HUYANA POTOSI 6089m
Took us two attempts to climb this one. On coming back from the Amazon, we first tried a rushed visit with Rob who walked the Corroco trek with us. Problems started as we only spent two days in La Paz re-aclimatising to 3800m, lots of walking around buying food, hiring kit and finding an agency to take us to the mountain kept us fit. Here we met Juan who owns the Azimuth climbing agency. One of the most experienced mountaineers in Bolivia, he has had many articles published in High Magazine for new bold routes, a real character to meet.
Too soon we arrived at the mountain, huge and foreboding with the steepest of South Faces, our route was up a series of moraine ridges on the east and then a snow plod to Campo Argentina at 5300m. Cross the bergshund and traverse around to the north side where a 1000ft. Grade 1 - 2 ice route leads to the knife edged summit.
Arriving at base camp (4800m) we pitch tents, have lunch and soon set off for ice axe practising on the seracs of the glacier snout. Already very tired as we walk for 1.5 hours across terminal moraines and lakes to get to the ice. Lots of fun and games throwing ourselves down slopes, and top roping up 30-40 ft vertical seracs. All arrive back at camp totally knackered, Rob collapses in a tent and so does Clare. I make the worst most disgusting meal ever, that luckily no one could even think of trying to eat, except our poor porter Felix who wanted to but could not.
We awake to a hearty breakfast of bread and tea. Load up Felix with 28 kg yet we still struggle up the moraines with under 10 kg packs. The views are great, snowy peaks and bleak rock walls open out beneath us as we climb the highest peak in the region.
The other group plough on ahead so I think we're slow. Reach the lunch Col as they leave. All the guides insist on ropes and crampons, but there are only two small crevasses to cross, yet we rope up, sheep following sheep. Now the altitude really hits hard we keep concertinering into each other as everyone stops. 10 paces forward, stop, 10 breathes, 10 paces ,stop, 10 breathes, and so on as we traverse around the slope with a final killer climb up to Campo Argentina and die.
Rob gets a good second wind and makes dinner while we rest, old Felix the porter is ill in another tent and Clare is failing quickly but forces down enough water to keep off dehydration. The cooker is going great and melting snow like anything.
Night falls, the cloud disperses and the stars really do shine like diamonds. Three in the tent is cosy and warm, but no one sleeps and it gets warmer as clouds roll in and snow falls heavily. Not being able to sleep I stay amused by knocking the accumulating snow off the tent before it blows through the ventilation flaps and onto me. No one stirs at 3am our wake up call, or 4,5 or 6am. The weather has decided even if our bodies could have, no summit today. The path is now waist deep and the final climb avalanche prone.
Finally arise at 8am to cook breakfast, Clare would not eat but pops her head out to throw up bright green stuff ugh! Packing takes two hours, load up Felix and off again. Its a lot quicker down with strength returning at every step. Reach the seracs at 1pm and climb there until the car arrives at 4pm to return to La Paz. All the guides say that the mountain is off for a week, back at La Paz we make plans for Sorata and a proper acclimatisation walk.
On returning to La Paz we land right in the middle of the city's biggest celebration of the year. The carnival lasts 14 hours and the floats stretched back for miles. Every region and industry in the country is represented, with the truck drivers and their musical toy trucks being the funniest. Indians from the Amazon are the most athletic and the Rasta Africans that settled in Coriorco the most colourful. Everyone has a great time, so rare to see in such a poor city. The head-dresses range from large to spectacular , I just hope the feathers are now artificial.
The next day we head to Sorata for an acclimatisation walk and to let the snow on Potosi settle down and compact. The drive of 4 hours is spectacular as we run parallel with the Cordillera Blanca to our right and Lake Titicaca our left. Sorata is a quiet town of 3000 people, set around a green and lush plaza. The two dominant peaks of Illiampu control the skyline. In fact for anyone flying into La Paz I would recommend they go straight to Sorata at 2800m pleasantly warm and easy to breathe, to acclimatise more easily. We stay in a huge and slightly derelict rubber baron's mansion, including towering ceilings, ornate woodwork, and four poster beds, with a troop of parrots keeping the verandas occupied and alive.
THE CAVE OF SAN PEDRO
We are now joined by Raphel a Swiss extreme skier who we met on Potosi in the other group. Our first day sees us walking gently through the surrounding countryside along dirt roads to the Cave of San Pedro. The 8km walk soon becomes 12 km which 3 hours later sees us tired and hot at the entrance. The cave is big and hiring our "guide" with expedition Tilly lamp we descend.
