Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

For the kite surfing, though the nice tropical beaches and hot weather will be an added bonus! I lived for a year or so in the city back in 2000, though I hear much has changed in that it has got ever larger. Will be great to be back and catch up with some old friends and definitely looking forward to the coming week. The city isn’t the most beautiful in the world in terms of architecture etc, and it does have its problems – harsh inequalities, crime, and it is not safe to be out away from the tourist places at night. However, it is an enjoyable place to be, and I do miss the ocean breeze, its accessibility and walking along the Beira Mar promenade. Will certainly be the warmest training project (and arguably the most fun…. but then again, every project we have done so far has been challenging and the rewards of managing to complete them have certainly outweighed any “suffering” we have had to endure in the process!!). But yes, flight at 11:30pm on Friday night and back in São Paulo next Sunday. Here we go!

 
The Loch of Butterstone just perfectly smooth with the foothills of the Cairngorms behind it on a still winter’s day in Scotland.

 

Galapagos cliffs

Nazcar Boobies at the Galapagos, grooming each other by the cliffs in the midst of a massive amount of neighbouring wildlife . It is difficult to even walk without having be careful to put a foot on an iguana basking in the sunlight or a boobie nest in the middle of the path.

Galapagos - SantaFe001

The wildlife on the different islands of the Galapagos is fascinating and abundant, with each island having their own unique environments. The Land Iguana of Santa Fe island will be found nowhere else.

Banff-Jasper011

 

Going on to the Columbia ice field feels like going to the moon, jumping on and off these fantastic buggies with huge wheels and on to this freezing cold, alien world on the glacier coming down from the plateau…

On the Brazil side of the falls, you can get within touching distance and really feel the power of the masses of water flowing and falling down the river.

On the Brazil side of the falls, you can get within touching distance and really feel the power of the masses of water flowing and falling down the river.

Naty e Ben em John O'Groats 

Antes de começar a falar do último dia, queria explicar o motivo da falta de fotos nesse post, a verdade eh que o HD com tudo da viagem quebrou e está em conserto, assim que tivermos tudo vamos colocar as fotos desse e dos outros dias nas galerias.

Foi um tanto difícil controlar a ansiedade pelo último dia. Na verdade eram tantos os sentimentos na manhã que o mais complicado era saber a qual dar uma atenção maior. A essa altura o sentimento de vitória e conquista ia tomando conta da minha cabeça mas ao mesmo tempo eu me podia me ouvir falando ao fundo que a expedição ainda não havia terminado e que por mais que tivéssemos apenas 15km a nossa frente, olhando para trás eu pude ver que não houveram dias fáceis, até nos mais leves houveram grandes desafios e aprendizados. O inverno costumava ser sempre o maior dos opositores nessa batalha por conquistar quilômetros, e mais uma vez ele se provou duro.

O dia anterior tinha sido frio mas não houve ventos fortes ou chuva ou neve, assim a expectativa para o dia seguinte era que poderia piorar mas ainda assim não poderia ser as piores condições. Olhando a previsão mostrava que o dia teria ventos de até 60m/H, mas como sairíamos cedo do hotel e a distância era curta talvez conseguíssemos chegar a John O Groats com um tempo razoável.  Grande engano! Acordamos e no quarto já dava para ouvir o barulho do vento, abrindo a cortina víamos flocos de neve ensandecidos e girando de um lado para outro, os galhos das árvores balançava forte numa dança sem ritmo definido e tudo mostrava que a jornada poderia ser curta mas também a pior em dias.

Arrumar as coisas a essa altura é algo simples e rápido, cada um já sabe o que colocar em cada alforje e o que no começo levava meia hora hoje leva menos de 10 minutos. Comer o café da manhã é sempre bom e um tanto curioso, a essa altura ainda me impressiono com a capacidade do Ben em comer English Breakfast na manhã enquanto eu fico no chá com torradas e cereais. Se eu comesse salsichas, ovos e bacon frito com tomate, cogumelos e feijão pela manhã meu dia seria com dores estomacais e diversas idas ao banheiro, mas com ele não tem problema algum. Certamente um estômago muito mais resistente!

