Tales of the Unexpected in Bolivia

This summer Tim, KE's Operations Manager, made a trip that had been high on his list for some time: traversing Bolivia's Cordillera Real. As it turn... Read more
Tales of the Unexpected in Bolivia

This summer Tim, KE's Operations Manager, made a trip that had been high on his list for some time: traversing Bolivia's Cordillera Real. As it turned out, it wasn't just the incredible scenery of the Andes which made this one to never forget. 

When I joined the 'Traverse of Bolivia's Cordillera Real' trip the thing I was looking forward to most was trekking amongst the beautiful snow-capped peaks of the Bolivian Andes. In this respect, the trip more than lived up to my expectations - it's a fantastic trek exploring the beautiful lakes and high passes of the Cordillera Real, and camping in some absolutely idyllic spots. However, one of the unexpected highlights of the trip for me was actually the 5 days spent in Bolivia before the trek even started.

Bolivia's Cordillera Real is a mighty range - its highest peak, Illimani, towers at a lofty 6438 metres (21,122 ft). This means that even by walking through these incredible mountains, you'll be experiencing trekking at high altitude, with the highest point on this trek at 5350 metres. This isn't a problem though, due to the 5 days of acclimatisation by Lake Titicaca before you begin. At 3640m, La Paz is one of the highest large cities in the world, and so flying into Bolivia's thriving de facto capital and exploring the surrounding wonders is the perfect way to settle into life at high altitude before you begin your trek. 

Copacabana and Lake Titicaca

After flying into La Paz and spending a night there, we drove to the laid-back town of Copacabana (3800m). It's situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the World. Copacabana is considered a sacred place for both Bolivians and neighbouring Peruvians, and many come here each year for a blessing to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. This was to be our base for a few days easy paced sightseeing, to get our bodies used to the high altitude.

Local markets 

On our first day sightseeing in Copacabana we spent the first part of the morning wandering through the cobblestoned streets enjoying the local markets. We arrived in the centre of town at the whitewashed church of the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana. Outside the church were market stalls selling flowers, brightly coloured decorations and bottles of beer and 'champagne'.


Blessing of cars

There were also dozens of decorated trucks, cars, and minibuses lined up outside the church. We all assumed that there must be a wedding taking place, but as the priest wandered out of the church with a bucket of holy water and a sprinkler, we realised that this was a very different kind of ceremony. People drive to Copacabana from many miles around to have their newly bought vehicles blessed. Most of the vehicles outside the church were used, but as they were new to the person owning them, they need the vehicle blessed.

The vehicles are decorated with sparkly decorations and fresh gladioli, then the priest will bless the car by splashing the engine, exterior and interior with holy water. This is followed by spraying the car (and it's engine and interior!) with champagne and beer, throwing some petals onto the car and lighting a few firecrackers. A few photos with the priest, and you're good to drive off. As the cars are covered in beer and champagne the petals stick to the cars, showing everybody when you drive off, that your car has been blessed in Copacabana. We all left the church with smiles on our faces, having learnt another interesting aspect of Bolivian culture.

Life on trek

Once the acclimatisation period was over, it was time to dive into exploring the Cordillera Real. Here some of my favourite scenes from the trek. 

A group photo on our first day of trekking before we set off through the Labrahuani Valley 

Breakfast al fresco at Kotia Lake to start the day right

Leaving Kotia Lake camp - there was only pristine blue water to be found in the Andes

Waking up to the furry faces of resident llamas at Ajwani Lake camp

Ascents to cols took us truly off the beaten path

On top of Jurikhota Pass - still smiling after the ascent

Settling in at Chiarkhota Lake camp

Our incredible guide tells us about the view over Livinosa Lake

Descending through the clouds to Challapampa

Descending into the cloud forest at Challapampa - the land got lusher as we went

Celebrating finishing with some well-earned pizza and beer

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