn around.

If you feel like taking on the challenge I’ve included an info links from our mates Lonely Planet (because an overly dramatic personal recount of an amateur doesn’t count) and a link to the company we went with who did a supremely great job of looking after us all.

Huayna Potosi – Lonely Planet

Climbing South America – Huayna Potosi 

If you choose to tackle her I swear the pain and challenge makes the reward so much sweeter. It’s a law of the Quest really.
If you’ve already been up Huayna Potosi would love to hear about it as well.

Until then il just be kicking around South America, being a mother fucking baddass – though I might give climbing Mountains a break.

[Ps please forgive lack of photos, currently struggling with jungle Internet HA! Coming soon… ]
M.

The Magic Of Salkantay

Standing at the top of Mount Salkantay had me considering whether to toss up every single (sensible?) life decision I have stacked up in front of me, in favour of chasing glacial lakes and mountains for the rest of my life.

Trekking the Salkantay path is one of the most popular alternatives to the wallet wrenching Inca trail and is notoriously challenging. The trek spans 5 days of hiking over Salkantay mountain (at 4600m), into the jungle and onwards up to the City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. Through freezing temperatures and snowy peaks into the humid mosquito laden heat of the jungle (in the space of no more then an hour!), along sun baked and dusty roads, inching across foot wide cliff edges or moving along jungle covered tracks until the final destination, Machu Picchu. The diverse terrain offers a sensory assault of delightful smells from the surrounding flora and fauna, and the most magnificent views of Peru’s stretch of the Andean Mountains. It’s hard to not fall in love with her magnificence. Not to mention this trek is like the double orgasm of adventure tours. First, Mount Salkantay, then Machu Picchu. How could you not?

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Horses in the clouds

Mount Salkantay is the highest peak of the Vilcabamba mountain ranges in Peru and it is damn sweet to find yourself on top of. A condor flies over head, unexpected snowflakes swirl to the tide of your panting breath, the other trekkers fade to distance and time just stops. For a moment your mind might drift to the countless times you doubted yourself, not just over the hike but over the dreams and ambitions you deemed to good for you. As you descend from the clouds, invigorated for the next leg ahead, the warm acknowledgement of your own strength emanates from yourself and the rest of the squad. Turns out climbing a mountain can be a great reminder that you are more than you think you are. That is the magic of Salkantay.

If you choose to do the Salkantay trek (on a budget), or you think this kind of adventure might be for you, here’s a few things to prepare for:

Early starts. We were up and getting breakfast in us before 6am every day. Some days earlier. On the bright side, being woken up by our friendly Peruvian team with fresh hot cocoa tea delivered straight though our tent zips became kind of delightful. “Cocoa tea amigo? Cocoa tea?”. Alternatively, you may be woken up by an arrogant cock who thinks 3.30am is the crack of dawn…

Cocoa leaves. Whether it’s brewed in hot water or being held in your cheek, these cocoa leaves are a bit of a lifesaver. As a natural remedy against altitude sickness, and a warming drink for the chilly days and nights, you will grow to appreciate this humble leaf. Watch out though as eating them or biting vigourosly can have a laxative affect. I mean, thats what they say anyway…

The Party Bus. Blasting the best techno and r&b hits circa 2008, the loud banging beats serve primarily as a distraction from the fact that the bus driver is scaling cliff edges, sometimes at full pelt, on a barely one way sized track ( i refuse to call it a road). [insert snap chat]. If you are thinking about or are already travelling South America, chances are you know all about what to expect on a South American bus. Of course before we even took our first steps on the trek our bus had a minor breakdown. Never have I ever seen such a precariously magnificent hill start attempted in such a shunky bus. The road to St Theresa Hot springs will have you questioning whether or not you value your life enough to jump out before the whole bus plummets over the edge. Oh and just wait until you get to the teeny, nailed together wooden bridge across a water fall that looks like it could barely hold a Llama, let alone a packed bus. Good times.

Snow. Shit gets real 4000+ metres above sea level folks. On our trek in early October we had a night of below 0 degrees and it snowed on us once we reached the peak of Salkantay. Gloves, beanies and extra thermals will make things a lot more comfortable. A good sleeping bag as well. On the mountain on night one i slept in everything i owned, snugged up next to my travel buddy so tight I am luck she did not punch me in the face.

Heat. Just when you think you could not be more frozen, as you struggle against viciously icy winds to get back to the bottom of Mount Salkantay, BOOM, Welcome to the Jungle. Give it an hour and you will be ripping off layers, desperate for water and slathering mosquito repellent across your exposed skin. It’s perplexing, the sudden and extreme change in climate. Leave room amongst the thermals for cooler clothing. From end of day 2 forward, there will be sweat.