Começar a pedalar foi apreensivo no começo, os ventos podem ser confusos, e por mais que tenham uma direção dominante eles se rebelam e acabam mudando de direção. No começo vinha do lado e para variar a luta era para que a bike ficasse num canto seguro da estrada, que não tinham muito movimento de carros, o que ajudou já que assim poderíamos ficar mais no meio da pista. O vento contra o rosto tornava a experiência dolorosa, e olhar o caminho ficava quase impossível. Era um tanto assustador ver as placas de trânsito e dos vilarejos cobertas por neve, todas congeladas; os gramados brancos e as ovelhas todas juntas tentando se aquecer o quanto podiam. As aves no céu lutavam contra o vento e pareciam perder a cada investida, era possível ver elas tentando voar para um lado e o vento as levando para outro. Cheguei a rir da insistência das pobres aves em ir para onde o vento não as deixava sem me dar conta de que eu estava na mesma situação. Mas como que se dando por vencido o vento que me segurava passa a me empurrar e percebo que depois de tantas curvas a estrada me colocou no sentido certo. Parei de pedalar e curti o empurrão, as pernas começar a tremer de frio e me dei conta que precisava manter as pernas movendo para me manter aquecida.

Ver a placa Welcome to John O´Groats!, me fez sorrir, a felicidade de ser bem vinda pelo lugar que almejo chegar há 21 dias é uma recompensa não só por todo esforço, dedicação e investimento nessa expedição mas sim uma recompensa por todo o último ano de treino e estudo, por toda a nossa mudança de vida para estar mais e mais aptos para o 360 Extremes. E passando por aquela placa, pensando em tudo isso sigo pedalando atrás do Ben e sei que ainda não acabamos, aquela placa é um sinal de estamos completando mas o Final é no marco e não na placa. Seguimos em frente, paramos em um Pub para saber onde exatamente estava o marco e olhando para fora da janela deles pude ver como o vento e a neve pareciam ganhar força. Menos de 1 km nos separava do nosso pódio, então com um sorriso largo subimos nas nossas bikes, clipamos nossos pés e pedalamos. Olhando em frente ansiosos em avistar algo parecido com o que deixamos em Land´s End. Não vou mentir falar que ver algo simplesmente pintado no muro foi um tanto decepcionante, mas mesmo assim descemos das bikes pulando de alegria. Aquele era o nosso momento, emocionados nos abraçamos, rimos, gritamos. Comemoramos do nosso jeito, e o frio estava ali a toda a nossa volta, se mostrando o parceiro inseparável dessa aventura. Eu bem que queria ter uma garrafa de champagne na hora para imitar os corredores da F1. Mas o jeito foi tirar a foto com o rosto gelado e banhados pelas gotas da chuva.

Entramos na lojinha e compramos uma caneca para simbolizar o nosso troféu.

Mas depois de todo esse sentimento de vitória tivemos que subir de novo nas bikes e voltar para o pub para pedir um táxi. Pedalar de volta aqueles 600m finais, subindo na bicicleta eu já realizei que isso seria muito, mais muito difícil mesmo, só não percebi que seria doloroso. O vento incrivelmente forte me jogava para trás e parecia uma parede que não me permitia sair do lugar, mais uma vez senti tapas do vento contra meu rosto e olhar para frente era impossível. As gotas acertavam meus olhos por cima dos óculos e me obrigava a fechá-los. Pedalei com força, tentando me guiar pelo asfalto da rua o quanto pude, olhando para baixo. Avistei o pub e o Ben pedalando em frente, o vento me batia com força e parecia não me querer de volta aquele lugar que me parecia quente, protegido e seguro. Uma hora desci e empurrei a bike. Chorei aqui, chorei de dor, meus olhos doíam por causa do vento e da neve. Subi na calçada do pub e o Ben veio me ajudar. Entrei no pub e lá ele me abraçou e me confortou. Quanto frio, quanta força um simples sopro pode ter.

