Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Tiwanaku: 3/28/2007

On the road between La Paz and the Peru border are the excellent ruins of Tiwanaku. This major city and religious center was built by Tiahuanaco people between 700 and 900 AD. The amazing stone work and basic religious ideas are thought to form the basis of the Inca culture that flourished later.

The ruins are about half excavated, and archeological work is taking place as visitors tour the unearthed sections. As we walked through this space, feelings of peace and power were clear. However, our tour was punctuated by the crude and comedic efforts at protecting the important pieces. Harsh barbed wire surrounded many of the sculptures, and we were yelled at periodically by the archeologists for taking pictures of them, and I don’t know what else… being there I suppose.

Regardless, the place is amazing!

For more information about Tiwanaku, check out the link:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca: 3/22-28/2007

The old Aymara man pulled again to start the outboard. Then again. And again. We are slowly drifting away from the small dock of the Isla de la Luna, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. The wind is picking up, and if this motor doesn’t start soon, we are going to be out in the middle of this sea-size lake in no time.

We hired a boat to take us from a little town on the north end of the Isla del Sol to the ruins of an Inca priestess monastery on the island of the moon. We have just spent two days on the island of the sun, and visiting the sacred island of the moon before returning to Copacabana, on the mainland, balances our experience here. What an incredible trip and trek! This beautiful lake, with its islands, sheep, and little boats docked in small blue harbors, feels much more like the Mediterranean sea than a freshwater lake at 12,000+ feet.

Titi Khar’ka means ‘Rock of the Puma’, this massive lake is named after the sacred rock…Titicaca. Legend has it that the entire lake originated by, or was filled by, three sacred springs called Fuente del Inca. The early Tiahuanaco culture, then the Kollas people (also called Aymara, who are still here today), and the Inca, thought the lake sacred, as the birthplace of the Sun and Moon. The Sun-god and Moon-goddess were both born out of the Rock of the Puma. Then the Sun-god rose into the sky from the Isla del Sol, and the Moon-goddess rose into the sky from the Isla de la Luna. The ancient town on the mainland, Kota Kahuana, Copacahuana, or most currently Copacabana, has been a resting site for pilgrims visiting the huaca (shrine) at Titi Khar’ka (Rock of the Puma) for thousands of years. The shrine, the sacred rock, and the springs are all on the Isla del Sol, or Island of the Sun. From the time of pre-Incan Tiahuanaco culture, through the Incan Empire, for the early Spanish colonialists, to the present, people from all over South America and the world have made pilgrimages to the Isla del Sol. This tiny island, with it’s small spring in the South, and its unremarkable looking rock and mesa in the North, might be thought of as the western hemisphere’s Mecca. It has the most, and longest, history of spiritual pilgrimage. The early Spaniards believed that the springs were a fountain of youth. Still, current pilgrims to the spring drink a cup of water from each of the fountains, or pour it over their heads for its healing properties. The ceremonial table huaca at the Rock of the Puma was used for sacrifices and rituals with the four directions. Pilgrims walk the length of the island, from the springs to the rock, to make their offerings and meditations at the birthplace of their culture.

A few days ago, we approached the town of Copacabana from the east. At the Tiquina Straits, we hired a barge to ferry our car across, then continued into town, arriving after dark. When we looked out the hotel window in the morning, we caught our first view of the crystalline blue, sparkling mystical waters of this beautiful beautiful lake. We spent the morning preparing for our pilgrimage to the Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna, and enjoying a formal parade of school children down the main street to the lake (it was a national holiday). Then we hiked down the road to check out some Inca ruins 45 min away. Rod rested from the walk in the nice chair carved by the Incas for him to sit in. The next day, with full packs, we caught the midday ferry to the Isla del Sol. We were dropped off at the foot of the escalera del Inca.

The spring is at the top of a long Inca stairway that leads from the beach 205 steps (some dispute over this number, but I counted the steps when I walked up the stairs and I got 205) up to the stone fountain built by the Incas. The fountain has three spouts, each supposedly fed by an individual spring. The two outer spouts represent polarity and balance, male and female, the sun and moon. The center spout represents the center of all things, the universal energy. Interestingly when we were there, there was no water running from the outer left fountain, the female fountain, or the balance to the male energy in the world.

