It was cold and restless sleep at our high camp on Bolivia’s Huayna Potosi. As I think back, it was actually more like quiet time, except for the constant banging of the tent flap out in the frigid, high-altitude night. Sometime in the very early morning, I got up and went outside to relieve myself and, while doing my business, marveled at how clear and full of stars the sky was. But that marvel was tempered by my personal acknowledgment that ultimately the clear skies would just mean even colder temperatures. At least, I reasoned, since there was no threat of snow, I wasn’t going to have to get up and shovel any of it away from the tent in the wee hours of the morning. I quickly got chilled, and so, once back in the tent, I pushed myself deeper into my minus 25-degree bag and cinched the hood tightly down around my head. Cinching down and tightening the hood, along with a persistent need to go outside and relieve myself, periodic dozing off, and a mental organization of the rope-up logistics, occupied the bulk of my supposed sleep time.
Ancohuma is a big mountain located in an area of the Bolivian Andes known as the Cordillera Real. Until a team of three American teenagers and one adult guide collected summit data in 2002, its elevation was never determined. There was conjecture up to that point that its height was possibly over 23,000 feet, which would make it the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. It ended up being 21,079 feet- tall, but not the tallest. Continue reading “Measuring Ancohuma”
Latimer pulled his F150 into an opportune parking spot near the Green Cow’s front door and stopped. He got out, locked the door, and went inside– eager to hear about the trip and meet the others. A fit-looking young man wearing a Wildbrink Adventures t-shirt met him just inside the door, introduced himself as the Assistant Trip Leader, and directed him into a back room. A group of six were already there and standing around in a jumbled circle, with drinks in hand and making small talk. Like him, most were in their 40’s, except for one especially hardened and hearty older woman whom he recognized from her photo in the brochure as the group leader. Instantly, he saw her as just the kind of person he wanted to be with in the South American wilds.
Before he even finished his first beer, the leader elevated her voice and addressed the entire group, saying, “okay, everyone, take a seat and let’s talk about the trip.”
Within minutes, everyone was seated and quiet, and she began. “Welcome, and I look forward to spending two weeks with each of you in the Andes. My name is Regina Gurgola, but everyone just calls me Gurgles. That guy sitting over there is my cohort and second in command, Kevin. The two of us want to do all we can to help you get the most out of your experience and to keep everyone as safe as possible. Of course, safe is a relative term since nothing is actually guaranteed to be safe. But we do make an effort to be well prepared for dealing with whatever situations might arise. To that end, expect the unexpected, and just embrace it.”
“A few things to know about the area,” she continued. “It’s a really majestic and wild place that’s probably unlike anything you’re used to. Don’t be thinking that where we are is a bad place, because it’s not- it’s just different. Undoubtedly, you’ll experience many amazing and interesting things. A few hints or insider tips to help you get the most out of the experience: first off, the water system down there is not like what you’re used to, so don’t drink the water out of the tap—only put bottled water in your stomach. That’s especially important because your time down there is limited, and you don’t want to waste it dealing with the yilly yally ying-yang. Also, in that regard, avoid eating any fresh produce that you can’t peel. We’ll have bottled water available to us all of the time and just plan to eat cooked meat and potatoes. More often than not, at least they’re predictably overcooked and sterile. Salads are a big no-no, and don’t even think about biting into one of the apples you’ll see in the markets. And on that note, you also might want to think about what meat you’re eating and if it is actually fully cooked. FYI, Guinea Pig is considered a delicacy in the area, and reliable cold storage can be a problem. A lot of people also try to conserve what gas they have and tend to eat their meats on the rare side. So just beware.”
“For those of you non-Spanish speakers, you’ll want to know the word “bano,” which means bathroom. That’s one you’ll use more than any other, but hopefully not in an emergency situation. This brings me to toilet paper. Don’t put it in the commode! There will be a separate bin for that, and the plumbing systems aren’t built to accommodate it. Don’t forget or challenge the technique because the result can lead to a big mess that you certainly don’t want to deal with. I know it sounds gross, but it’s just the way things are.”
Then, Gurgles seamlessly turned the discussion to poison insects, but Latimer didn’t hear anything she was saying from that point on. That’s because he was deeply engrossed in trying to figure out what to do if he got stuck on a bus amid a personal intestinal emergency situation. The “what ifs” instantaneously began overwhelming his thoughts. What if I’m in the middle of a town? Do they have public bathrooms? What if I get water in my mouth during a shower or forget and rinse out my toothpaste with tap water? What if a Guinea Pig’s eyes are staring at me while I try and eat it? What if I take a bite of chicken and it’s not fully cooked? What do I do with the toilet paper if there’s no trash can? What if I wash my hands with tap water and then eat a hamburger?
And the questions continued until there was a moment of silence, and his focus returned to Gurgle’s words as she said, “well, that’s the most important stuff. Thanks for coming, and we’re both looking forward to the adventures we’re sure to share. If you have any questions, just stick around, and we can talk them through. If you need to get going, don’t feel compelled to stay- we’ll have plenty of time to talk as things develop. Latimer stayed because he had the time and a lot of questions.