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03. Feb, 2010

Huayna Potosi

Huayna Potosi

Huayna Potosi, at 6088 meters, is one of the highest mountains in Boliva. I got this crazy idea to go climb the thing. Why? I dont’ know. Because I can, because it’s there. So anyways, after checking around, I made arrangements to go climbing.

Leaving La Paz in the morning, you drive up to the base of Huayna Potosi, and start your climb around noon. The drive up there is amazing. Or at least it was to me. You wind your way through a few pueblos and end up in the high country which I would describe as tundra. You are well above the timber line, so no trees grow here. You’ll see some scrub brush and llamas grazing all around. Off in the distance you can see the base of Huayna Potosi. This mountain is huge! Or at least it was to me! Covered in snow and glaciers, the summit can’t yet be seen as it is hidden far above the clouds.

After passing by a platinum mine, you wind your way up the mountain, driving past a small lake until you reach the end of the road. The rest of the way to the summit is by foot.

At over 4500 meters, the air is thin, and your lungs can feel it with every step you take. Hiking up the trail and climbing over boulders and rocks becomes a real challenge. Climbing higher and higher, you become engulfed in a cloud, and the landscape seems surreal. Off to your left, you pass by a glacier, and the water flowing out from underneath it is almost emerald green. Nothing grows up here except for the occasional small clump of short grass. Not even enough for any animal to eat. About 2 hours later, with the temperature dropping, and the air thinning, you finally reach base camp at over 5100 meters. Here is where you spend the night before attempting your ascent, early the next morning.

The base camp consists of an outhouse, a kitchen sheltered by a tarp, and the main cabin, where you eat and sleep. There’s no heat or fireplace here, so I hope you brought some warm and dry clothes. The temperatures reach -15C at night, and you never seem to be able to warm up.

I’ve never been this high before, and it was a real awakening for me. With most your clothes on, you lay curled up inside your sleeping bag trying to keep warm. You dare not move, because every move you make, your body finds another cold spot that sends cold shivers straight to your bones. The air you breath is cold and thin.

Imagine running a 1/4 mile at a pretty brisk pace. When you are done, you are not overly tired, but you have depleted yourself of oxygen and your breathing is deep as you gasp for air. Well, that’s the same feeling you get as you sleep! Lying perfectly still, you are always out of breath. Oh yes, and did I mention it was pretty damn cold too?

There’s no light here, so when the sun goes down, it’s time for bed. And you need all the sleep you can get. Around midnight you wake up, have as much breakfast as you can stomach, then start your ascent to the summit well into the night.

Myself, along with 7 other guys, woke up at midnight, and started our ascent around 1am. Less than 100 yards from the main cabin, you stop and affix your crampons to your climbing boots. From this point forward, it’s all snow and ice.

You climb start at about a 35-45 degree incline. And literally, you are taking baby steps. With each step you take, you gasp for air, and your legs feel like they have 50 pound weights attached to them. It’s all you can do to concentrate, placing one foot in front of another. Again, and again, and again. Slowly making progress, up the steep incline towards the summit.

As your hiking, sooner or later, you hit a soft and your legs sink into the snow up to your hips! Ugh! Now you much expend even more energy, that you don’t have, to pull yourself out, and start on and upwards again. This cycle repeats itself over and over again.

I remember being so fatigued that I just wanted to fall asleep. And given the opportunity, I’m sure it would have been no problem. However, if you fall asleep here, you’ll die in no time. So it’s not such a good idea to take a nap.

Chewing a wad a coca leaves on one side of my mouth, I would stuff chocolate in the other side of my mouth to get some quick energy. The funny thing was, the chocolate would never melt! Not even in my mouth. Maybe that will give you an idea of how cold it was up there.

At one point, I made my way over a crevice. You walk along an 18 inch path that on both sides drops off. In front of you, is a shear vertical wall that goes straight up. Upon reaching the end of the small path, you leap forward, digging your ice pick and crampons into the wall in front of you. Slowly, you scale up the wall making new foot holes with your crampons, and by placing your ice pick higher and higher. Eventually, your back on terrain that you can walk on once again.

I made it to 5500 meters before I could go no further and decided to turn back. Actually, I could have gone further, but there was no way I would have ever made it to the summit at over 6000 meters. I just didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t breath, I was cold, I was tired. I just couldn’t do it. No excuses, the mountain won!

Later that day, I discovered only 4 of the 8 people that started actually made it to the summit. Some were just to fatigued like me. While others got altitude sickness and started vomiting uncontrollable.

Huayna Potosi kicked my butt! But it’s an experience I’ll never forget. And if your the kind of person who like challenges, then Huayna Potosi is definitely for you!