Its just one passage approx. 10m high and 15-20m wide sloping down in a crossways direction. The passage continues straight occasionally lowering to a stoop for about 150m ending in a large lake "that runs to the Atlantic". The air temperature is pleasantly warm at 20°c, but the water decidedly chilly. Still as tourists we are obliged to undress and go for a swim in the dark, not something I would do in the Lakes of Dan y Ogof so why here? At the end of our swim large quantities of scum / slurry are encountered, not pleasant. We soon retreat to the warmth of the surface and another 3 hour slog home. I have no idea why some priest would want to spend half his life in that cave.
GLACIER LAKES TREK
The next day sees us off to Illiampu (6362m) not to climb, but to view the glacial lake at 5000m. We are told to take a guide and he does carry the food, but is not really necessary. The day starts with lots of climbing up and down ridges and across fast flowing torrents. Through pasture fields which did confuse the path and past many small homesteads, dotted around the hills and hours from a community. Everyone seems happier here than else where in Bolivia, and a glorious day unfolds.
That afternoon we leave the fields for the open wastes above and end at a large lake (4300m). Vertical cliffs tower in the background, while a beautiful campsite in a windless hollow is found for the tents. A very quick swim in freezing water follows. Dinner is successful tonight, but at altitude the pasta or rice sometimes wants to be cooked, but normally does not, resulting in a menu of surprises.
A late start around the lake, over some moraines and up a cliff to a knife edged ridge with a tooth gap in it. The views of Illiampu improve by the second, Lake Titicaca can now be seen stretching into the distance westwards. Descending off the ridge we pass a small gold mine and four very bleak huts. The Slabs now appear, and though not steep at 25°-30° traversing across the middle ensure a good 500 ft. fall if we slip. Air gets thinner, and the rucksacks heavier as we finally climb the last moraine to the glacial snout and camp. Massive seracs stretch up to the snow dome showing why this is the most difficult of the big ones in Bolivia.
Pitch camp, have a late lunch and set off to the lake, over yet another moraine where our guide trundles some very big boulders our way. Pass a rare high altitude hare with extra fluffy coat and finish the day skimming stones over to ice bergs on mirror still waters.
Evening clouds rise from the valley, dinner becomes stodgy and the views are incredible. The night is positively warm at -10° except for our guide who we then find has no ground mat and only one blanket. We kit him up with gloves and hat plus my precious duvet jacket, remembering he is our responsibility, before settling down to some well earned sleep.
Another late start again, I wonder why Clare? And the day goes well ending tired and hungry back at our hostel with a 3000m descent complete. I now recommend ski sticks to anyone contemplating long descents with heavy packs on steep terrain to save ones knees.
HUYANA POTOSI 6089m (The Second Attempt)
Even on a long trip time always seems to be lurking in the distance and we quickly needed to move on to Peru to stay "on schedule". So the next day we head back to La Paz re-equipe and drive straight up to base camp sharing the ride with two Americans (the following day was election day, so we had the mountain to ourselves). Our improved condition is immediately apparent as we move freely around camp only a little out of breath. Arrange for a porter to arrive tomorrow to help get our gear up to top camp while we will carry it down ourselves.
Morning arrives and no porter, we breakfast, still no porter, pack our kit and just as we leave he turns up. Thank god. He piles our kit on his shoulders thinking that the less we carry the quicker he'll get up and down, but we set off at a cracking pace and reach top camp in three hours easy.
Its going well, eat lunch, pitch tent and relax in the sun. Later the super fit Americans turn up with huge rucksacks ready to tackle the steep and severe French Route on the SW face. Dinner will be much nicer tonight, NOT. On recommendation from the Americans we bought 96 % rocket fuel which "burns clean and fast " they said. So I ditched my trusty leaded petrol and got it, unfortunately at 5300m it is too volatile in the thin air so we have splutter splutter nothing!
Their cooker for some unknown reason is still not working and they save us by kindly boiling up some soup, this added with instant mash potato and corned beef is not too bad at all. By nightfall we even have a litre of hot chocolate and a litre of water from them, as our only liquid it was essential.
