We’ll meet at "base camp" on Calle Illampu, above the chicken vendor. Here we will find a Swiss expatriate, who long ago settled in La Paz, and who rents all kinds of mountain equipment. This shop, a veritable trekking, climbing and camping bazaar, known only to the initiated few, is a testament to trek culture and to the great adventure that lies in wait at the Cordillera Real.
Following alongside the mule drivers who lead our caravan across Andes, we move along trails which reveal wide-open spaces, unexpected meetings, and which bring us closer to discovering our surroundings and ourselves. We dare to expose ourselves to the unexpected.
The Cordillera Real is first and foremost, a territory,
people and mountains. Better than a series of sporting exploits, during this trek, you will learn the fascinating history of this mountain range.
Guided by our mule caravan, we will walk the highlands, at the foot of the snowy glaciers of the Cordillera Real. The mules are not only faithful road trip companions, but also served as ancient means of transport for the Aymaras and Incas who travelled this region to trade dried llama meat and dehydrated potatoes for fruits and other products from the Amazon. We will challenge ourselves to a 6,000 meter high peak, the Huayna Potosi, to experience the real sensation of finding ourselves at the crossroads of worlds: the Andes mountain range stretching westward as far as the eye can see, the illuminated city of La Paz to the South with the Sajama peak visible in the background on a clear day, and the beginnings of the Amazon to the North.
From here, we move towards the lush vegetation of the Yungas. As we descend, temperatures rise, the air becomes humid and the landscapes more verdant.
On the way, we will stop to share in the Andean lifestyle
We endeavor to experience and to understand this unique territory at the crossroads of the Aymara, Quechua and Spanish worlds. We are welcomed by our guides, our muleteers, and our fellow travelers. We meet the fishermen of the minor part of Lake Titicaca, who have learned to navigate their environment by crafting boats from Totora, the reeds at the lake edge. We’ll learn about cultivating the Altiplano fields and how to live at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters. Jaime and his son Denys, natives of the Cordillera, are experts in fishing with their bare hands in frozen streams and in the technique of dehydrating potatoes.
The history of the mountain range will be told to us by our guides: one region, one guide. At each place, a local will accompany us. Along the way, we invite you to discover some of their stories.
Like a meditative ritual, together we will rediscover that what surrounds us. As we walk, we will find ourselves dreaming and reinventing ourselves, as if carried by the magic of the Altiplano. We may miss out on a little sleep, but nothing else. We try to live a simpler and more sober life, centered about the Earth, and motivated by the need to rethink our environment and our daily life.
Quewaya - Cojata
We leave La Paz early in the morning in the direction of the Lake Titicaca islands. Specifically, we are headed towards the minor part of the lake, which will serve as the starting point for our Andean epic. Guided by local fishermen and boat-makers, we sail from Pariti Island to Suriki Island.
Cojata - Peñas
Today we meet our fellow travelers, the mules and their keepers, with whom we will share our crossing. A muleteer’s work is difficult and meticulous. The paths are narrow and slippery, and the loads the mules carry can be heavy and destabilizing.
We leave the lake, for another region, the high plateaus where we are surrounded by fields of quinoa and potato plantations. The view opens up to expose the glory of the Cordillera Real.
Peñas - Villa Andino
We stop in the village of Peñas, where we are welcomed at the community hostel. The young people of the village have set up this place for mountaineers and climbers. We are welcomed with a tasting of cheeses and local plant liqueurs.
Villa Andino - Tuni
Our last day in the highlands, before entering the Cordillera Real. Here, the vegetation becomes increasingly sparce and the land more arid, but from this appears the summits and glaciers. To the West the condor wings of the Condoriri range (5648m) unfurl, and to the East, the imposing Huayna Potosi (6088m).
Tuni - Campo Canal
The village of Tuni, a hamlet at more than 4,000 meters above sea level, in the heart of the Cordillera Real, holds a special place in the history of Terra Andina Bolivia. The agency has had family ties with this community for a very long time. Terra's families are used to spending weekends there from time to time. We know that sharing a few moments with Jaime, Gonzalo and their families offers a lot: happiness and an undeniable opening to the world.
Campo Canal - Refuge Huayna Potosi
The mules set the pace as we advance on the small, mountainside paths, crossing deep blue lagoons, surrounded by the summits Imilla Apachita, Maria Lloco and Huayna Potosi. The height and altitude differences are felt, and as such, the rhythm is slower. Jaime serves as our guide on this stage, he spares our energy and our breath.
Huayna Potosi Refuge - Huayna Potosi
Our awakening this morning is a moment of magic. In the light of day we discover our previous night’s refuge and the view that it offers. Although the Andean winter temperatures make it difficult to leave the comfort of our resting place, we are motivated by the view, it’s serenity and a cup of hot coffee.
This day is one of preparation with our mountain guide (certified UIAGM, trained by guides from Chamonix). We familiarize ourselves with our equipment, take a few steps with crampons and practice using the ice axe. We then reach the Campo las Rocas, where we’ll begin our ascent.
Huayna Potosi - Huayna Potosi Refuge
With our objective to reach 6000 feet, we must prepare ourselves and our supplies for the journey. We’ll pile on layers of clothing to insulate us against the cold, and fuel our bodies with carbohydrates. As the anticipation builds, we get a boost of adrenalin before we take place in the rope-line which will guide us to the summit of Huayna Potosi.
Chucura - San Francisco
After one last pass, we leave the Huayna Potosi behind us to enter the Yungas. We take a long descent in the plunging valleys of the Cordillera Real. As the air becomes increasingly humid, we find little by little greener and denser vegetation.
San Francisco - Chairo
As we descend through the subtropical vegetation, we pass through the village of Choro, where we have lunch at Doña Modesta's house. Life in the valley is sweet; life is sustained by cultivating the land and by living on what surrounds us.
At the end of the day we’ll reach the village of San Francisco, where we will be welcomed by a family local to the valley. This will be our last evening with our fellow travelers. Tomorrow, the mules and muleteers, with whom we formed our own Tolkien-esque community, will make their way back to the mountains, their Andean highlands.