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I took  a night bus straight across the border to Bolivia.  Because of altitude reaching 4000m, it gets very cold and I was pleased to receive a  blanket.  Only in the morning, when I started to scratch, I realized it was full of fleas!  One might expect that the biggest border crossing between Peru and Bolivia should be fast, but it is not so.  The bus got stuck for almost 4 hours.  That day I arrived in La Paz, the highest capital city in the world (officially Sucre is the capital, but La Paz is the seat of the government).  It's setting is spectacular, thousands of houses fill the valley below Illimani, at 6438m the second highest mountain in the country.  That's where I wanted to go next.

Illimani 6438m

For the first time I joined an organized group, which consisted of 3 German guys and me.  Because there were 4 of us, we had 2 guides.  On day 1 we arrived at the Base Camp.  The second day, we went up to the High Camp at 5500m, right next to the glacier.  The following night we started climbing at 1.30am.  We went in 2 groups, 1 guide and 2 clients.  It was cold but not windy, and we were making good progress.  The other group, however, decided to return soon after setting off.  I felt very well and was sure I could get to the top, but unfortunately, after about 2 hours of walking, the other guy also asked to be taken back to the campsite.  In this situation, we both had to go back!  I knew that out of 4 people someone was bound to return, but we had 2 guides, so imagined I would be able to continue with the second guide.

I said I didn't want a guide any more but obviously he couldn't allow me to go alone.  Contracting a guide means that he takes responsibility for for his client until they get back.  But I just wanted them to leave me alone and we started arguing.  There was no way for me to go back when I was totally capable of continuing on my own.  Ahead of us there was another guide with his Irish client.  I run after them with my guide and they agreed to me roping up with them!  To be honest, I didn't think the Irish guy was going to make it to the top.  He was very weak and we were resting too often.  At 6000m the wind picked up and I was getting cold.  We still had a very long way to go, including a steep, 70 grades section of hard ice.  But to my surprise, the Irish guy stubbornly pressed ahead.

We were getting higher so the temperature was getting lower.  Strong wind was absolutely freezing, but the sky started to change color.  By the time we were walking on the ridge leading to the summit, the sun rose up, illuminating the clouds below.  Soon after, I was taking photos of the huge Bolivian flag which marks the top of Illimani, 6438m!!!  I was overwhelmed with emotions, because so many times on the way I was losing and regaining hope of making it to the summit.  It was pure determination that allowed my Irish partner to reach the top.  He had altitude sickness, vomiting near the summit and simply falling over on the way back.  I was lucky to feel very well.  After a month of walking and climbing in Peru I felt better then ever before.  I needed strength that day, because we had to go all the way down to the village.  The following day, we were happily back in La Paz.


Visiting the silver mine of Cerro Rico is an unforgettable experience.  20,000 men work there, and the mine has changed little over the last few hundred years.  The miners work manually in difficult conditions, using simple tools and dynamite.  Tons of ore are taken out through small tunnels by helpers using barrows.  They are paid $7 per day by the miners!  The working conditions are not going to change here, because the people are suspicious of international companies and accuse them of exploitation.  That means no investment and, sadly, no change in the way they earn their living.   photos