Its cold , the coldest I've ever been, I take one Diamox and sleep from 8-12pm. But nature calls, oh why didn't I bring a pee bottle. Its so difficult to get trousers, jacket and boots on and off without bringing half a hill of snow back into the tent, got to keep things dry. Its -22°c outside and -10°c in the tent. Just spend the next hours looking at the roof waiting to start, apprehension and excitement keep me awake. Raf. is the same but neither know we're both awake.
The alarm goes at 3.15am I lay awake holding off the inevitable until Raf. kicks me up. He is a little ill and can't eat, while I scoff 2 cups of warm chocolate and several spoonfuls of porridge flakes. We both take a Diamox. Lucky the stove doesn't work saves plenty of time, yet with only 0.5l of water for both of us we must reach the summit before the sun's heat hits us.
Set off at 4.30am the night is beautifully clear, crisp and cold, Raf. doesn't have a torch so I lead on a good path. The bergshund takes us by surprise as it is bottomless and 3m wide with only one small bridge tentatively crossing it, We belay ourselves over.
Traversing around the mountain gives the first glimpse of the Amazon to our east and a series of low clouds. Light comes but its still intensely cold. We stop to rest and watch the sun rise, it does, right behind a cloud, robbing us of its warmth and glow, no good photos damn.
Take some pics of the Americans approaching in the distance unroped and speeding along. Our last obstacle to the summit is the 1000 ft. climb. Roping up we chat to the yanks who will solo it, but with only three axes that is not a proposition for us. They are a bit miffed at having carried a ton of kit to top camp and not to use it as the French Route is not in condition. I lead off with 150 ft. runouts up easy 45° névé slopes.
We alternate leads, clouds rise reducing visibility to a Scottish New Year Day, it is still cold as we make rapid progress to an unknown summit. Then finally the sun breaks from the cloud, temperatures soar and it's a struggle to shed clothing fast enough. Snow seems to visibly soften in front of my eyes. Wisps of cloud now scurry quickly past indicating strong winds on the summit, and seven rope lengths later we are there.
A truly ore inspiring summit, from one hour of just seeing snow in your face, to space suddenly and abruptly. The exposure is surreal as you look down a near vertical South face 3000 ft. to the glacier below. Around us the vista stretches from Samaja the highest volcano in Bolivia (6470m), the Altiplano and Lake Titicaca in the west, around the Peruivan mountains of Cusco, past the full length of the Cordillera Real and finally resting on the brooding clouds over the Amazon Basin to the east. For one hour we just sit in wonder "a chaval" on the knife edged ridge.
At 9:30 am with the sun high and the snow softening further we abseil down three rope lengths and glissade the rest, have a second mouthful of water and head home. Feeling totally dehydrated the Americans melt more water for us at camp. Raf. totally crashes out while I run around sorting out kit and feeling great. A safe descent sees us passing 15 people coming up hill. One is a Canadian who is going to snow board down from the top! By 8 p.m. we are safely tucked behind a bar in La Paz after the best of days ever.
After the ascent of Huyana Potosi a few days R & R was had in La Paz followed by the long journey passed Lake Titicaca and one week later the "bus from hell" deposits us in Cusco, Peru.
Cusco, probably the most beautiful and interesting city we encountered and at a pleasantly low altitude of 3000m. A temple stands guardian over the town with its elaborate churches, fine plazas and cobbled streets. A real party town with plenty of pizza bars and a good few discos too. From Cusco many weeks fun can be had trekking, white water rafting, horse riding or parapenting. After one days rest we head for the rapids of the Apurmac River.
All very tourist friendly, we set off for a three day white water rafting trip. The Apurimac river is one of the hardest to commercially run in South America, with about 25 medium grade 4 with one grade 5 rapid to keep you awake.
The total peace and tranquillity of the high sided gorges we gently paddle through are transformed into mayhem and chaos as we descend through the different rock bands and steeper gradients of the river. Several people take swims and the boats gently compete for the best lines down the river. Each night ends around the glow of a large fire on a small spit of beach miles from anywhere and in a world of our own.
MANCHU PICHU TREK
We had arranged to meet Dave and Amanda, two great people who were bumbling around South America with little direction and no worries back in Cusco. And to our surprise the plans even worked and saw us reunited in the rafting office at 7:30 p.m.. A quick decision! agreed on the Machu Pichu Trail the next day. Frantic food buying and repackaging of rucksacks followed before last orders at the bar.
