July 18, 2006
Today started the same as yesterday. Another early wakeup, another expensive taxi to El Alto. We bought tea from the same lady as yesterday and waited in the freezing pre-dawn cold for the bus to show up. While waiting, I met an interesting man from Puno, Peru who said he was a nurse but occasionally made trips into La Paz to buy the ridiculously cheap second-hand clothing imported from the USA to resell at home for a profit.
My ticket said that the bus left at 6:00. It pulled in at about 7:00, just as dawn was breaking. There was a mad rush to jump aboard, and we weren't sure if we'd get seats, despite the fact that our tickets said we would. Craig took our backpacks and waited for them to be hoisted onto the roof while I forced my way through the calamity to board the bus. A member of the Bolivian army was in my seat, but he politely gave it up and sat in the isle.
By the time the bus finally left at 8:00, it was starting to get warmer, but worries of frostbite soon turned to worries of my stomach problems. I was felling a little better, but was still too weak to carry a 20 KG backpack through the mountains and into the jungle for a week. I figured I'd just wait it out and see how I felt. If I wasn't feeling better tomorrow, I could always hire a donkey to carry my stuff.
I slept on and off throughout the bus ride, but what I did see was beautiful. Outside La Paz, the great peaks of the Cordillera real like Illimani at 6462 meters (21,201 feet) became clearly visible. Next, we rode across the Altiplano past Lake Titicaca, where I became reacquainted with the Isla del Sol, which I walked across early last November when I first entered Bolivia. Finally, we went past the Cordillera Apolobamba, where we will be hiking. Craig vividly recalled his journey over the peaks and through the valleys where he trekked with his donkey for three months last year. At the end of the trip, we went over a pass at about 4900 meters (16,000 feet), one of the highest points reachable by bus in Bolivia. It was freezing, but the surrounding snow-capped peaks and glaciers were stunning.
When we reached Pelechuco, we went to a guesthouse and tried to organize a guide and a ride to Queara, where our trek will begin. A seedy character with bloodshot eyes claiming to be a guide met with us and asked how much we would normally pay a guide. We told him that we didn't know; the guides themselves should determine their own asking price. We didn't want to pay a guide for transportation to Queara, so we asked if there were any guides there. He said there were several, so we agreed that it would be better for us if we waited till Queara to find a guide. He also told us that a truck would leave for Queara tomorrow at 10:00, which was great news for us. Too bad we trusted him.