Essa expedição acabou, depois fomos para Orkney Island ver as paisagens, continuar na companhia dos ventos mas com menos oportunidades de pedalar. A jornada em busca de experiência e preparo físico e mental para a grande expedição continua e esse ano com ainda mais aventuras, treinos e aprendizado.

 

The end is in sight. Almost

The end is in sight. Almost

Ao acordar de manhã passo a me sentir um pouco mais matemática do que comunicóloga, tudo isso porque inconscientemente me pego fazendo contas de quanto percorremos e de quanto ainda falta, e nessa manhã a resposta da equação me fez sorrir mas também me fez pesar. 100km para o nosso objetivo ser alcançado, tão pouco para que toda essa rotina de desafios e aprendizado se encerre, nessa pequena equação vejo mais que números, porque nesses 1400km percorridos vivi cada metro, suei cada subida, superei cada vento, me aqueci a cada mudança de tempo e cresci como pessoa, como ciclista, como cidadã. Tantas pessoas nos receberam com tantas histórias, conselhos e uma mão estendida para qualquer duvida ou problema. Curiosos pelo caminho nos chamavam de loucos e perguntavam sempre no porque de encararmos a LEJOG nessa época do ano. Os únicos a fazer isso agora, os únicos vistos por aqueles que nos acolheram, por aqueles que nos atenderam nos cafés e lojas de conveniências. O motivo talvez seja mais claro hoje do que quando saímos, é simples: aprender a lidar com todas as surpresas que as mudanças climáticas podem nos pregar. Acredito que isso conseguimos: lidamos com ventos de todos os lados, chuva forte, granizo, neve, icy, tudo isso junto, o dia de ameno e sem ventos se transformar em questão de segundos numa tempestade… Tivemos dias longos, semana inteira sem descanso, melhoramos nosso ritmo, melhoramos nossa potência, criamos uma sinergia e uma rotina nossa. E chega a todas essas conclusões de manhã, ao fazer a simples equação de quanto foi e o que falta, me entristece um pouco, porque parece que estou mais perto de parar de aprender, de parar de melhorar, de parar de conhecer.

The route to Keiss

The route to Keiss

Puxo meu pensamento para o fato de que hoje o dia não será fácil, a rota é montanhosa e promete uma subida interminável logo nos primeiros 20km, o clima dá pra ver que não está o mais amigo e se no dia anterior já não havia opções de parada, nesse então teria menos ainda. Pelo menos sair do Inn era algo um tanto motivador, o lugar era péssimo e eu não via a hora de chegar na próxima parada.

A ideia inicial era pararmos em Wick, mas resolvemos percorrer a maior distância possível porque o clima ia piorar ainda mais no dia seguinte. Sair de Brora foi bem tranquilo, a montanha lá no fundo com uma subida constante, longa mas não muito profunda. Agradeci o hotel ficar há uma distância razoável da subida porque consegui aquecer antes. O nosso ritmo estava tranquilo sem muita pressa. Essa seria uma subida bem longa de mais ou menos 15km, superado isso descemos uma ladeira de graduação 13% por uns 3km e no fim um curva fechada e uma subida nada amiga de 13% por mais 3km. Mais uma vez me vi pensando “porque não construíram uma ponte ali!”. Eu parei parar tirar fotos logo na curva e fazer vídeos do Ben, o problema depois foi subir na bike e encarar a subida, a estrada pra variar não tinha acostamento e era mão dupla, e com os ônibus passando ficava um tanto inseguro subir e começar a pedalar. Empurrei a bike até depois da curva e dali pedalei. Paramos no topo, depois de comemos umas barrinhas, tomamos água e combinamos de parar no primeiro serviço para tomar algo quente. Mas quanto mais norte estamos mais difícil fica de encontrar paradas. Passamos por diversos vilarejos, em Helmsdale acreditei que acharíamos algo por parecer um lugar maior que os outros, mas nada tudo fechado, entramos em Lybster e a cidade era super pequena e parecia um tanto abandonada, quase ninguém na rua os café e restaurantes fechados mas por sorte um mercadinho estava aberto e lá comemos e bebemos café. Dali em diante o desafio foi o frio mas sem muitas subidas significativas.

