Archive for September, 2001

Bye Peru, Hello Ecuador

Friday, September 28th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

Hi Friends,
We are now in Quito, trying to arrange a good tour to the Galapagos.
I will now recount our advenutruer in Peru in the last few days.

Arequipa
We returned from Macchu Picchu and arrived in Arequipa on a day that had some sort of strike going on there. It seems that strikes are chasing me in Peru, but fortunately it was something minor that did not affect our traveling. We spent the day relaxing, strolling around the streets around Plaza de Armas (the main plaza of the city).
We went to a nice museum in which “juanita” a 500 year old inca human sacrifice was on display. The incas would have the maidens walk up to a very high mountain (6000m) where thay would have a ceremony, kill the poor thing with a jab to the temple and then bury her in a an embryonic position, fully dressed and prepared for the afterlife. the perfectly preserved body is due to snow and ice that covered juanita for centuries. the grave was encountered when a nearby volcano semi-errupted and its hot ash reached the aforementioned mountain and melted the ice.
We also went to a nice monastary and received interesting explanations from a guide to be (they need to master 4 foreign languages before getting some sort of government certification!).

Colca Canyon
The following morning we left for a 2 day excursion to Colca canyon, twice as deep as the grand canyon in the USA. it was an interesting 5 hour drive to the starating point, a small town called Chivay. On the way our guide stopped to show us various sites and wildlife. we saw wild Vicunyas which are a cross between llamas, alpacas and sheep (well not really, but that is
what they look like).
Arequipa has 2 huge volcanoes towering over it so we basically circumvented them to the north. the highest point we reached was 4800m and in order to feel ok with the altitude some people chewd on coca leaves. others took a pill that is supposed to help. at this high point there are many mounatains on all sides so it is a great vantage point. the locals have some beliefs about the holiness of the place, so you see hundreds of piles of rocks (Rug´em in hebrew) for good luck.
We reached Chivay at noon, had an expensive tourist meal, and then proceeded to a 3 hour hike in the neighboring area. we saw ruins of ancient pre-inca cultures and the great depths of the canyon. the treat was great thermal baths in the early evening. Though it was around 5 deg celsius outside, when immersed in the water, the feeling was great.
Paola, with her world renowned sensitivity to cold, really had a great time. Getting out was a bit more complex, but not as bad as we expected. In the evening we went to yet another tourist trap, where there was a penya show. this is a a traditional music, with hornpipes and mini guitars (they have a name which i cant recall) that are the most significantly different instruments from what we know. there was also a dancing performance by a local man and woman, with traditional costumes. It was all to corny for us, and after eating dinner we departed for bed.
The next morning we drove to the hilight of our tour – The “Mirrador del Condor”. Its a viewpoint on the edge of the canyon where at certain hours, huge condors are seen flying really low, so even a simple non zoom camera can catch the wingspan across an entire picture.
These birds are truly graceful and big!!! after about an hour and a roll of film, we proceeded on another nice little hike. All along the canyon are huge and different types of cactii. By the way, everywhere we stopped along the drive and walks during those 2 days, were locals trying to sell us anything from food, drink to clothes, and other souvenirs. we tried some interesting fruits – one is exactly like the israeli sabra (prickly pear). another is similar but tenfold more sour than a household lemon. they have another fruit called pepino (cucumber) which is shaped like an apple and tastes exactly like… a sweet melon.
there were a few more stops on the way back, but most of us were tired and dosed off. In Chivay we decided to go to lunch in a non tourist place which aside from different food is much cheaper, but we did not enjoy the food. With all the little snacks we bought later, the lesson learned is simple…
Back in Arequipa we prepared for a night journey by luxury bus to Nasca. Its the best bus I hve ever seen, including Europe. The 10 hour drive went by quickly, the reclining seats were practically like beds! there were stewardesses handing out pillows and blankets. sweet dreams.