The next morning we began our walk to the Rock of the Puma on the north end of the island. We strayed from the Inca road periodically in order climb to the summit of each of the islands’ small peaks. Finally we reached the sacred rock and the ceremonial table to it’s south. Next to the table is a mesmerizing ruin called ‘the labyrinth’. It is a maze of rooms and courtyards with a natural spring inside and running through it. It is said that this was an Inca monastery and seminary. We bivied/camped just down hill from the labyrinth, above a shining blue bay. As we enjoyed a mac’n’cheese dinner and watched the sun set over the bay, birds dove for fish and not a boat or light could be seen. We were struck by the silence and simple peace of this old place. Falling asleep, I enjoyed a spectacularly starry sky, and got a little creeped-out imagining Inca priest ghosts walking out of the ruins.

In the morning we rose early to sit in each of the direction-chairs at the ceremonial mesa, then watch the sun rise over the Rock of the Puma and the mesa. It was magical. Some sheep joined us just after sunrise. We packed up and walked an hour into town for breakfast. After eating and getting a couple sandwiches for lunch, we boated out to Isla de la Luna.

The Isla de la Luna is much less visited than the Isla del Sol. The small community on the island jumped when they heard a boat coming. They assaulted us with souvenir buying opportunities from the moment we docked to when we walked out of the town toward the ruins. The birthplace of the Moon has an odd polarization… it is better preserved and protected than other ruins, but it had an odd feeling of disregard and unappreciation, especially compared with the birthplace of the Sun. This monastery was inhabited by priestesses on the island of the goddess Moon – this is THE we-moon site. Is it appropriate social commentary that the female balance to the male is so off kilter? The critical balance of the sacred male and female of the “old” or native world is not mirrored in today’s dominant societies. Is this inequality at the base of the disturbance in today’s culture? It is certainly manifest in the western hemisphere’s Mecca.

With these thoughts spinning around in our minds, we stepped off the island back into the boat and pushed off…. floating out into the blue clarity as the kind old driver pulls again to start the motor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mt Illampu

Mt Illampu: 3/21,22/2007

... coming soon ...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Quimsa Cruz

Quimsa Cruz: 3/17-19/2007

... coming soon ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mt Sajama

Sajama: 3/13-15/2007

Still in the rainy season (climbing snowy mountains highly improbable), we drove west to the Sajama National Park on the border of Bolivia and Chile. Sajama mountain is the tallest peak in Bolivia and stands alone, majestically towering over the high, severe altiplano. Climbing Sajama is closed until April. As we entered the park, we saw a large flock of pink flamingos wading and napping in a shallow lake. The wild life in the national park is protected, unlike most of Bolivia... maybe we will get to see some cool animals here?! Pink flamingos at 14,000 feet is a good start.

We drove into the town of Sajama, the central point of civilization in the park. We asked for directions to the geysers; the park is full of points of volcanic activity. We set off, excited to see some boiling mud pits and shooting geysers. The directions were wrong. We drove well out of town and well past the road to the geysers. Instead, we drove to the parking area for hot springs in the area. As we grabbed out bathing suits and got ready for the walk to the springs, the skys darkened and it started to hail. Not thinking too much of it, we also grabbed out ponchos and set off walking toward, what we thought, was the general direction of the hot springs.

We followed an obvious path to a river and could not see a way across, let alone a continuing path on the other side. We walked up the river and eventually found a way to jump across. We could see a steaming little creak burrowed deep into the grassy plain and when we felt its water, it was warm. Think this must lead to the hotspring, we followed the creak. Soon we encountered branching creaks in all directions and all steaming hot water. The hail was pounding down onto us, and covering the misty ground in a plaster of white pellets. Each time we saw a big vapor cloud, we thought it must be the pool. But when we got there, it was just a shallow, narrow ditch with hot water flowing through. This can’t be it? Maybe you could lay down in it and get mostly wet… where is a pool?!