Looking over Berriedale, just north of Helmsdale; pausing for a break up the hill

Looking over Berriedale, just north of Helmsdale; pausing for a break up the hill

Um pouco antes de Wick o vento ficou mais intenso e vindo pela lateral, dava pra ver as ovelhas todas amontoadas tentando se aquecer e se proteger, mas nós não tínhamos muita opção além de pedalar. Chegando em Wick a cidade era bem maior, um mercado logo na entrada e não resistimos de parar para comprar algo para comer. O triste dessa parte é que na hora de continuarmos o Ben deixou o óculos cair sem perceber, parou uns 5 metros depois sentindo falta mas deu pra ouvir o som do carro atropelando e destruindo o seu óculos. Ele ficou bem chateado, mas pelo menos isso aconteceu agora e não há 17 dias atrás.

Seguimos até Keiss onde ficamos num Inn. O dia seguinte seria curto, mas olhando a previsão na internet não era nada animador, era certo que no dia seguinte encararíamos as piores condições da viagem!

 

Lancashire, this is Lancashire

After saying goodbye to Matt and Becki, we soon had another opportunity to say goodbye to them as Natalia gained a puncture before we left the drive way. First puncture of the tour, though it didn’t take too long to change, and off we went. The thought of riding through the metropolitan Manchester area wasn’t particularly enticing for me, and I was looking forward to getting into the hills north of the city (though not before going through Bolton).

Kenworthy ParkIt was a nice surprise then that we ended up riding through the Kenworthy Wood area of the city – a nice woody area between Heald Green and Stretford. It made a change from the highways and roads we had been going along, with more of a muddy track with puddles, as well as a canal and river-side ride. Very pleasant. It just made life a little harder in that the cycle gates weren’t big enough to allow us to take our bikes with the panniers on through, so we had to carry them over barriers – pretty tough considering the weight of our bags. But still, just a minor inconvenience. Paulo got a puncture on his back tyre as well, though we saw this only at a shopping centre just after the park where we had stopped anyway to pick up supplies.

Through Bolton and the route we had planned and put onto the GPS from ridewithgps.com took us through some dodgy housing estates that weren’t particularly pleasant, so I was happy to escape them with no problems. I guess the time of the day meant that the areas were not very busy. And after Bolton we finally escaped the heavy traffic as we went over the first major hill towards Blackburn and into Lancashire – a nice moment for me as we had entered into the county where I had spent most of my life in England. The journey over the hill was lovely as well – quite dramatic on an overcast and cloudy day. It was not too steep either, just very long and constant. No problem, though we were all on lowest gear, inching up at around 8kph…!

Just over the top and into Blackburn and it started raining; rain that cleared up soon enough as we went onwards through the town and into the next hills before Lancaster. We ended up going along minor roads for a lot of the journey and the whole place was so beautiful, with the desolate winter atmosphere about it all. I know people say we are crazy doing this in winter, but it is still wonderful riding through it as it is so dramatic and picturesque – a different kind of beauty from the summer days.

We kept to these side roads for the next few hours, until it was getting dark. After our experiences going through the back roads behind Bodmin in the pitch black, we wanted to get somewhere with a bit more illumination. The route on the GPS would have taken us for longer along these roads, but I adjusted our course so we got to the heavy traffic of the A6 sooner rather than later. We got on the A6 after Garstang but before Lancaster University, so we still had a good 10km or so to go along it, but this soon went by on the smooth and flat surface, with no hills to speak of, and we got to my brother’s place in the town ahead of schedule… after 4 years or so without seeing him and his family it was great to catch up!