A bleary 5:30am sees us standing outside the railway station buying tickets. In true Peruvian style the train is soon packed but we have seats. Eventually we zigzag out of the city, others start sitting on us now as the train continues to fill, with all produce including: babies, fermenting beer and fruit being passed in and out of the open windows often over, under or with the beer on to us ( very smelly).
Kilometre Post 77 soon arrives and with military precision we scramble out of seats, rucksacks pass through the window and all quickly deposited onto the track. Only then does the conductor tell us it is only KP 71 and we have to rush to get back on as the train moves out. Lunch sees us relaxing under a tree safely inside the National Park and ready to start a long day up hill.
The path is not too interesting, but the transition from agriculture to barren hillside with the many small ruins and old villages creates the most lively and dynamic of landscapes we have walked through yet. It's hot, we're arguing about the over-priced chocolate and the lack of bread rolls we have bought, one per lunch is not enough. Food doesn't seem to be on our normal par. That night we camp away from the crowds, but the price is a vertical slope to the tent as no flat ground is available.
At breakfast the big mistake of the trip materialises. Dave (the gourmet) had suggested taking Avena instead of porridge for breakfast, "it was great in the café" he said , it is disgusting, we just cannot get it right or even edible. Not a good start to the day. Things quickly improve as we walk through cool shady woodland, past a cascading waterfall and up to the 4000m pass, stunning views and lunch.
Two hours down hill brings us to a village but the second big ruins are back up the other hillside guarding the next col and eventual campsite. So finally a very impressive steep sided fortress with huge stone blocks, intricate irrigation and bathing system meets us.
About eight tents crowd the camping area, luckily being a weekend the big tourist trips are not running, otherwise this could easily double.
This starts with us trying to fool some other unsuspecting person into exchanging real food for our Avena, but all seem to be wise to its taste. Look around the ruins for a few hours listening in on other guides give their speeches. Set off by 11am and reach the next view point in 2 hours. As we near Machu Pichu the ruins are bigger and more impressive and the trail widens with polished masonry stones leading us on and up. Along with the more ruins come more people, noise and distraction. But it is still possible to walk alone, along the intricate footpath with only history and ones thoughts for company.
Towards the end of the day we finally see it, the ruins are not significant but the terracing is. Row upon row of terrace, only a few metres wide and vertically exaggerated, the crops they grew could support a city. Many people camp here and it is with relief that we get a good pitch. Dinner is rushed in order to have extra chicken and chips in the hostel washed down with our first cool beer for a few days, we even manage to get rid of the bloody avena we carried along the entire trail.
Early to bed and early to rise. The last day sees us setting out at 5:30am to reach the Sun Gate of Machu Pichu in time for sun rise. Quite cold and very dark with only the occasional glimpse of moon. The trail is now wide and well paved as though leading to something big. Arriving at the Sun Gate early only two others are there, but within half an hour 20 more arrive, no peace on this trail.
Morning breaks, the sky lightens, but nothing happens, no glorious red orb rising over Machu Pichu set below us. Machu Pichu is still in dark shadow, the sun hidden behind a ridge of mountains. Finally at 8am the sun hits the first temple, but cold and tiredness have dampened our spirits. The ruins are large and sprawling, yet set against the back- drop of the Andes and the Machu Pichu mountain which gives its name to the ruins, they are just small and diminutive.
Only when walking through the central parade ground does one feel humbled by the size and craftsmanship of the place. No visit is complete without the walk to the top of mount Machu Pichu, said to take 45 mins. Raf. and I manage it in 15 minutes with Dave at 20 and Clare and Amanda at 25 just in time to see us get our breath back. Descending to the Temple of the Moon (not much to see except me doing a moony) is a big mistake as we lose a lot of height resulting in another hard climb to get back to the ruins.
The bus ride to town is livened up by a kid running down the whole mountain side keeping in time with us. Other tourists give plenty for this little show.
We arrive back in Cusco safely, have a couple of lazy days and watch the start of the Sun God Festival, many children parade around in regional outfits. So finally it is time to say good-bye to Raf. who put up with us for almost a month. Raf, Amanda and Dave all head south to Ariquipa while we fly to Lima. A two hour wait in the hot, humid and smelly city sees us on our way to Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca. Both of us had now have caught coughs and small chest infections which will not go away.
Our time is now drawing slowly to a close, spend a day looking for a walking companion for the Santa Cruz Trail and put notices in hostels and the Guides Hut, but being a weekend life is slow. Luckily we find Yuval quietly minding his own business until I pounce on him, a really nice Israeli, very rare. Another round of shopping in colourful open markets buying all we need ends the day.