Nasca
we reached Nasca at around 5am and crossed the street from the bus station to the closest and recommended hostel. after getting in good with the night guy, we got free beds for a few hours and booked a flight over the “Nasca Lines”. The Nascas were an ancient culture many years before the incas. They created huge impressions in the desert teraain, which have withstood the
test of time. there are many shapes, simple geometrical to animals such as monkey, dog, and condor, as well as an astronaut? The drawing are 10s if not 100s of meteres long.!!
The best way to enjoy them is from the air. we wanted to take the morning flight before the turbulent winds of noon, but it was too hazy. so instead we went on a tour of some ancient cemetary that had been graverobbed. we saw some more mummies, these were well preserved due to the desert climate of the Peruvian shoreline.
our guide was very knowledgable and later on we even got into a philosophical discussion on whether religion is the cause of all wars, or simply man has a bad nature. we later went to shops were clay pots are made much like they were 2 thousand years ago, and another place where we received an explanation about goldmines, and how gold is found.
a bit after midday we arrived at the airport. weather conditions were good. Paola and I, another girl and the pilot got into the 4 seat cessna and proceeded to a 40 minute tour of the lines. the view was great and the plane behaved ok. nobody puked. on the way back i got to fly us home (Hata”m – pilot joke).
we felt a bit queasy after the flight but a bottle of coca cola helped us out.

Ica
our next destination was the town of Ica, three hours drive away. we will tell you about it in the next mail.

bye for now…….
H and P

Machu Picchu

Thursday, September 20th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

hello dear friends,
after a short break in my reports, due to various reasons, i now resume mysotrytelling accompanied by Paola who has recently joined me after traversing the atlantic 2 times too many (but we shall touch upon that a bit later)

i left bolivia some 2 weeks ago and reached Cusco were i planned to rest abit and do some white water rafting, anticipating paola´s arrival.

the rafting
i took a 4 day rafting tour with an agency that is for some reason a magnetfor israelis (eric adventures). out of 12 participants, 11 were sabras andone british fellow that was truly an interesting bloke.
we set off on a friday morning, on a 5 hour drive through the peruvian mountainside, which was incredibly beautiful. the poor dirt road was stillmuch better than what i had been accustomed to in bolivia.
we reached the APURIMAC river at noon, and began to inflate the rafts.
i must say that the safety measures taken by the company were very impressive. aside from the lifejackets, wetsuits and helmets, there was an extra guide manning a small safety kayak to pick up any one who fell off the rafts. we also had another guide manning a cargo boat. each raft had a guide and 6 worthy adventurers. the greatest danger were the mosquitos…
but seriously, the apurimac is considered one of the top white water rivers in the world, and has some great class 4 and 5 rapids (rapids are classified 1-5, with 5 being the hardest to cross – a mix of technical difficulty and water velocity). the level of difficulty increased as the days progressed,and the last day we did rapids which have become famous and even have nicknames – “toothache”, “last laugh” and others.
we would raft for about 5 hours a day, and the rest of the time relax onriverside beaches were we camped at nights. the group was really fun and even though i thought i would get israeli-toxicated, the bunch were realltfine and not noisy.
when we return to israel, you are all invited to see the movie depicting our brave descent down the river (one of the guides filmed us..)