Passing by Jodrell Bank, 25 years or so after had a day out there...

Passing by the Jodrell Bank radio telescope station, 25 years or so after had a day out there…

Before I write more, sorry it has been a couple of days since anything was posted: quite tired so I fell behind a little; am catching up now though!

Map - Shrewsbury - Heald GreenSo yes, onwards to Manchester… Well not quite Manchester – a place called Heald Green – but it was close (and long) enough for a day’s journey, at just over 100km away from Shrewsbury. The most important thing about the route though was that it was flat, with half the amount of usual daily climbing to do. This made for a nice change, though not something that would last long as the day after the route from Heald Green to Lancaster would see us go through Bolton and up through the Pennines towards Lancaster. Also, with bodies aching a little from the journey it was nice to get a bit of respite.

At Shrewsbury, we stayed with Jon and Angie who we met through Warm Showers. Jon is a television director, and it was nice having a good chat about filming and everything. He brought out this fantastic view-finder gadget for the EOS 5Diii (probably compatible with the other 5Ds but most importantly it was with this one!)  that latched onto the screen at the back (which is, by itself, quite hard to get focus on when you are filming video) and had a long(ish) stem that at the end was able to fit comfortable over the eye – making the camera look more like a film camera. Extremely useful as the camera suddenly becomes much more comfortable to use and easier to film with. Not bad price either, so I think that will be the next thing am going to get back home….!

But anyway, back to the journey… We woke up at 6.30am with it raining and blowing a gale outside. It sounded like it was going to be one of the most miserable days ever. We looked at the BBC weather and it said that there would be sun and light wind, which we did not believe by the sounds of what was outside. So off we went downstairs all prepared for the worst; had a breakfast consisting of toast, toast and more toast. The more carbs the better, and I think all our appetites have increased substantially! By the time we had eaten, though, the rain and the wind had stopped and the sun was rising showing no clouds at all in the sky.

It got better as we left Shrewsbury, with what gentle wind there was generally behind us giving us a helping hand.

Canal at AudlemAs well as flat, the route was lovely. Through Shropshire and Cheshire, we got to go through some really nice little villages and experience the sites, sounds and smells of the English country side. The highlight for me though was passing (due to a tip given to us by our next host, Matt) Jodrell Bank – a large radio telescope station near Manchester. It was lucky going by there and one of the places my dad took my mum, sisters and myself when we were much younger. I remember my father getting us lost walking through the back roads, saying “it’s just around the corner…” trying to find it, and all of us getting more and more tired as we walked along.. Fortunately this time the GPS led us through with no problems!

We got to Heald Green at a pretty reasonable time and there we stayed with a fantastic couple (who we also met through Warm Showers…), Matt and Becki, and their son Theo…

Early start

Only 53km today, from Exeter to Taunton. We figured that with our heavy bags, it would be better for us to not consistently do 90-110km journeys (at least not in the first week or so), especially considering that the main complaint of end-to-enders is that of fatigue after the first three or four days as people are not used to riding so long on consecutive days. Okay, we are in pretty good condition from our pre-departure training, but still. Best not push ourselves too much at the start.

Exeter to TauntonIn Exeter we stayed with Sheila and Garth Thorne – a lovely couple who live near the centre and who we met through Warm Showers. It is a small world really as their brother knew my dad from the Orkney Islands, as while we lived there, my father tuned people’s pianos on the various different islands up there. He continued to do so, going up there every summer especially for this until he passed away in 2001. So when they saw my surname on warm showers, they recognised it. Very small world! Garth had also completed the LEJOG and had some good stories of his experiences on the journey. They made us feel very welcome in the house (though there was a bit of confusion as they were expecting two instead of three of us – not sure what happened, but fortunately they were able to accommodate us) and it was a fun farewell in the morning when it was rather amusing seeing us with all our bags fitting on to the bikes (and then trying to get on them..!)