SANTA CRUZ TREK
Up early again walking through empty streets, clear skies promise the world. A collectivo rapidly carries us to Yungay where a leisurely breakfast is eventually disturbed by our driver waiting to carry us into the valley. We leave the bus in a storm of dust and settle into our surroundings. Sheer rock walls rise above a tranquil lake, spires of snow capped mountain peaks guard the horizon giving enormous contrast and dramatic settings. One feels trapped in the beauty of the hills unwilling to break away and continue the journey.
Hiding our bags at a climbing hut we set out on a day trip to Laguna 66. Leaving the Pisco base camp we follow the lush valley up to a large waterfall, climb up a steep slope into a side valley and pass the waterfall on its right continuing onto a high pasture and lake. Tired with the step climb we soon realise it is not all over. The continuation is around the side and up a further rock steep into a hidden Cwm and the beautiful Laguna 66. Incredible steep headwalls, glaciers cascading into the lake and icebergs abound. All this meets us as we huddle for warmth during a hurried lunch at 4850m, chill winds blowing off the slopes above.
We now noticed that Clare's and my coughs were getting worse as we ascended , accompanying our foot-steps with an abrupt hacking staccato rhythm. Things get better as we descend.
That night we impress Yuval with the time spent and product reached of our cooking, but with little else to do it is a tasty accompaniment to watching the Alpenglow over Huscran and the stars gradually appearing. Beautiful.
Hitching to the next village early we meet two American brothers on the bus. Both being teachers they give a grave insight into the possible future of our schools. On driving over one high pass we stop to take photos of Huascran and Pisco. The village holds no surprises or spare food, just three huts along the roadside. Clare feels very poorly so with no ado we accept the donkeys on hire and load them up. Walking with the animals up the valley, we pass farms, terracing and finally the text book U shaped valley comes to view. Hanging glaciers, sheer sides, lateral moraines and roché matonués abound, Switzerland eat your heart out.
That night we camp on a high rock step to the right of the valley. Views intimidate, Yuval cooks real rice for once, and the coughs get worse still. With Yuval speaking excellent Spanish it really shows how much we are missing of this beautiful continent, only being able to look and observe but not communicate is so saddening to me.
A cool night dawns magnificently but noisily shattered by a troop of twenty school girls giggling up the mountain on their annual school outing. They pass us with ponies carrying everything, even an army mess tent. One of the animals just could not make it in the high altitude and falls over dead with a heart-attack, legs pointing straight up to the sky waving his flag to the end.
The pass at 4800m takes only two hours to reach, so stay awhile watching views across Pisco, the Santa Cruz valley and Apamyo, Huascran ever dominant in the east. Sugar coated glaciers tumble down frighteningly steep mountain sides, with the path following down through ever narrowing valley sides. A leisurely lunch is had just below the Col where we say goodbye to our American friends, their conversation so fresh and enlightening over the past days.
To our surprise a twang of voices is heard in the distance and up pops Nick and Nikki our South African friends from Ruenebaque. It is these guys that we had been trying to find in Huaraz three days before, but having arrived a day late they missed us. We arrange to meet up later and head on.
Descending on a well made path we pass the school children again, they giggle and laugh at our heavy packs calling out burros (mules) while they frolic along the valley like Chamois, with not a care in the world. The side valley to Amapayo base camp passes on our right, then we climb up and over a huge landslide. A funny sweet rotten smell invades the air, only latter do we learn of the forty three animals and two walkers buried under our feet. The rock is not as stable as it looks.
A tired trio reach the shores of a Lake after a long yet fulfilling day. Clare again retires straight to bed with a hacking cough, headache and twitchy stomach. Yuval tries to amuse me in cryptic clues, but I have little enough oxygen going to my brain as it is, and soon give in. He cooks a grand meal as we silently watch the setting sun fire the peaks of Apamayo. Geese glide over the lake and occasional fish leap for the ever present insects, yet all the walks we have done are lacking in a variety of flora and fauna. Life here is just too barren and only now do I appreciate the abundance and variety in our own animals and plants.
Another fine morning sees us off down the track with the knowledge that clean sheets and a good beer are assured tonight, but there's still 4.5 hours of down hill plodding ahead. The peaks behind are lost around a corner as the hill sides ahead close ever narrower and narrower, rising in grandeur with every step.