waiting in cusco
we got back to cusco on monday evening and proceeded to celebrate our safe return at a local pub-disco. before that i went to a local peluqueria (barbershop) and had my beard shaved off – paola hates it when i scratch her.
at teh disco, the brit and one of the guides drank more than the entire population of small cities in israel during an entire month !!! we danced and raved and drank and had us a jolly good time, totally unaware that in a few hours the world trade center would be erased from lower manhattan.
i woke up on sept 11, just about the time tower 2 was hit. on my way to the toilet i passed thru the reception were the receptionist was pointing at the tv and saying something that sounded bad but i did not understand. after emptying my bladder, i looked at the tv and immediately understood that paola´s arrival in cusco the following morning was in danger.
unfortunately for me, my hunch was right. paola happened to be somewhere over the atlantic when the “shit hit the fan”. from her account “20 minutes prior to planned touchdown in NYC, the pilot said i am afraid i have some bad news. at this point paola almost fainted, as she espected to hear of a double engine failure or something of the sort. so hearing that trouble was elsewhere, was a bit of a relief.”
but the pilot informed the passengers that the flight was redirected to canada. they landed in newfoundland in st. johns island , on the east coast.
paola spent 14 hours (!) waiting in the plane for further instructions before being let out. 27 planes had landed in the island which had no infrastructure for such an amount.
to the canadians praise, they quickly organized themselves and took great care of their unexpected guests. the passengers were takem to a local highschool or churches. paola was given a gym matress to sleep on and later on some basic hygenic supplies. when it became apparant that she would spend more than just the night, local volunteers took her and other for some sightseeing, which included a shopping spree at the local mall, and a dance-bar in the second evening.
on the 13th, paola received some good news – her plane was one of the first to leave canada, but unfortunately not to the USA but back to brussels. to make a long story short (but not too much) in brussels she got a 5 star hotel for 2 nights, and through great work of family and travel agents, managed to get a flight to lima from brussels via madrid.
meanwhile in cusco i was climbing up the walls. in the first few hours we did not know if international flights had been hijacked as well and i was quite concerned. only after paola called her parents from the satellite phone in the plane, did we know she was ok. then it was just a matter of time, but the uncertainty certainly racked our nerves, in peru in canada and
in israel.
but all is well that ends well. since i could not wait any more, i flew to lima to wait for paola there, and spent 24 hours prior to her arrival exploring the city. contrary to popular belief and stories i had heard, lima is relly great, and in some places very safe. the evening of the 14th i joined a memorial service and procession for the american tragedy (the US ambassador to Peru knows great spanish, but has a horrible accent).

rendevouz with my wife
on saturday the 15th in the afternoon, paola finally made it to peru. it took over 5 days and 40 hours in airplane seats, but the wait was worth it for us both 🙂
we finally began our honeymoon. (paola has notified me that technically it is now going to be less than a month, so we will probably have to take another month off pretty soon!)
after spending the night in lima, we flew out to cusco, which by this time i had intimate knowledge of.

Cusco and the sacred valley
we spent sunday afternoon strolling in the beautiful (paola adds – but smelly) streets of this inca capital turned spanish city. many buildings are built upon old inca stones and the diversity of architectural styles is quite interesting. a famous pedestrian walkway is called “gringo alley” but the israelis have a different name for it “simtat ha-metzikim” (pestering alley) because of all the locals that try to sell you stuff, from a meal in a restraunt to cigarettes, to internet, to cnadies, and even one guy gently offering “ahi – samim?” (brother – drugs?)
the next morning we bought a tourist tour ticket to various attractions in the cusco area, including museums, cathedrals and most importantly archeological ruins. we spent the morning visiting city places and after an interesting lunch went up to the ruins, just outside cusco.
lunch was had at a local nontourist “restaurant”. it cost about one fourth of a tourist lunch (1 dollar pp) and it was really tasty to 50% of us (!) I wonder how the acclaimed restaurant critic Daniel Rogov would decribe the place – “the many flies blended in well with the rancid smells emerging from the restrooms, which were only superceded by even worse odors from the tiny kitchen, where the ample portions are cooked in huge greasy pots…. with a superb bottle of inca cola(2001, with gentle hints of bubble gum) the meal reached a fair price of $2.50, i will certainly visit this establishment again.”
so after puking (just kidding) we went to Sacsayhuman, an archeological sight just overlooking cusco. we call it sexy woman, its much easire to remember. at all the sites , a guide usually waits for gringos and then offers himself for a few bucks. we chanced upon a really good one (compared to the ones we would later encounter), who really made the visit much more interesting by showing us the meanings of many of the findings.
when we finished we still had a few more hours of daylight left so we rented 2 horses and a 13 yr old guide, niko, who took us to 3 more sites. i was really scared at first because i got the wild horse, but paola soothed me, she has many years of experience in horseback riding for the israeli olympic team!!! 🙂