Sore muscles. Stretching saved my life. 5 minutes, in the tent every night before bed. You cover some pretty heavy mileage and climb up some considerably steep inclines across the 5 day journey, the last thing you want to deal with is muscle stiffness. It’s also a great way to warm the sleeping bag up.

Highlights (besides reaching the top of Salkantay)

Humantay Glacial lake. Day 1. The climb to this location at 4100m above sea level was without a doubt the most challenging part of the entire 5 days – no exaggeration! Your climb becomes a metal battle To turn back or to continue? Zat is ze question. Please continue, there is magic ahead.

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The guides. Humorous, supportive, knowledgeable, patient and always up for a chat. They’re everything a good guide should be and more. They’re pride in the culture and history of the Inca and Quechua culture is the icing on a perfect cake.

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Other tips

  • Hiking boots that are waterproof will be much appreciated!
  • Rain pants. Quite possibly the most sexy attire on the mountain.
  • Tips. It is expected that the guides, cooks and horseman are tipped towards the end of the trek. Trust me, they deserve it! Our group aimed for a bench mark of 10-2o soles per person.
  • Booking a tour. Don’t be afraid to shop around! There are plenty of tour operators all around Cusco. We saved about 30USD by taking the time. Shop around.
  • If you do shop around…Definitely check that your tents are put up for you, that your transport to Salkantay and return to Cusco is included, and what the meal situation is. Oh and hire a sleeping bag!
  • Ear plugs. The last night you usually get put up in a hostel (again, good to check this!) – don’t expect anything luxe. Do expect lack of sound proofing. The night we had to get up at 3.30am to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu, there was a street party outside our hostel until 4am. It may as well have been happening in our room. I mean, you get so tired these things just have to be laughable but ear plugs could be handy.

And that’s my two cents on the Salkantay trek. Adios! M.

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La Bienvenida a Santiago

So Qantas did this really on-to-it thing where they rescheduled our connecting flight from Santiago to Lima so that instead of waiting a few hour at Santiago airport, we had to wait about 16  before we could get on the next plane to Lima.

Long lay overs are inconvenient. If you have not had the pleasure of landing in Santiago Airport then I can assure you, this airport offers no such luxuries to improve the inconvenience. that would improve the inconvenience for an overnight stay.

It made sense to venture into Santiago for some fun and get a hostel bed instead. It did not make sense to come to this decision and try to book our hostel, after we had arrived. With shitty drop-out wi-fi that most airports seem to like to provide, and while  being hounded in every direction by  taxi drivers, we managed to successfully book two beds at La Chimba in the Providencia district. Lots of coll places to enjoy a Cristal and some food!!

Before we left the airport we had been ripped off twice ( i know they say don’t exchange US dollars at the exchange centres in the airport…yes I did – and yes, I can confirm that this is a very bad idea. Then the travel cards would not work. When we FINALLY managed to get some pesos together, our taxi driver ripped us off.

Obviously, the first thing we did once we had plonked our bags down in the hostel was to go and drink a 1 litre bottle of cerveza in the sun. Life righted itself once more. Muy Bien.

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The slice of my 12 hour experience of Santiago (thank you Qantas), besides the valuable money lessons that i picked up, is a little like this:

The leafy streets lined with old buildings brought to life by colourful artistic images, or spastically wicked graffiti upon almost every building face. A street gallery.

The people who are gracious when you come and sit at their restaurants and blurt the kind of broken spanglish that a 1 year old would be ashamed.. Thanks for trying and giving us something to laugh about for the rest of the day, their laughter says.

The strangers who stare just a little bit too long (apparently we stick out…). One of our gracious waiters became our bodyguard at lunch making sure a man with seemingly not the best intentions left us well alone. GRACIAS!

We stayed at la Chimba. A massive hostel with an awesome chiller lounge. Big ups to the location the comfy beds and the massive kitchen!

Let downs – the free breakfast: I know enough not to expect anything gourmet when I hit a hostel with a free brekky, but breakfast with a broken toaster, a couple of pieces of bread and no cereal is a bit of a tear jerker. Luckily our reception mate stepped on it when we asked him and some cornflakes were delivered…

#backpacking breakfast hack – ALWAYS carry with you a banana. Turns a tasteless, nutrition-less breakfast into a tummy grumbling cure.

On the whole – it beat staying at the airport over night by a hundred fold!

Ciao Santiago, bring on Peru!

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