31. Jan, 2010

The Death Road

The Death Road

There’s a road located in the mountains above La Paz that was once, or still is, the most dangerous road in the world. Because of this, it has earned the name “The Death Road”! For between $70 and $85 USD, local tour companies are more then willing to drive you up there, and take you on a guided tour down this 63 kilometer road. Obviously, this is something I cant pass up.

I choose a company called “Madness” for a couple of reasons. One, their prices were pretty damn good! Second, they have top notch equipment and their bikes rock! Third, Beatrize and Fernado the owners, are really really good people.

Leaving La Paz very very early in morning, you start by get fitted for all your equipment. Pants, reflective jacket, gloves, bike, and of course your helmet.

We arrived at the top of the mountain somewhere after 8am amidst a snow storm. Yes, at 4700 meters, it was snowing outside! This was going to be a fun day. Not exactly what I signed up for or was expecting, but fun nevertheless.

Because of the conditions, I was unable to take as many photos as I wanted. So I’ll try to describe as best as I can, what happened that day.

After a brief introduction of how to ride a bike, we were off. Riding single file down the first part of the mountain, the road is paved. Not 500 meters into the ride, CRASH! Down goes our guide. The first victim of road rash! Ouch! Nothing bad. But if our guide goes down, and he has to be the most experienced and best rider by far, I’m wondering what the rest of the day has in store for us!

Remember, its a combination of rain and snow falling pretty heavily on us now. The road is wet and slippery, and everyone is soaked with freezing rain all the way to their skin! There are buses and cars everywhere, and this section of the road is pretty busy. It’s a main highway.

Without much effort at all, you can easily do 60-70 kph on these mountain bikes. In better conditions, and with a road bike, I know I could easily hit 100 kph or more. It’s a pretty damn fun road to ride!

About 20 kilometers later, we stop at at a checkpoint where you have to pay 25 B’s. From this point forward, the cars continue on down the “new” paved highway. We leave the pavement in exchange for the “old” gravel road where so many have died!

I’ve never really ridden a mountain bike. Well, not like these. I bet they have 18 inches of travel in the front forks alone, with more suspension in the rear. They are probably impossible to use for ridding uphill, and a real pain in the ass to ride over level terrain. But for downhill, these bikes kick ass!

At first, I was trying to cut my path by choosing the safest and flattest route, avoiding rocks and potholes as much as possible. After awhile of getting used to the bike, you can haul ass and choose the straightest line possible. Regardless of any rocks, potholes or other obstacles they may be your way.

As we descend in elevation, the terrain became very tropical. With ivy, ferns, and waterfalls everywhere. In every way, very reminiscent of the movie “Jurassic Park”. Infact, there were a couple comments made from others that if they were to see a dinosaur appear, they wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Along the way, we stopped at a couple of areas that were marked with plaques or crosses, to remind us of others that have died biking the same course as we were on.

About four hours later, we made it to the coca fields at the bottom of the mountain, and the end of our adventure. My shoes, sock and rest of my clothes were still wet from the rain and show that morning. But overall, it was a pretty damn good day!

24. Jan, 2010

Historical District of Lima

Historical District of Lima

Taking a city bus from Miraflores to the historical district of downtown Lima cost 1.2 soles, and is about a 1/2 hour trip. Once downtown, again, we just walked around in amazement. There are parks everywhere, and the cleanliness is something we have not seen for some time. Especially after spending so much time in the Dominican Republic prior to this trip.

There are basically two main parks in the Historical district, San Martin and Main Square. San Martin there is a huge park with statue of a big ass horse right in the middle of it. There is also a movie theater here. And the amazing part, at least to me, is that movies where only 5 soles each. So that’s about $1.65. Everything in Lima seems like a good deal to me. From there, you can walk to the Main Square with shops and vendors all along the way. All the vendors are really nice and not pushy at all. Its a welcome change.

Main Square is just that, the main square. The Catedral de Lima is there along with the Government Palace with the changing of the guard. Thousands of people just hang out there every day. Once you get them talking, they are really great. Short as hell, but wonderful people one you get to know them.

22. Jan, 2010

Casa Las Columnas

Casa Las Columnas

It was now time to get off the beaten path and find how some “real” people live. So after asking a few people, we headed across the Rio Rimac in search of some real barios.

The average person here makes 500 soles per month. Thats about $175USD. So we know, Miraflores is not the typical Peruvian lifestyle. We found our bario and got permission to go in and take some photos. The most interesting thing is that despite lacking what other would consider necessities, these people seem happy and are really fun to be around.