the next morning we took a local bus to Pisac, another archaeology site. the ride was a first for Paola, as she encountered the meaning of “body-odor” when some cholas (local women in traditional clothes) happened to stand next to her for the 1 hour ride. The ruins at Pisac were very interesting, and the 2 hour walk down back to the village was breathtaking. Pisac also has a great artesan market, where we bought some souvenirs.
we proceeded to the next town Ollentaytambo, via a town called urubamba. by the time i managed to pronounce the name correctly, we already got there (about 1 hour by minibus). we explored the ruins here as well, and felt we were now mentally prepared for the jewel of the diamond – machu picchu.
we took a train (expensive, only for tourists) to Aguas Calientes which is at the foot of the the famous inca city mountain. arriving at 11pm we took up a hostel for a few hours, because we woke up at 4am (!) to make it up the mountain for sunrise at 6am.

Machu Picchu
we started walkin at 4:30am down a dark dirt road, with a flashlight to scare away the boogyman and see what we are stepping on. as light started infiltrating the dark we began peeling off layers of warm clothes. after 30m minutes of a straight road we reached the mountain were we proceeded to climb 100s of steps which lead to the ancient city´s entrance. it was very
humid and we were climbing into a cloud. as dawn broke in the beautiful mountain began to appear. paola claims she had a rough time climbing, but i was quite content with her progress. we reached the entrance at 6:15, after sunrise, but since everything was shrouded in clouds, it did not matter. the sun would make its first appearance only 2 hours later. this is no to say that the view was not awesome. shreds of fog and clouds appeared and disappeared covering and uncovering the magnificent city.
history – m.p. is a complete inca city. it had remained intact due to the fact that the spaniard conquistadors never discovered it an thus did not pillage and ruin it. the city was in fact discovered only in 1911 by an american archaeologist-explorer. today it is one of perus moneymaking machines, everything costs alot – entrance fee ($20), the train back to cusco ($30) and other miscellaneous expenses.
after enjoying a relatively quiet hour, more and more tourist began to arrive. at first it was groups that came from another side, having finished a grueling 4 day “inca trail”, and later busses unloading all those too lazy or too weak to walk up.
we hooked up to one of the groups that had come from the inca trail as their guide took us throught the ruins. this lasted about 2.5hrs after which we no longer want to hear about any ruins or sun-gods for the next few days.
we took the bus down back to aguas calientes. a little boy no more than 10years old escorted us by chasing the bus – this he did by running down the trail (which we earlier has ascended) and at each intersection with the road would scream something in indian. at the bottom, the driver allowed him to board the bus and collect small change from the sympathetic tourist. i also gave him our water.
the train back to cusco passed through all the places we had visited but we were too tired to really take in any more scenery.
that was yesterday evening.

today we flew in to Arequipa, and more stories will follow soon. we are going to get some dinner.
bye for now, and gmar hatima tova.

Paola and Hemi

SHANA TOVA!

Monday, September 17th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

Shana Tova to all our family, friends and well wishers!

We hope Hatashsab will be peaceful, quiet and safe.
We wish you all many joyous occasions in the year to come.
Best of all to you and your loved ones,

Paola and Hemi

PS – the pictures were taken on “Yom Hol”

Shana Tova Shana Tova

at last we meet

Sunday, September 16th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

hi all!
4 days later than planned, but still in good spirits, paola has
arrived to south america.
we met in lima, and tomorrow we will fly back to cusco.
everything is great now,
take care and shana tova.

hemi and paola.

waiting for paola

Thursday, September 13th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

hi!
today paola was supposed to join me in cusco,peru.
the unfortunate unfolding of events has diverted our pathes.
her plane was flying across the atlantic when new york and washington turned

into infernos.
as a result paolas flight has been diverted and she is now in st john´s
island in newfoundland, canada.
i havew spoken to her an hour ago and she is in good spirits. the canadians
are taking excellent care of the passengers of 27 airplanes that arrived in
the past day.
paola has even gone shopping in the local mall…
the big question now is when will flights resume, and how fast can paola get

to peru.
we will keep you posted.