The weather was great, in spite of one brief, cold rain shower as we went along. It didn’t last long at all and it quickly turned to being sunny with clouds for the rest of the time. The route took us through a number of very picturesque country villages as well – quite a contrast to the A30, where we just went through the country and didn’t get to experience much of this part of English life. The scenery, the sites, the sounds, the smells… even the temperamental weather… It all definitely reminded me why I do like England a lot (we shall see if I will still say this by the end of the journey!!).

We actually managed to arrive in Taunton by around 2.30pm, so time to make ourselves settled at the bed and breakfast here, and have  a nice pub lunch. We had decided before getting here that we would have our main lunch upon arrival, which turned out to be a bit of a shame as we passed a couple of lovely looking pubs along the way with delicious smells of sunday roasts coming out into the road. The pub we went to in Taunton itself was still nice and the food was filling – a roast beef meal… perfect!

So, about 260km complete… around another 1,240km more to do…!

Ring of Brogda, Orkney

Final destination after John O’Groats – the Orkney Islands

The next of our main training projects is coming up fast – Land’s End to John O’Groats, in the UK winter… sounds like fun..?! The route is being finalized – we are speaking to a lot of great people through warmshowers and couch surfing and it is really nice getting positive responses from them and will be a massive help. Also, I think it will make it that much more interesting as we will get to meet lots of people from across the country we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet if we stay in bed & breakfasts or our own tent for the entire route. I think that many people think we are a bit nuts doing it in the winter, but I guess they are probably right! But anyway, here is an overview of the route (not with all the stopping points) – if anybody wants to join us for any of the particular days, we would be happy to chat with you and see what can be sorted out…!

 

There are some great places that am really looking forward to passing through – down in the south we will pass through Burnham-on-Sea, where my family and I spent a long holiday in a caravan park when I was younger, and we got a fantastic stunt kite with which I almost decapitated half a dozen people on the beach when I was learning how to fly it…!  This place is close to Bristol and Bath – towns I have never been too, but have wanted to for a long time as they are really quite beautiful places.

The Ashton Memorial, Lancaster, in summer – just a bit greener than what it will be like when we are there…!

Going north and we eventually get to Lancaster, the place where I spent most of my high school and where I worked at McDonalds (I know, I know…!) for a time saving up money for my gap year in Brazil, and for general university life; Carlisle, where I went to boarding school for a couple of years; Edinburgh – lovely city just close to my university at St. Andrews (unfortunately we won’t have time to get there – really is a nice place), and then the route up to northern Scotland through to Inverness and eventually John O’Groats at the northern-most tip. To end the journey with a bit of a romantic-ish flourish, we will pop up to the Orkney Islands and the village of Stromness, where I grew up as a toddler… even staying at the old house where we lived, which is now a guest place! Really looking forward to that – I imagine that it will be a lot smaller than I remember it: I guess I was a bit pint-sized when we left the islands on the ferry for the last time about 25 years or so ago…

Our journey to Illimani didn’t start out too well when the stomach bug that had hit us returned to affect Natalia. It happened early in the morning we were due to set out and it meant that we had to postpone this journey by a day to give time and hope for Natalia to recover. When we did set off, she did seem a bit better but it was clear that all was not fully well.

Though Illimani appears to be very close to La Paz, the journey there takes a good three-four hours. The roads are incredible: carved from nothing along the sides of mountains en-route, terrifyingly steep drops on the edges; spectacular views and can be good fun to drive on. You can see areas of the mountains where landslides have come down over the road though since been cleared up. The road to Illimani for me at least seemed more treacherous than the Yungas “Death Road”  we had cycled down at the beginning of our journey in Bolivia, with even more tighter corners and falls that maybe were not quite so vertical, but were equally lethal should a driver get a bit carried away. The only reason why the road was not considered more dangerous was because the Yungas Road was a main trunk road and the road to Illimani much less frequently used, so less prone to accidents.

What was amazing that along the road is that you pass so many tiny farms in the mountain, with a few Andean girls tending to crops and animals. It seemed so steep that it would be impossible to do anything there. But they, impressively, managed to make a living there.