The final gorge is steep and narrow, farms reappear where Poplars grow tall and straight as wind breaks. We open on to the valley, the largest in the area with views stretching from Huaraz in the south to in the North. A few mad bus journeys later and we're back in noisy Huaraz.
On finding Nick and Nikki, Clare is given some antibiotics, my cough is still present but stupidity stops me taking medicine too. I think its a combination of uncertainty about local doctors and medicine, and saying " It'll go away". That night Clare's antibiotics go well with Pisco Sour a very palatable cocktail. She dances the night away while I talk about climbing ethics to Joe Simpson, whom just happened to be propping up the bar.
Its our last Thursday of the trip and this morning I feel shit. Still decide to have a go at Pisco tomorrow. We're set to leave in five days and I know its my only chance. After not getting a go on Illiami, this one has to succeed. Yuval is keen and Nick is finally persuaded to go as long as I come too. I feel I'm only making the effort to make sure they get on the mountain as the big snow will be a first for both of them.
Looking back I still don't know why I never obtained a prescription for the chest infection. I decided that if I could get to the bus station in the morning, then a porter could carry my pack and I'll just get myself up to basecamp for a few last days in the hills. So my last Friday sees us waiting for our porter at the bus station. We wait and wait, after 1.5 hours give up and hope for the best. In Yungay we meet two other back packers trying for the peak too and by 9am are dumped out the bus at base camp (4100m).
Finally the rise in altitude really hits me and I lay gasping for breath, like a fish out of water. Some passing locals offer us pack animals to get the gear up to base camp. I set off while they load the mules. The walking is unbelievably slow and painful, each steep burns my chest and I am barely 100m from camp. It takes me 1 hour to walk 0.5 mile and climb 200metres. I stop and soon realise the fatality of it all.
After convincing Nick and Yuval to continue without me I descend disappointed and alone, luckily a bus soon passes by and I'm on my way back. The journey itself is exhausting with fierce sun turning the inside of the bus into an oven. People just look at me in that funny puzzled way, wondering what's wrong.
Back at the hostel, I'm saved by the greatest of hostesses who plies me with honey and lemon drinks, food to order and bed-side service. After some rest the doctor diagnoses chronic bronchitis. Its amazing what a common cold will develop into, and its the last time I'll let "Nature take its course", for that course leads to death in high places. My bed-side table soon looks like a pharmacy as I take pills, syrups and injections galore. Eventually I recover a little and on Sunday night the guys return successful and jubilant having climbed one of the most beautiful mountains in Peru. And almost fallen in a few places too. Travelling Ted jumped ship as I turned back and he too made it to the summit (one more to add to his growing collection).
By Monday the drugs were working wonders and I was feeling only ill. The bus journey to Lima was excellent with stunning views as we left the Cordillera Blanca, winding down through the lush valley, which carries its life giving waters to the desert and Pacific beyond. At the sea turn left and head south. The sand dunes grow and grow until finally a winding sliver of road is all that's left, seen threading its way around 2000 ft. dunes that sweep into the sea. Bulldozers constantly patch the Pan American Highway keeping it clear of moving sand and land slides.
On reaching the coast you hit the fog that envelopes it all winter long. Lima is as expected: noisy, dirty and crowded. I eventually crawl across the city in a taxi to meet Clare and we finish the last two days in South America looking at museums, searching for drugs and injections and saying farewell to the Pacific. Eagerly we turn and look forward to a summer of warmth and greenery back home knowing that I will return soon to these magical mountains.
The trip was a great success, even though we did not do as many walks as hoped, other parts like the rafting and jungle trip were not even considered before-hand. In hind sight if your only going to do a little climbing then all equipment can be hired cheaply out there, we carried lots of kit, most could be stored in La Paz and was not a hassle to transport around but less is best!
In all mountain areas porters and guides were easily found if wanted, and Juan does an excellent technical mountaineering course from La Paz for very little compared to UK prices. Flight prices vary a lot but ours at £650 flew into La Paz and out of Lima. High altitude climbing insurance with BMC was £210 expensive but the best, trekking insurance was £110 for 3 months. Finally we budgeted for £100 per week, this included all accommodation, food, trips, transport and some expensive souvenirs. We did not rough it at all and costs could come down a lot once outside the big cities.
Not speaking Spanish meant we lacked any communication with the locals which was disappointing, but it did not hinder us much in terms of travel and exploration, we just travelled the country with our ears covered.