hemi

a tale of 2 cities

Thursday, September 6th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

hola amigos!
i am writing from cusco, THE tourism capital of SA. it is quite different from anything i have seen so far in bolivia. the whole town exists to cater to the huge influx of tourists of all ages sizes and monetary flexibility.
this of course is due mainly to MACCHU PICCHU, the ancient inca city discoverd in 1911, after many years of solitude in the peruvian forests.

a short recap of the last events –
after climbing huayna potosi i took a day  to chill in la paz. i began to like the city more and more, and walked in the non tourist zones. i treated myself to som good and expensive food, at noon a nice tex-mex restaurant ($10), and in the evening i totally splurged; i went to the best hotel in la paz – the radisson plaza, where on the 15th floor they have a restaurant overlooking the city. i had a great meal for about the same price as lunch.
it was weird to be wearing a fleece sweater and t-shirt when around me all were dressed to kill (literally – there was a high officer convention between the generals of bolivia and paraguay).

the next day, tuesday, i left la paz with intentions of reaching cuscu. but this was not going to be a simple task for the following reason:
in peru there was a 2 day genral strike in the Puno department – no busses, cars , stores, nada. the strike was scheduled to end on wednesday, so theoretically i could wait a day in copacabana , a lovely city on the border of bolivia. but, the next day in bolivia there would be nothing open, including the border due to a census they had to take once in 10 years exactly when i had to cross the border.
with a group of other israelis and others, we decided to take our chance and cross the border. when we reached peru, there were no cars or busses, and we took a tricycle to carry our muchilas to the nearest town yunguyo, a 25 minute walk. all along the road were shattered bottles, rocks creating roadblocks and even one burnt up car.
we wanted to reach Puno,  normally 2 hours  drive away. after waiting in a nice plaza in yunguyo for 4 hours, a brave peruvian driver offered us use of his minibus for $3 a head. (this of course is much higher than the official rate). since we wanted to make as much headway as possible, we agreed. the way to puno took 5 hours, every once in a while detouring to pass a blockade, or otherwise the driver paying a small “fine” to the angry campesinos who awaited us at the blockades.
at times it got a bit scarey but the locals on the bus seemed quite relaxed so i tried to fall asleep instead.
we arrived near midnight in puno, and it looked like a palestinean refugee camp after a day of riots and scirmishes with the IDF.
the next morning the streets were miraculously cleaned up and i took a tourist  bus to cusco.
next to me sat a peruvian chemical engineer, and between my  spanish and his english managed to have an interesting conversation.
as i said, cusco is tourist oriented, which means that every step you take you are accosted by little kids, old ladiea and all that is inbetween to buy, give, donate, and generally improve his or hers quality of life.
just when i had thought all the strikes  were over, today the people of cuscu marched up ave de sol (main street) to plaza de armas (main plaza) in protest over the same thing that the people of puno had, but the opposite.
the thing is this – a new highway is going to be built  – the transoceanic connecting the shores of brazil via bolivia and peru to the pacific ocean.
the people of puno want the road to pass through puno, the people of cusco – you guessed right. so it could be interesting here in the next few days.

tommorow i am heading for a 4 day rafting expedition to a nearby river.  it is considered the 3rd best in the world for whitewater, after the colorado and zambese in zimbabwe.

