Tag Archives: camping
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!

26. Jan, 2010

Isla de Amantani

Isla de Amantani

A three hour boat ride from Puno is a small island called Amantani, located with Lake Titikaka. The people who inhabit this island are referred to as Amantanians. They are considered Incans since they still speak the native Incan language of Quechua.

We stayed at a house with a lady named Matilda, and her family. Talking with the husband, we find out that he has never left the island and has knowledge of the last 5 generations of his family living here. The are a simple people and live off of mainly soup, and vegetables. Everyone chews coca leaves, and coca tea as well as muña tea are also a staple here. Muña tea is very good also, and taste a little like mint.

There are two mountains on the island, Pachamama and Pachatata. Pachamam is the name of the female deity, and Pachatata is the name of the male deity. Hiking to the top of Pachatata is a fantastic view. It was overcast and drizzling all day, but the view was still amazing. Both mountains have temples on the top of them. Pachatata, 150 meters above Lake Titikaka, you’ll find a square temple. Pachamama, 200 meters above Lake Titikaka, you’ll find a round temple. The temple is only open one day a year in January.

Still drizzling outside, we joined the Amantanians for some local dance and music. A Incan hoe-down if you will. There was about for guys playing drums, guitar, a pan pipe, and the 10 string guitar. The women in their vibrant dresses, and the men in their ponchos danced with any of the guest on the island. One of the things they like to do, is “crack the whip”. Everyone holds hands and creates a giant circles. Then you all start running in the same direction as the circle becomes distorted and “whip” the people on the end. If was definitely a night to remember.


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.


25. Nov, 2009

Pico Duarte

It was Saturday afternoon when we arrived in La Cienega, a small pueblo an hours drive outside of Jarabacoa. The plan, was to get aquanted with the area, and come back around 4am to climb Pico Duarte and return back to La Cienega all in the same day. Right away we ran into a problem. They, the guards with big guns, will not allow you to begin your hike in the dark. So our only alternative is to start this afternoon by 4pm, and hike 4km to the first camp which is called Los Tablones.

The other issue was finding a guide. Luckly, we had a contact. “Mon”. Mon is the head of the guides. So we asked around and finally found Mon. Mon recommended us a guy named “Ziro”. We needed a guide who could do this hike in one day, and Ziro was our man. The price was 600 pesos per day with a 3 day minimum. So even if you hike the mountain in 1 day, it will cost you 1800 pesos for your guide! Ouch! We were not expecting that. But what were we supposed to do? 1800 pesos for the guide, and another 150 pesos per person for entrance into the park.

It was now almost 4pm so we needed to start hiking and get to Las Tablones before night fall. Lucky for us, Mon was able to round up a couple of sleeping bags for us to sleep in for Los Tablones. Ziro, was going to show up at 3am and we would start our main ascent then.

The hike to Las Tablones is an easy one. Literally 4km and 45 minutes later we were there. We may have ascended a 100-200 feet, but the hike itself was easy. We met a couple other people from New York as Las Tablones that were going up the next day also. After not much of a dinner, we went to sleep early. We had a long day a head of us, and had to wake up early.

Since we slept on concrete, we did not get much sleep and 3am came by to fast! Ziro was waking us up, and we were on our way. We literally went from a dead sleep to hiking within 10 minutes. No time for breakfast or any food. We just started the hike. About 1km into our walk, there was a stream which we were told was the last water till we made it to Aquitas Fritas about 12km away. We drank some water, then filed up as much as we could carry. For me, that was 24 ounces.

For the next 6 hours and 50 minutes we assended to 8900 feet on a trail that was barely fit for a goat. With 20-30% inclines on sand, mud, and loose rocks, coupled with hiking in the dark, and no food, it was almost a certain recipe for disaster. Despite a small bout of leg cramps, minimal dehydration, and fighting low blood sugar, we made it.

Along the way we stopped at Aguita Fria to replentish our water supply. Aguita Fria is little more than a trickle of a spring. The water is full of alge, and your kitchen faucet produces more water. But hey, water is water. And this water was like gold once you get there.

From Aguita Fria to La Compartición is another 4km. After the gruling ascend between Las Tablones and Aquita Fria, this was almost easy. I say almost because the trail is downhill, but full of switchbacks and very loose rocks. Footing is very shakey, especially since you are tired from the previous ascent.

Once at La Compartición we rested about 1/2 hour before our final assent to Pico Duarte. There was no water at La Compartición when we were there. Lucky, there is a small spring not to far away. But it is a little hike to get there. And of course, it’s downhill. So you have to hike back up, after you get your water.

From La Compartición to Pico Duarte is 4km and almost 2000 vertical feet! After about 2km into the hike, I developed servere tendonitis in my left knee. I could no longer walk. So our guide Ziro, and my friend Thomas, continued without me. I rested for a good half hour and my knee was still in a lot of pain. I tried to walk, but couldn’t. So with a couple of sticks and shoestrings, I splinted my knee and headed back towards La Compartición.

Thomas and Ziro made the ascent and arrived back at La Compartición at 2pm. They would no longer allow us to continue back to La Cienega today. So we had to spend the night. Of course, this would be fun. We had no sleeping bag, and had not prepared enough food to spend the night on top of the mountain. Lucky for us, the other couple from New York was spending the night at La Compartición and were going to make the ascent the next day. They had extra food and we had the best rice and corn beef hash ever!

That night, we again lucked out. The couple from New York paid good money for this “all inclusive” trip and were able to sleep inside by a fireplace. We joined them. I slept on the wooden floor, while Thomas “rented” a mattress for 200 pesos. I think the mattrass was more psychological than anything. Because it was about an inch and a half thick, and I doubt kept him any warmer than me. It got down to about 3C that night and the fire kept us alive. We would sleep for 15 minutes or a half and hour, then wake up cold. Get more wood, stoke the fire, and fall asleep again for another 15-30 minutes.

Finally 4am arrived and we were on our way back down the mountain. For me, the trip downt the mountain was probably worse than the trip up. This was because I had two walking sticks for balance and my knee was still in a splint. It was not fun, but we made it. About 30 hours after we left, we arrived back in La Cienega were we started the day before.

Hiking Pico Duarte is not fun. It’s painful and you should ride a mule if you decide to do it. But, I now own the distiction of saying I hiked the highest mountain in the Caribbean. Even if I did fall short 2km from the top.


As a side note:
There was some excitement in La Cienega while we were gone. In small pueblo’s like this, domestic violence is all to common. Some guy decided he wanted to kill his wife for whatever reason. So he stabs her. She falls to the ground and lies there bleeding. He must have been drunk or something. Because feeling a sense of accomplishment of killing his wife, he sits down at the table and decides to have a drink. Unfortunately, the cup he picked up was full of brake fluid. In the end, he died from drinking the break fluid and his wife lived.