Built in the 1600’s Miss Theresa runs Casa Las Columnas for the homeless and needy. Fifty three families live here and the city wants to turn this place into a museum. Hopefully, she’ll get what she needs to continue her plight of helping people.

15. Jan, 2010

Bravissimo

Bravissimo

At night, the Ocean World Casino presents a Vegas style show they call Bravissimo. The dancers, costumes, and music is nothing less than first class! If you have never been to Vegas, this is about as close as you can get. And being that this show takes place in the Dominican Republic, it’s nothing less than amazing!

Starting at 9pm and lasting approximately one hour, after taking your seat, get ready for the show to begin. With a combination of Latin music ranging from Samba to Bachata, the performers sing, dance, and simply wow the audience with every number they perform. Between each song all the performers change costumes. And these costumes are nothing less that spectacular! (more…)

12. Jan, 2010

Cave Diving in the Dominican Republic

Cave Diving in the Dominican Republic

Today, I tried something new…cave diving!

A couple months back, I met with a guy who owned a dive shop in Santo Domningo. I asked him, “What’s so special about diving the Dominican Republic?” “The Caves”, he answered! Hmmmm, I thought. I’ve never done that before. Sounds fun!

So today, I met with a Dive Master in Boca Chica, just East of the capital, Santo Domingo. Normally when I dive, I get into a boat. Or sometimes I just head down the beach and walk right into the ocean. But not today. Today, I’m getting into a mini-van! Today is going to be a new experience for sure. (more…)

29. Nov, 2009

Playa Esmeralda

Playa Esmeralda

On the North Coast near Miches, you will find a small Pueblo called La Mina. This is the gateway to Playa Esmeralda, one of the most beautiful and unspoiled beached in the Dominican Republic. Here you will find another dirt road heading North towards the coast. The drive isn’t far, but because the road is in such poor condition, it will take you about 25 minutes to reach the coast from La Mina.

We were foolish enough to drive it at night when it was pitch black! There is a fork in the road and you must go left. First we went left, and after navigating around numerous “body bags” and almost getting stuck in some mud. We decided we must have taken a wrong turn, so we headed back to the fork, and went right this time.

After seeing several giant toads, giant crabs, and a couple of Tarantulas cross the road, it was getting a little bit eery going down this road alone at night. Tired and hungry, you had to squinting to see the road ahead of you. We had no idea what they were, but there were “body bags” everywhere! White bags big enough that you could fit a body in. You would be driving down the road, pitch black, and would have to swerve because this damn body bag was right in the middle of the road. I’d be damned if I was getting out of the car to check to see what was inside one of these bags. And every now and again, we would see a small one. Just large enough to hold maybe a head! OMG! We were scaring ourselves to death!

 

Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, some big bird comes swooping down out of the black abyss, inches from our car, and right in line with our headlights! All I hear was a scream! The car swerves… then yelling and cursing! Mother f*$k3r, Damn it, this is not the way. No way! We are turning back RIGHT NOW! I was laughing my ass off!

We turn around, go back to the fork, and head left one more time. This time we drive further and finally find the beach! It’s pitch black when we setup our tent, but we were excited we finally made it. It looked beautiful, but we would have to wait until morning to really see where we were.

Morning came and we were eaten alive by bugs! But, the beach was beautiful! Nothing like a swim in the ocean to wake yourself up in the morning. Some security guards came by and said how they would protect us during the night. The were actually very nice. Venezuelans own the land by the beach, and the security guards where there to protect the land. From what? I dont know. But they were doing a good job cause the land was still there, and the beach was as beautiful as can be.

After breakfast we headed back into the town of La Mina to get our defenses against the mosquitos and fleas for the next night. Bug repellant, Baygon, and a slow burning anti-mosquito coil. They didn’t have a chance tonight!

We drove back to Playa Esmeralda and could see the body bags in the daytime now. We actually drove through a rice field and the “body bags” where bags of raw rice that fell off the truck ! Oh well, I still like the idea of seeing body bags at night. It makes for a good story!

Back at Playa Esmeralda we hiked down the beach to the point and went skin diving. Along the way we found a new spot to put our tent. It would be our All Inclusive Resort for the weekend! And there were less bugs there too. We moved the tent, fumigated the area, and setup our new camp. It was heaven on Earth! Better than Gilligan’s Island, and even better than Swiss Family Robinson. We were living in style now!

That night, we build a bonfire, ate dinner, and drank cold margaritas around the campfire. As the stars twinkled above, and the rays of the moon lite up the ocean, Playa Esmeralda was the most beautiful spot in the Dominican Republic tonight.

[mappress]

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