Illimani slowly but surely grew larger before us as we went around the continual twists and turns in the road. Every now and then it became obscured by the slopes  but then peaked out in the beautiful weather – sunny, calm, blue skies… it was all set to be perfect climbing conditions over the next couple of days. Eventually the road came to and end in a small village further up in a valley that led to the base camp for the mountain – a camp that was a gentle two hour hike away. Again, splendid views of the mountain through the trees – the mountain looked even more fantastic to climb. A couple of mules and a small boy came along and this time we were able to load our main rucksacks on to them to carry to the camp. So it was set to be quite easy for us.

We got going at a gentle pace, though soon it was clear that Natalia had not recovered properly at all. Her stomach pains returned and in spite of having calmed down over the previous day, diarrhea struck. She kept going though the hike transformed into a four-hour struggle for her. We got to base camp an hour or so before dusk and she pretty much collapsed into the tent once it was set up. It was clear that she wouldn’t be able to continue to the next camp. So it was decided that she and José would remain in base camp: apparently there have been some robberies at the camp and disputes between local communities there make it slightly dangerous (in one dispute, one community had blocked off the stream that went to the other side of the valley and as such the other community put a dead animal in the water of the former…). Probably nothing would happen, though it was for the best. This meant that Caleb and I would tackle the mountain by ourselves, even though Caleb had never gone up it before. Furthermore, we would go straight to high camp in the morning instead of taking a day at Camp I, before attempting to summit in the early following morning. It promised to be a marathon couple of days.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

After final preparations with more skills training on the afternoon after coming down from Austria, we went to bed in order to wake up at 1.30am to go up Pequeño Alpamayo. The reason we get up so early to go to the mountains rather than getting up during daylight hours is that it is much safer to complete the majority of the ascent when it is dark – once the sun is out, ice starts melting and things become a little less stable. Also, in these parts of the Andes, the weather has a habit of starting perfectly, and then turning bad in the afternoon as air from the rainforest rises… and the forecast for this day was for poor weather to come in after midday.

So it was; we woke up at 1am to get our stuff ready. Natalia was feeling better so we decided that she would give it a shot, and the weather was still, dry and completely clear – perfect conditions. Caleb called out for hot drinks and we had our cereal… headlamps on… and off we went. It was an hour or so hike along steadily higher terrain to the start of the glacier which we would ascend to begin the main assault on the peak. Unfortunately as we got closer to the glacier, Natalia’s stomach pains returned with aggression and she felt nauseous, so we thought that it would be best for her to go back. José went back with her, and carried her rucksack, which was a good job as later Natalia later commented that even with the headlamp it was very easy to lose the trail. We went on to the glacier, where we put on our crampons and linked into our rope team. I was with Kirk and Caleb, and when José got back (really, he has masses of energy and didn’t take long to catch up with us in spite of having been back to base camp!) he linked up with Augusto, who admitted that he felt pretty slow.

The glacier was straightforward. A gradual ascent, with no crevasses and no nasty falls. When we got to the top, it was sunrise and we could see the red light falling across the valley behind us as well as glowing on the snow on the peaks above us. The summit of Pequeño Alpamayo was not immediately visible. We still had to go up a number of other slopes until we got to see it. When the peak did reveal itself, however, both Kirk and I looked at it and just thought “wow”… it simply towered above us with steep 45-50 degree slopes leading up to it. The glacier itself had been nothing in comparison to what was to come and it was clear that we still had a lot of work to do.