Next week, after a long awaited period of time, my beloved wife Paola shall join me for the remaining month of the SA vacation.

take care,
hemi

the 6000m club

Tuesday, September 4th, 2001

Note: this is taken from emails sent in 2001. Hemi

good morning!
“huayna potosi” is a mountain i paid little attention to when reading about bolivia before coming here. however, since i have arrived, i have heard many people talk about it. it is a beautiful mountain whose foothills are an a hour drive from la paz via dirt road.
it stands boldly at 6088 meters (in feet it is just 24ft shy of the magic 20,000 ft height!). its snow capped summit may be seen from la paz in the morning hours as later on in the day it tens to cloud up there. although not the highest mountain in bolivia (a-name-i-cant-recall at 6500m), it is considered “the easiest 6000m mountain in the world”. this is due to the fact that the climb is not too technical, even though climbing equipment is neccessary, so basically even people with no climbing experience can summit with a guide. the ascent is les than 1500m , as the starting point is at 4800m, so there is not too much to climb (like the kilimangaro for instance). the main problem is the low oxygen level at 6000m, it is about oe half of that at sea level. many people suffer altitude sickness if they are not properly acclimatized before the ascent.

i have been contemplating the 2 day climb for several weeks now, but since i had been in the lowlands for almost 2 weeks before returning to la paz, i thought that i may not be properly acclimitized to attempt the climb. but as the days went on i grew more inclined to go for it. in the worst case i would not ascend. i planed to wait 3 days in la paz before attempting the climb. i also started taking diamox pills, which help the body acclimatize before climbing, but have the unfortunate side effect of excessive need to urinate.

on my first day in la paz, i traversed mt chacaltaya at 5400m, and felt no problems whatsoever. this helped me decide – DO IT. I signed up with one of the many recommended agencies, and on saturday morning we left la paz for huyana potosi. the agency provides a guide, food, and all the climbing equipment which includes: boots, crampons, ice ax, harness for roping, waterproof pants and jacket, a head attached flashlight, a tent, gloves and more.

my group included 2 american girls that have been living in bolivia for 18 monthes as a part of their 2 year peace corps volunteer work. heather, 30, slim and athletic, lives in a village 150km from la paz and helps the locals with agriculture and fruit trees. becky, 24, lives in el alto, the slum part of la paz innudated with campesinos (farm people of indian
descent) which has grown in 15 years from nothing to almost 1 million inhabitants, and helps children in a school. we were supposed to meet at the base camp later on a fourth climber who had been trekking for several days and therefore was already in the mountain area with another guide from the same agency. we set off with our guide, the friendly vicente, in a small suzuki samurai jeep crowded with all our bags and gear and drove off for what i considered my greatest challenge so far in bolivia.

the dirt road provides some great views, both of la paz and of huyana potosi so we stopped on the way for some pictures. we passed a huge artificial lake called lago canada because a canadian company has done all the infrastructure work for providing water from the mountains to la paz. at noon we reached paso zongo (4800m) which is the starting point for the climb. the guide gave us each our equipment and the girls voted me to carry the tent we gringos would share at the base camp (5200m) in the evening. so our packs were quite loaded with all the equipment neccessary for the climb.
it started snowing as we got our packs ready.

as we set off i was feeling pretty good with the load, i guess after a month of trekking i got into good shape. unfortunately, becky seemed to lag more and more behind and complained of feeling ill. but it was not soroche (altitude sickness) as she had stomach problems. the 4 hour hike to the basecamp started off crossing a nice dam and then through some more water pipes and finally pure nature. after about 2 hours we reached the snow line and put our crampons on. becky wasgetting worse but somehow we made it to the camp. there were already 10 tents up, but i saw mostly local guides. it was 4pm and some of the gringos were inside the tents trying to get some rest. it was quite obvious becky would not do the climb the next day, and we felt sorry for her, she looked really bushed.

we met nigel, 36, english banking professional, who had spent the last few days trekking in the area. as he also had a tent, the girls ousted me out of the tent i hd so boldly braved up the mountain for them and shacked me up with nigel. good thing too, because guess what happened at night. both the girls were seriously ill, and as it was so cold outside and they so weak, all the fluids solid and inbetweens that their bodies emitted, remained with them in the tent.

