Our last full day of trekking! I don’t know why it happens but as I approach the end of an extended trip – as enjoyable as it has been – I start looking forward for it to be over. Lately in the dining tent the conversation has been all about plane connections and shopping in La Paz and it is clear that everyone is shifting their focus as we near the end. One thing I looked forward to was a real hot-water shower. The glacial streams near our daily campsites meant clean-ups were pretty quick and perfunctory!
Before we left camp we got to watch the donkeys and llamas as they got the day’s workload. The donkeys carry much heavier loads than the llamas and accept their fate with resignation. The arrieros load them with little fuss. The llamas are a different story. Instead of thirty kilograms, they take ten; instead of resignation, they squirm and move about and give you that delightfully haughty look as they stare you straight in the eye. The llamero, a guy who goes by the nickname El Largo thanks to his 1.8 meter (6 feet) frame, loads his animals along with his helper. It takes a bit longer and, unlike the donkey team, there are spare llamas who are there to relieve those with loads later in the day. Our guide tells us that llameros and llamas who have been trained to do the job are increasingly scarce in Bolivia.
We left Chiar Khota and headed directly for the pass between Aguja Negra and Nevado Jallayco. It is a 350-meter climb and before we got there we stopped for a couple of breaks. Looking back at Chiar Khota we also got a splendid last view of Pico Austria and the pass. Cloud cover still prevented a full view of the Condoriri peaks however! Conditions would deteriorate further as the morning progressed!
A quick little dip down into the next valley and then it was “up” to the last pass of the trek, a landmark that I’ll admit celebrating. Looking up towards the pass, significant cloud could be seen. By the time we got to the pass, it was obvious that some bad weather was on the way. The wind had picked up and the rain was not far behind.
At the pass the wind had also picked up so we did not linger long before heading down to a more sheltered spot where we could have a quick lunch break. Then it was on the move again. We were losing major altitude as the rain picked up and at the next rest stop most put on their rain gear – the first time in the trip that it was really necessary.
I foolishly decided to hold off, however, with the rain pants and only slipped them on a half-hour later as my pants were getting wet and I was starting to feel the chill. “Isn’t it a bit late, Peter?” someone asked. “Well, better late than never,” was my cliché reply and the rain pants did indeed stop the chill. By the time we got to the end the body heat had dried the pants.
We came upon Laguna Liviñosa and I just had to get out the camera in the rain to capture the beguiling scene – the lake, the mist, the folds of the mountain slopes. The trail would take us by the right hand side of the lake and then continue down the valley for another three kilometers. By the time we reached the camp spot seen in the pix below we had lost yet another four hundred meters in altitude and were getting to see vegetation we hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks!
We camped on the grounds of what was once a working farm. It was now owned by someone who did not live here full time. Stone fences rimmed the perimeter and at least one building, the small one you see in the photo below (bottom right of image) was open. Already there when we arrived were Lucretia (the cook) and her daughter and helper Patricia. They had caught up to us before the second pass – and left us feeling humbled by their energy and long days of work and walking. – Now they were drying out their clothes. Not yet there were the donkeys and llamas.
I found a dry spot by the fire burning in the open add-on on the shack above. Piled to the side of the fire pit was the “firewood”, actually cow dung patties that brought back memories of the Khumbu valley above Namche Bazaar where the Sherpas make use of the yak droppings in the same way.
Soon the rain had stopped and we waited for the arrival of the arrieros and llameros. I walked back up the valley a bit to get a more interesting angle from which to photograph their arrival. To no great surprise, the donkeys were first to come down the path and they did so in their typically orderly fashion. At least, orderly until they came up to the bridge over the small creek.They headed for the creek to the left of the bridge and scampered over.
The pix above are of the Aymara couple who were the arriero team with the ten donkeys.
I may have waited about twenty minutes for the llameros to arrive. There was little to look at except for the mist hanging over the valley. Then I heard whistles and shouts and they came walking through the mist and down the path in front of me. The llamas were doing a great job of walking mostly in a line with only one or two a bit off-track!
Once last time everyone pitched in and the tents got up in good time. For one last time the duffels got emptied and the sleeping bags and Thermarests set up. It would be a much warmer evening at 3800 meters than it had been at the typical 4500 meters or so that we had been camping at. There would be no worries at this campsite about the water bottle being frozen on waking up the next morning!
This dog from a nearby farm came to visit our campsite a little later. Curious and a bit wary, he watched as I got the camera lens down to his level for a shot or two.
The dining tent that night saw a few toasts to the guides (Javier and Ricardo) and to a memorable – and yes, as the English say, “brilliant” – trek down the Cordillera Real. Someone pulled out a large bottle of liqueur that had been in his duffel since the trek’s start and it filled more of the small plastic cups. Cheers to two weeks well-spent!