Civil Unrest Doesn't Stop a Great Trek
Bolivia was suffering a little unrest in 2005 when I booked my flight to La Paz. Peaceful protests had morphed into violence. The Europeans that had booked the same trek backed out. Through email the guide Guillermo assured me that the trek was still on, even if I was the only one signed up.
That’s exactly how it turned out. A little local unrest that has nothing to do with tourists won’t put the brakes on a trip for me. So, it was me, Guillermo, and a porter doing double-duty as a cook, on a twelve-day hike in the Cordillera Real, a stretch of the Andes with 5000 meter passes, 6000 meter peaks, picturesque lakes, and wild llamas (and domestic ones, too).
It was a long, rough ride out to the trailhead in a jeep properly equipped for the rutted and twisty mountain road. The next morning I peeped out of my tent to see that it had snowed a couple inches overnight. It was September. The following days brought more snow, and one day it rained constantly and the clouds were thick enough to obscure the peaks. A day like that is a blight to any hiker: slippery footing and no rewarding views.
Most of the walking gave me vistas of craggy, snowy peaks and deep blue placid lakes. In the higher passes the altitude was an enemy, sapping energy, requiring me to slow down and draw more breaths per step. This trek was primitive—no lodges, only tents. No tiny village we passed through had running water. I had to wash my face, neck, and nether regions in icy lakes and streams. This twelve days was the longest I had ever endured without a proper shower.
The last couple of days was a long descent. With lower elevations come higher temperatures and humidity. It was here we met an elderly Japanese fellow living the solitary life with cats. When I told him I lived in New Mexico, he went inside his little stone house and came back with a metal box. After leafing through the contents, he soon showed me what he was looking for: a post card from my adopted state. He had an extensive collection from around the globe and he was very proud.
When we arrived at the town at the end of the trail, I showered twice within two hours. That wasn’t necessary. It just felt so good.