Jungle Fantasy

Rurrenabaque – Bolivian Amazon

Being woken up to the roaring of the howler monkey harmonising awkwardly with the snores of my boyfriend is not a morning alarm call I expect to have the pleasure of waking up to again.

The Love Shack

Again, who would have thought that I was to have two of the best sleeps I’ve had in days, in the middle of the jungle. Or that I was to be exhilarated by the hunt for giant worms, crane my neck to see monkeys dancing in the trees above me, develop an egg-sized lump from carelessly stumbling into a low hanging vine as thick as my wrist, spy Caiman eyes in torch light on a returning to camp after a failed fishing trip or be sat on the cliff edge of a jungle mountain watching rainbow maccaws showing off their brilliance with the partners over the leafy tree tops. I liked the jungle and stalking across her leafy, mulchy paths past larger than life tree monsters, walking pines, spiky, web coated flora. For two days I got to feel like an adventurer traipsing the weird and wonderful worlds that existed between my favourite fantasy novels and reality. I KNOW. That’s just the ultimate geek speak. But that’s what a taste of the bolivian amazon felt like to me. Besides our guide was pretty stoicly silent the entire time so my mind had no excuse not to run free.

We flew to Rurrenabaque, heeding the warnings of travel blogs and travellers past about the bus from La Paz, toted to be nothing less than the stuff of nightmares. So a small, 18 seater plane it was. She was a bumpy ride, and to break the clouds and see mountain peaks at your window level, well… thank the clouds you’re flying next to them and not straight into them. On landing, the warm, oozy, thick air welcomes you back to earth and is a relief from the sharp dry altitude of La Paz.

Rurrenabaque is small. You could walk around it all in an hour or two – keeping your eyes on the haphazard, uneven, hole-filled and patched up paths. But just because she’s small doesn’t mean she can’t throw one hell of a party. From 8pm until 8am when we left for our jungle tour the next day – and probably, according to our hostel receptionist, continuing on to at least noon regardless of if there are only 2 drunken Bolivians still left standing or more. Between the top 50 pop hits, the Latino big 5, Karaoke, emotional speeches, jazz bands and a deejay, you name it they had it. Inappropriate for anyone with an early start the next day (the entire guest population at El Curichal), but at least the message was clear – nothing gets in the way of a Bolivian jungle party, especially one in celebration of 50 years of having a football team. Yep.

Rurrenabaque is also expensive, both to get to and to hang out in. So if you find that you’re a bit low on cash when it’s time to leave and you’re frantically calculating how many nights you’ll be eating bread and jam for in order to fly back to La Paz…RELAX. The 70 boliviano bus ride from Rurrenabaque back to La Paz is completely legit. Well, a bit windy, but nothing like the feared bumpy, cliff riding journey on the way there. The ladies I bussed back with happened to have caught the bus both ways and agreed it was almost a different road leaving. I slept most of the way (with the help of a sleeping pill). So there you go. Take the cheap bus, enjoy the hooliganesque style of Bolivian bus drivers and treat yo self at the end of the ride to a nice dinner and bed.

Must eat: Any pastries from the French bakery. Find it, consume it, bathe in the buttery glutinous glory of it all.

Tour info. Just as an FYI, we chose to jungle tour with Max adventures who have rave reviews all around. However I have to admit I was underwhelmed by the Max Adventure team. I feel the company is deceptive in their drive to retain a bulk amount of the competition and I was potentially cheated out of a more authentic experience. Of course, maybe I am playing the blame game and my own folly should be placed the chair to be judged as well so I will try not to get personal. The main issue, that was shared by many in my group, is that we were promised an English speaking guide, who from the get go quite clearly did not speak English. So it was three days of quite empty silence, or awkward struggles to try and ask a question/interpret an answer. I refuse to blame the guide as he was an animal finding guru and in all honesty, we was probably roped into the game just as badly as me and my English speaking tourists were. I mean if someone had asked me to take a Spanish group, knowing that I could say a few basic spansih phrases, well I’d be freaking the fuck out about it and I’d be awkwardly silent too. He tried and that I appreciate. Yet, everyone I know that just went with the Spanish guide and had an interpreter in the group had a much more free, open and real experience. A win-win for guide and tourist. Max adventures, I suggest you just admit your guides speak basic English but provide an interpreter and watch a more consistently positive outcome from your customers.


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.

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… ]