Off in the distance to out left was a building. We decided to walk toward it in hopes of asking someone where to go. At the building was a large, wide pool! The spring! In a roofless room, with hail pounding down on us, we shiveringly changed into out bathing suits while using our ponchos to deflect the stinging onslaught from the sky. Despite the numbing barefoot walk to the pool, we slipped into the hot water and felt as warm and relaxed as marmots snuggling up in their winter den. The hail eventually stopped and we walked back, wet, warm, and comfortable.

We spent the night in the town of Sajama, and woke in the morning to an amazing clear-sky view of Sajama and the other mighty volcanoes to the west. This time we got good directions to the geysers, and drove up the valley between Mt. Pomerape and the smaller mountain to its north, in search. They were beautiful, but not the spouting rockets we had been lead to believe. Unfortunately, no bubbling mud pits, but happily many Technicolor bubbling water pits! After inhaling sulfur fumes for a while, we continued up the valley toward the nice looking smaller mountain to Pomerapes’ north. On the way, we spotted an Andean Fox sneaking its way through the grasses. Cool!!

At the end of the valley, we hiked up to a waterfall for lunch, then continued to a sheppard’s hut next to a small Inca ruins. We decided to climb the small snowy peak watching over this little ruins and valley. We walked back to the car to get out stuff and make camp. When we got there, the afternoon hail began again. We sat in the car for 3 hours waiting out the storm. Listening to homer’s The Iliad on the ipod, we snacked and watched the pounding hail and rain hit the windows. During a short break in the storm, we ran out an pitched our tent; then at another break we cooked and ate dinner.

We set our alarms for an early start on the mountain, and went to sleep. Next we knew, it was getting light outside… what time is it? Oh no! We slep through our alarms… it is too late to start this climb! We felt foolish and frustrated. Watched over by a keen eyed sage condor, we took a short hike to a cave then drove out toward the town. On the way, we came across an ostrich (!) crossing the road… why did the ostrich cross the road?

Because I found blood in my poop that morning, we decided to leave the park and head back to La Paz to find a doctor. (Don’t worry, it turned out not to be a big deal… just a result of the antibiotics I took to deal with the awful bug I got in La Paz)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Curahuara de Carangas

Curahuara de Carangas: 3/2-3,12-13/2007

After the nasty, barf’y, diarrhea’y spell in La Paz, we headed out in our rented 4-runner to do some rock climbing at Curahuara de Carangas. The drive there is through a beautiful, Utah-ish landscape. We asked the commander at the military base in the nearby town where the rock climbing is. As it turns out the military have a mountaineer division, and they train here (how to climb, rope work, etc). When we get to the climbing area, we found it bustling with camo-clad soldiers getting ready for a graduation ceremony, that will take place tomorrow, under the climbing area. A little uneasy about our climbing prospects, we pitch camp and enjoy watching a thunder and lightning show approach us as we ate dinner. The storm gets a little too close for comfort… we moved the car further away from the tent.

The next morning we woke up to a military marching band playing about 100 m from our camp. They were loudly processing up to their graduation ceremony area, and playing for the civilians that were in attendance. After breakfast, we walked to the base of the climbs, watched the military demonstrations for a while, and decided that we didn’t want to be climbing right in the middle of it all. Our luck… this ceremony happens once a year and we chose this exact date to climb here!! We went off to an area to the side and set up ropes to practice crevasse rescue and glacier travel skills. We stayed until the afternoon, then decided to come back to climb another day.

When we came back to Curahuara de Carangas (after finding Tunupa), we had a much better (and quieter) climbing experience. This little cliff band is beautiful, and the surrounding area is filled with amazing rock features and wildlife. During dusk and dawn the quiet peace is consistently broken by the loud squawks of the three nesting Condors in the cliff band. And, as we walked along the top of the cliffs in the afternoon, we were surprised to find that we were being studied for a while by a wise silent owl.

The climbing here is excellent, and we got a good morning in before the skies darkened and we were barraged by hail. We thought we would stick it out, that it would be a short inconvenience… we ate some lunch, opened a beer… it didn’t stop. We pulled our gear and took a hike in the rain/hail for the afternoon. We left the next morning.

Sunday, March 4, 2007