As the sun rose and we moved onwards, we eventually got to a point where there was a snow platform from which we would have to traverse a narrow pass to climb a rock formation. It must have been about ten metres long with a steadily decreasing width to the thinnest part which was about couple of feet wide. On either side of these two feet were almost vertical falls going down for… I don’t know.. I guess a few hundred metres or so. Enough. Remembering how altitude has the effect of making things go much slower, this was not good, and with my not having the greatest head in the world for heights, this was not something that looked particularly enjoyable to me. Rock climbing is different – you are generally protected against the falls. With this, I was in a rope team with two other people and if I fell, I would have to depend on their reflexes to secure themselves with ice-axes to stop the whole team from falling. With these thoughts in my mind, the pass was simply terrifying for me. Augusto later commented that he had his heart in his mouth when he saw me going over it, with there being a bit too much slack on the rope and it getting tangled in my crampons. By the time I did get across and join Kirk and Caleb on the other side on the rocks, I was almost hyperventilating… but I managed it.

Reaching the summit and descending the mountain —–>

La Paz is high. Over 3,500 metres (and the airport at El Alto is at just over 4,000 metres) – coming from São Paulo at around 760 metres above sea level, this is a bit of a change. Altitude sickness starts to become more common for travellers reaching 2,400 metres, so we are a bit higher than this.

During my time in Tibet and also Colombia, I had been to some pretty high places and had generally got by okay with standard acclimatization – relaxing for a few days before doing anything strenuous. Natalia hasn’t had quite so much experience and when we were in Quito last time, it was slightly harder for her, so this time she also prepared by taking Diamox (a drug for Glaucoma but also commonly used for helping climbers with altitude sickness). When we arrived in La Paz on Monday evening, we were prepared for an environment which would leave us slightly breathless.

We didn’t feel much at first – though we did just stroll along at the airport, and then it was a taxi to the hotel. It was an amazing view, by the way, as we came down from the airport. El Alto looks a bit of a slum and hides much of the city of La Paz, but as you start descending, you get a fantastic view over the city down the valley, with the snowy peaks of Illimani a beautiful backdrop to the place. When we got to the hotel, I carried both the bags for a while and that certainly left me short of breath. We both noticed quite quickly that our mouths became dry very frequently and we definitely needed to keep drinking plenty of water.

After having been shown around the hotel, we just relaxed and rested for the night in our room. I read for a while, while Natalia slept. A rather alarming thing happened in that Natalia got up to go to the bathroom, and she said that she was thirsty. When she was walking, it looked like that she was drunk, and then when she got back, she closed the door behind her and tried to switch on the light. But she collapsed and bashed her head against the door handle. Fortunately, she was okayish, though she couldn’t remember exactly what happened. I gave her more water and she recovered – just a bit of pain on the side of her face. Not sure exactly for the reasons for this – whether it was due to the altitude, maybe she needed more water (though she didn’t see dehydrated), though at the same time I noticed that one of the side effects of Diamox is confusion/disorientation – climbers have commented about how on the first day of using Diamox, they felt like they were climbing after having had a few drinks. Everything turned out okay in the end though.

So yesterday, we just wondered around La Paz – up the main trunk road to the San Francisco Church – a former convent that was constructed in the mid-16th Century (quite splendid inside, with an amazing chapel and a host of religions paintings as well as an impressive exterior which features a host of catholic and indigenous carvings in the stone) – and enjoying the restaurants (Llama meat was really very nice!). Bolivians seem to like their fried chicken and desserts (a hundred metre queue for one dessert shop was quite impressive – though we didn’t wait in line to find out what the delights there were really like. We probably walked steadily over the day for about six hours or so (with breaks for sitting, eating etc), and while we were occasionally short of breath, we felt okay on the whole and were pleased with the way things had gone.

As a note, the difference between being in the sun and the shade was quite impressive – really felt quite cool in the shade and we needed our fleeces, though we were easily able to walk in just t-shirts in the sunlight. But something I forgot from my time in Tibet was how bright the sun can be. Even with the pretty dark mountaineering sunglasses (with side protection as well to make sure that the eyes are full protected from snow-blindness while out in blinding white snow conditions) my eyes hurt a little and I was grateful to have taken them with me just for a day trip.

Finally, one of the … more interesting… parts of the day was at a cash machine, and we thought we would record a little for prosperity… (speaking in Portuguese, but it should be quite easy to see what was happening…)