Chacal-bye-a, hello Huayna Potosi!

Goodbye Chacaltaya, Hello Huayna Potosi

We have a big update for you all. Over the past few days the organising committee have been hard at work solving the problem with access to our high-altitude accommodation.

On arrival in country we were hit with the news that Chacaltaya mountain had had its first proper snowfall in over 20 years. The last time anyone had skied on the mountain had been in the 1990s, and the glacier disappeared completely in 2009. A freak snowy period had led to the access road to the lodge being covered in snow and ice, making it inaccessible by jeep. We attempted to clear the road by bulldozer, however this proved unsuccessful.

As always has been, and always will be, the safety of our volunteers is our number one priority. We would never put the safety of our volunteers at risk. 

As such, we had to make a very big decision. If we could not access Chacaltaya, then we would have to cancel the expedition. Fortunately, we have found alternative accommodation at Huayna Potosi refuge.

At a height of 4800m it is slightly lower than our original accommodation. However it is safer, has clear road access and, is better insulated than Chacaltaya. It looks very homely! We are very excited about this new location, and the team have worked extremely hard to ensure a successful expedition.

To celebrate results, we treated ourselves to some Dulce de Leche ice cream!!!

What have we been up to?

Despite our series of unfortunate events, the volunteers have been having a great time in La Paz. From leaving the hostel at 4am to visit the ancient temple of Tiwanaku, to seeing the expanse of the city by cable car, it has been a truly great few days.

We have also organised some whole team activities. We got some great photos in the centre square, and then had a delicious meal at Ichuri. Here we ate dinner on a 7th floor balcony, with views of the city stretching for miles around.

During the dinner, to fill in time between ordering 36 meals and them being delivered to the table, we held our pub quiz. This was a great time filler, and it got very competitive. Girls With Altitude (+ Oliver) came out victorious. Their prize: a Llama keyring, of course.

Today we are all in the hostel, learning about the research and preparing to head up Huayna Potosi tomorrow. It is a very exciting time, and you can feel the buzz in the air. Everything is coming together nicely. The medical kit finally arrived, the shopping is all done and the oxygen cylinders are here. Importantly, the 4th years got their results - and they all passed!

Jason, Gordon and Joe have been teaching the volunteers the various steps of their protocols, in preparation for the volunteers assisting the research at altitude.   Ellie has been hard at work too in a dark room to help volunteers improve their technique at imaging the back of their eye.  

Now it is time for volunteer handover. The next two parts are written by the volunteers, telling us about their activities over the past few days.

Enjoy them!


Eye imaging research underway

Volunteer Post: La Valle de Luna (Moon Valley)

Our journey began in the centre of town, where Greig dropped us off at a supposed green bus, that turned out to be orange. Colour blind problems. We hailed down the bus, and 5 of us squashed on. The driver insisted the rest tried to squeeze on (7 more). However they decided to wait for the next one.

We reunited on the moon, stocked up on diet coke and ice cream, and ventured down the tunnel into La Valle de Luna. 

We were amazed at the insane rock formation, as described by the over-enthusiastic information panel. “It was like Narnia, going into a different world”. The atmosphere was enhanced by an elderly Bolivian man, playing a banjo, in a traditional red poncho, atop a pinnacle. 

It was not long before our trip turned into a photoshoot, and we meandered along the dusty path through the stunning landscape. Geology student Katie was in her element. 

Heat and lack of oxygen were taking their toll, so we stopped for a breather at a beautiful viewpoint. We took lots of fake candid photos before returning to the bus stop. No bus came! We hailed down a local Bolivian family, and hitch-hiked in their minivan. Fortunately it held all 13 of us! The daughter enjoyed our Macarena. 

What a day! 

Becky, Rebecca and Anna

Volunteer Post: Tiwanaku

Hola amigos! After a 3.30am wake up call, 14 of the APEX 5 volunteers ventured an hour out of La Paz to Tiwanaku, the sacred grounds and ruins of the Tiwanaku people. The day began by celebrating the Winter Solstice festival that signifies the start of the Aymaran New Year. 

We raised our hands to capture the sun's energy, in true Tiwanaku tradition. The group felt revitalised... but whether that was to do with the sun’s energy captured or the amazing breakfast that followed, we can’t be sure. 

Victor, our extremely keen tour guide was amused when the group were of particular interest to the locals, especially the taller, paler members. APEX 5 managed to secure two Bolivian television appearances with the help of our Spanish speaking volunteer, Denisa. 

After soaking up the newly found fame, the group were then brought back down to earth by immersing themselves in the numerous exhibitions at the museum. 

Following the museum, Victor guided the group around the Tiwanaku ruins where he amazed us all with the ancients secrets of the indigenous people. 

One of the volunteers, Jack, proved his commitment to the group by bellowing “APEX 5” through an ancient amplification rock which the locals found rather amusing. 

The opportunity to take many a ‘selfie’ was also fully exploited. The cultural experience was continued over lunch and the group had the chance to try some local llama steak. 

Finally, the exhausted group headed back to La Paz, admiring the incredible scenic views of Cordillera Ridge. Huayna Potosi is nestled amongst this group of mountains, and the volunteers enjoyed getting a sneak peek of their future home for the following week! 

That was our adventure!!

Abi and Eleanor


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