13 June 12. This is the first opportunity that Team 2 has had to share their experiences since departing the UK 8 days ago (due to computer issues and possibly a bit of laziness)….
36 hrs after excitedly meeting at Heathrow, 3 flights down and several dubious meals, we arrived at La Paz airport on 6th June, at an altitude 3600m. Much to our delight we were bused to a fairly pleasant hotel in central La Paz where we were able to nap and shower before starting another sleep deprived day. This was the start of the research diaries! Half of the Team took a bus tour while the others decided to roam the streets of La Paz to experience it’s atmosphere and sights; imagine inclines similar to Bristol, in a bowl shape, with old cobblestoned streets around the higher ground and the ‘new’ city progressing towards the trough. The ‘rich’ live in lower ‘oxygen rich’ ground and as you progress up the slope the housing gets more and more poor. Most notably the streets of La Paz are COVERED in market stalls and small shops, with each street seeming to have a specific trade e.g. ‘the plumbing street’. The dried Llama foetus’ hanging from some of the stalls caused much discussion; we found out the Bolivian people burn them and bury the ashes for luck!!! Dinner that night was at La Comodie where the Team heartily dug into Llama and Argentinian steaks over a few glasses of wine.
Day 2 involved a 3 hr bus drive to Copacobana on Lake Titicaca, followed by a short walk over the hills so the serious research could begin, in a hotel room, much like being on a conveyor belt we all experienced Jo and Kelly measuring obs, Tim and Harvey enthusiastically taking our blood before Andy L quickly pipetted and centrifuged the samples, Dave measuring cardiac outputs using a computer and electrodes (?!?!) and Kevin struggling to obtain an Echo. For the next 24 hrs we had to collect and note our fluid intake and urine output; definitely more of a challenge for the girls!!!
We stayed overnight in Copacobana, in a Lake-side hotel (almost forgetting we’re at work!), experiencing the slightly hippy atmosphere and locally caught Trout. One restaurant in Copacaobana will not be forgetting us any-time soon after Laura refused to pay for food which was late and cold; she used her best ‘Spanglish’ to get her point across to the restaurant owner.
Day 3 saw the Team Doc suffering gastroenteritis after ‘a dodgy beer’ and a few others still suffering AMS (headaches, difficulties sleeping and nausea mostly). We took a boat trip over Lake Titicaca (which is vast!) to Sun Island, where we visited a Sacred Temple to the Inca Gods and wandered around the Island learning more about the local population. On the return boat trip a few ‘enthusiastic’ (or hypoxic??) Team members, led by Liz, jumped into the Lake ‘just to say they’d done it’. I was happy just to take photos. That night we returned to La Paz, having dinner at Mongos with live music and a few Mojotos (it’s almost rude not to at £2.50 each!).
Day 4 was spent as a rest day in La Paz, with some people hoping to acclimatise. Inevitably most people went shopping for their ponchos and Llama hats, as well as stocking up on chocolate and babywipes for morale on the mountains.
Day 5 saw us leaving La Paz to begin the main objective of the trip (other than the research of course)…climbing the mountains. We drove to a height approximately 200m below our day’s target height and walked towards ‘Roadhead’ to meet a tired, rather slim, but surprisingly not too smelly Team 1. It was great catching up on Team 1’s ‘war stories’, gaining bits of essential kit and knowledge from them. We waved goodbye to Team 1 and again had another round of research in a door-less mud-brick building at 4200m. Needless to say veins were a little harder to find and some of the equipment proved a little temperamental. Aims achieved we eventually settled into our tent accommodation just as a heavy hailstone ‘shower’ began, despite the ‘5% risk of precipitation’ we were promised before arriving! Communal food, which was a gratefully received warm 3 course meal (probably not quite what you’re imagining) was in the same mud-brick building, followed by a few select members playing cards; ‘Cheat’ proved a little too difficult for a few ‘honest’ people and made us wary of some of the others. All Team members were tucked up in their sleeping bags by 2130!
Day 6 saw Liz celebrating her 24th Birthday as a ‘rest day’ at 4200m; most people decided to take a ‘stroll’ to 4950m, hoping this would help with acclimatisation. The views of the mountains we are aiming to climb saw most of us gaining in enthusiasm for the next few days. Dan surprised us with yet another hat, this time it was a tweed flat cap. That night we had another ‘3 course meal’ with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, followed by a larger group partaking in card games; after the failure of ‘Cheat’ the previous night, Kate introduced a successful game of ‘Sh*thead’.
Day 7 we disassembled the camp at ‘Roadhead’ and made our way to Basecamp at 4700m; the main ascent occurred in the last few metres to ensure we were thoroughly shattered on reaching Basecamp (it could have been an Oasis!!). Luckily donkeys carried our main kit-bags, and we were invited by the local guides to share their food on arrival at Basecamp to celebrate ‘a job well done’. We set up camp again, this time with a real Mess tent, and again a few members took a stroll around the valley and nearby peaks. We named one of the small mammals we saw a ‘squabbit’, having no idea what it is. Kelly and Jo were quite excited on finding a copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ in the Mess tent. Dinner in the Mess Tent proved quite cosy, especially with everybody wearing Duvet jackets. Over half of the group then engaged in team ‘Sh*thead’, with the stakes for the losing team being to supply ‘Bed Tea’ to everyone the following morning; Jon and Elaine unfortunately lost in a close, nail-biting finish with Emma and Kate.
Today is Day 8 and is a rest day for acclimatisation. Cleaning our clothes in the glacial stream and the very brave having a wash has been the main highlight ready for a big day tomorrow!
In summary, despite a few people suffering from the altitude and upset stomachs, we are all coping well and are still enthusiastically looking forward to the next few days climbing. The research is nearly over, I’m sure much to Adrian and Dave’s relief, and we’ve had some great laughs and adventures to share on our return.