the thing about summiting snowy peaks is that you usually have to start off in the middle of the night in order to make it up early in the morning before it gets all clouded up. in our case, wake up time was at midnight (!!). i went to sleep at aroud 5:30pm but unfortunately could not amass more than a total of 45 minutes of sleep till the guides woke us up. nigel and i talked alot about travel, he has been to many countries all over. his favorite is namibia, and africa in general which is the last authentic continent not spoilt by tourists. it was snowing quite heavily all evening which quite worried me, as i had spoken with someone who could not climb to the summit due to heavy snowfalls the day before his summit attempt. but somewhere near ten pm the snow stopped, and through the fabric of the nylon tent i could see that it was light outside. great ! this was the moon in its fullest glory, round and glistening, reflected by billions of little mirrors called snowfakes.

the hardest thing about waking up in a tent in the middle of the night is having to take the first pee. still groggy from the “sleep”, i put my boots on the wrong way opened the tent flaps and stepping only 2 meteres away from the tent i relieved myself. for the first time i got a glimpse of the beautiful nocturnal landscape. never in my life have i seen a night so bright. going back into the tent i had to turn the flashlight on. i then got dressed and put on all my equipment. luckily we did not need to take anything up the mountain with us except for some snack, water, and of course a camera. vicented the guide informed me that both girls were sick which was quite unfortunate for them, but meant he would be my personal guide, and another guide would take nigel up. vicente kept rushing me, and after a quick drink of mate de coca (a tea made from coca leaves) he and i departed the camp to the summit. several minutes afer us, the rest of the groups started climbing as well.

vicente and i were roped together with him leading the way. the night was so bright that we did not use our flashlights at all. we began climbing at 1:15am and hoped to make the summit aroud sunrise. although vicente had a muchilla with 50m of cord and some other climbing equipment, he was walking quite fast, with me muttering “momentito” every few minutes just to take a few seconds to catch my breath. the cord connecting us was about 5m long and i wanted it to never strech to its full extent. when i had now air to ask vicente to stop, though, the rope simply streched, and the tug tolded mister iron luns that its time to rest.

the view was amazing. it was a beautiful clear nght and with the moon shining so intensely we could see all the surrounding mountains covered with varying shades of snow. after a while we saw 2 more tents. this is campo argentino (5500m) which is seldomly used anymore because some guy died there going to the bathroom at night. he did not notice a hidden ice crevace and plummeted. he ice crevaces are gaping mouthes of nothingness tucked away all over the mounatain. falling into one is most likely lethal. some are big and easy to spot, others are hidden under a thin layer of snow, like animal traps waiting patiently for the next victim. later we passed by a place called “polish ridge” im memory of a polish guy who was killed there a few years back.

after another hour of walk we reached our first big challenge , a 70m wall of ice and snow that had to be traversed. this is where the icepick and the front teeth of the crampons come into use. the technique is simple in theory
– slam the icepick into the snow above the height of your head, and make sureit can hold your weight, then lift one leg and kick the crampons into the snow, procedd with next leg, and now back to the icepick. sounds easy huh ? well, it aint.
slowly but surely we climbed up the steep incline (70 deg to my best
judgement) and when we reached the top i lay exhausted for a few moments.

walking up some more we could see the lights of la paz. as we proceeded, i was starting to feel really tired. i did not know if this is because i practically had not slept or because the oxygen was getting thinner and less abundant. we kept walking though, and hunger also started to set in. as we reached the last few hundred meters, vicente told me that the hardest part was the last 200m of the climb. what a cheerful thought.

since we were the first ones climbing up, we were creating the path for the rest to follow. unfortunately that meant plodding thorough fresh, knee deep snow at some places. in one of these fun spots i felt like i was really depleted of energies. i told vicente i wanted to dtop and eat something and he said yes, a little farther up. we continued another few minutes through this valley of deep snow and seeing there was no end to it i told him that i was going to eat right here.

i first wanted to quench my thirst, and after i got the ice out of the bottleneck i had a nice icy refresco. i then extracted from one of my pockets a 200g pack of dulce de leche (sweetened concentrated milk) which is simply put delicious. after sucking away at most of its contents, i immediately began to feel better.

