Thursday, July 28, 2011

Curva to Pelechuco trek

It's nigh on impossible choosing a trek to do near La Paz such are the options available close to the city but I'm sold on the remoteness of trekking in the Apolobamba region and the thought of seeing more condors than I would trekkers. Curva is a bleak little village built at an altitude of almost 3,800m. The locals are shy, the plaza is populated by children only and on arrival there at 6pm the night before the trek begins there isn't another trekker in sight. July is perfect trekking season though - dry and clear - and we're up at dawn trying to haggle with our guide to try arrange us a guide/muleteer instead of one of both. We'll need a mule on the trek as we're going for 5 days and it's down to us to cook for our guide so we have a muchilla filled with food and snacks for 5 days and this is where the mule comes in.
Within half an hour of starting the trek though, in spite of promises made, it seems that there are 4 of us on the trek. There's our guide - who, it transpires is 19 - and our muleteer, lagging behind with the mules, who's a mere 15 years old and is our guide's brother. So that'll be another mouth to feed for the 5 days. We reach Camp 1 - in a stunning valley setting - in two and a half hours. Our guide tells us that we won't have time to make it to Camp 2 before nightfall and so we set up camp there. Well, we set our tent up - it turns out that our guide and his brother haven't been supplied with a tent and have to spend the next 3 nights in the freezing cold. It's ridiculous - we're 4,000m up and the temperature drops below freezing on night 1. We do what we can by supplying the 'kids' (as they become known) with warm fleeces and jackets but it's pretty criminal that they have to weather the elements, though they are experts at digging out shelters for themselves. They've brought along some blankets and a tarp to keep the rain out but nobody sleeps well on night 1.
We're up and off early on Day 2 - it's instant noodles for breakfast each morning but no-one's complaining as they're warm and filling. We're straight into a climb on Day 2 which brings us to about 4,400m and after another two and a half hour's trekking we reach Camp 2. It's not yet midday and so we decide to march on to Camp 3 before nightfall, heading immediately in to what looks like an almost vertical climb behind Camp 2. In spite of freezing their nuts off the previous night, the kids are in great cheer and race up the slope leaving us, panting and gasping behind, cursing yet another false summit. The views are magnificent all around - 6 and 7 house pueblitos, and hardy cholitas herding llamas. No condors yet though.
The cooking's going pretty well too, though by the time we arrive at camp each night there's only about an hour of light in which to pitch the tent and get the stove working. By this stage we've chatted to our guide and convinced him that we're perfectly capable of finishing the trek in 4 days which means one less night in the cold for the kids and more food for everyone. On Day 3 we climb to the highest point on the trek, the 5,100m Sunchulli Pass. Slow going but no ill effects from the altitude. We'd slept at 4,700m the previous night but the kids managed to light a fire with llama dung so it made us sleep easier because it was fucking cold outside.
Day 4 begins with a scramble to a 4,900m Pass and ends with a gentle amble downhill into Pelechuco but not before we've had one wonderful condor sighting, soaring just below us as we trek. We say goodbye to the kids and they make their way all the way back to Curva - it'll take them a mere 2 days. Meanwhile in Pelechuco, weirdness abounds. Fuck it's grim. I once attended a Dylan Moran gig where he talked about Sligo and how there's a factory there where they manufacture despair. Well, now I've found where we export it to. Two thirds of the adult male population are pleasantly pissed, moving obliviously through the mist which descends an hour after our arrival and which never lifts. Originally we were to spend the night here but mercifully there's a bus back to La Paz at 7pm. Only 7 hours to kill here then. An hour of this is spent watching a less than merry troupe of schoolkids marching into the village plaza rehearsing for an anniversary celebration - perhaps someone once escaped from here and they're marking the occasion. The kids are armed with drums and - frighteningly - pan pipes, easily the most evil musical invention in the history of man. Pan pipes were not made out of love, but revenge.

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