the skies in the east were beginning to turn lighter, it was around 5am. we proceeded for a bit more in the deep snow and then reached a steep wall which vicente told me is the last bit of climbing left. he suggested we rest for a few minutes before the climb. resting for more than a few minutes is not good because you start to get cold very easily. i began to feel my toes freezing in the boots. wiggling them around was not helping much, so i was really happy when vicente was ready to proceed.

to the east shades of marvelous purple and red began to appear as vicente prepared the ropes for the climb. he would climb 50m with the rope and then secure it with his pick, then i would climb up with him collecting the excess so that if i fall, the rope catches me right away.
vicente started up the beautiful sheer wall just as daylight brought its majestic elegance into full proportions. i could not resist the temptation and though i knew my hands were needed to hold my ice pick to the wall and hold the rope, i took my camera out and started shooting. this neccessitated taking off my gloves, brrrr..
then it was my turn up and it took much longer than it had for vicente.
every few steps i stopped to breath heavily. almost 6000 i consoled myself.
when i reached vicente i was pooped. he then told me we have two similar ascents and we are at the top.

the next ascent was just as hard as the first but i figured that it meant i crossed the magic 6000m line. small victory.

waiting for vicentes next ascent i felt my tortured toes returning to life after they had “frozen” at our break below. the pain is similar to a million little needles from inside and out. since it had happed to me once sevral years ago i knew it would pass withn a few minute, and it also meant my boys are back in business ,with no threat of frostbite or pemanent damage.

the reward for the pain was the most beautiful sunrise i have ever seen in my life. slowly the glowing red ball lifted itself above the mountain chain to my back, and once again, istead of facing the mountain wall , i took some more pictures.

vicente reached the end of the 50m rope and told me to start climbing. i was heaving and coughing a bit, trying to get myself up there. i recalled robert m pirsig and his book “zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” where the narrator says “when climbing mountains always maintain a balance between lack of patience (to summit) and lack of oxygen”. i finally and truly understood exactly what he meant.

with 10m of rope left between me and vicente i collapsed as i did every few steps to regain my composure, but i could see that he was at the summit, and that there was no hidden climb left. i forgot pirsigs quote and made a rush for it.

i made it!! and guess what, instead of immediately laying down i just stood there and looked at tview 360 degrees around and all i could do was think wow!!! it was 6:44am. the next thing i did was take out the camera and start shooting like crazy. the sunrise was in its last stages and the scenery with all the mountain shadows was changing by the minute. the view was great and the air was crisp and clear. i could see the illimani, a 3 headed moutain which towers over la paz at the other side. in the opposite direction i could see the illampu mountain , whose vicinity in which i trekked a few weeks ago aout of sorata. i could see to the northwest lake titicaca, which borders with peru. simply awesome.

after about 20 minutes the next group eclipsed and then some more. even nigel, who had confided in me that he was not sure his small, childhood sickly, lungs could make it, managed to make it up. i drank a yogurt snack and had a biscuit and was prepared to depart. in fact i was getting chilly.

after around 40 minutes at the top we started our descent. it was great scenery and i took lots of pictures. especially beautiful were all the ice crevaces with their bluish icicles. going down i could not believe how much we had walked and climbed. we reached base camp at around eleven. the girls were still there, waiting for us and the guide to get off the mountain and go home.

when i try to think of superlatives to this fantastic climb all i can think of is someting like “miss universe of all times”, “a 7 course meal at a michelen 4 star french restaraunt, with chateau mouton rothschild served with the main course”, or blah blah…..
although i took many photos, no recording device of any sort existing today can completely convey the beauty of the mountain, the sense of exuberence at the summit, and the amazng moonlight walk to the top.

so now i am a member of the 6000m club, no certificates or medals, just one hell of a great day to tuck away and tell the grandchildren about sometime.
by the way, does anyone know where i find the nearest 7000m club?

ta ta
hemi