A young man's strange erotic journey around the globe
Here’s a view of Huayna Potosí as seen while we were driving towards it on the day I was due to start climbing it. The peak of Huayna Potosí is 6088m above sea level. I’ve wanted to climb this mountain ever since a buddy of mine (yo Konrad, what up?) did it back in 2014 during his trip across South America. The highest I’d previously been was 5800-something meters while walking up Kilimanjaro with my brother a few years back. So…this was going to be my first time over 6k and I was a bit nervous, especially considering that the top of Huanya Potosí – unlike Kilimanjaro – is still covered in a massive glacier that you gotta wear crampons to climb on. But we’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s start with La Paz…
So, La Paz itself sits at 3600m and neighboring El Alto sits at 4000m. Now, to me it’s all just one big jumbled city and I really couldn’t tell you where La Paz ends and El Alto begins. At any rate, it’s good to spend a few days at these elevations to begin the acclimatization process before heading out and going up any higher.
For me, the first order of business during my first day in La Paz was to head up to El Alto to see some Cholita Wrestling. “Cholita” is a word used to refer to the indigenous women of Bolivia
Entrance to the theater
Some artwork on the wall in the foyer
Is that not some of the grooviest decor you’ve ever seen?
This guy here behind the computer was the announcer who introduced all the wrestlers as they came out. He also provided color commentary about all the action taking place on the stage. I’m almost certain that he was also responsible for all the music being played throughout the event. Whereas each wrestler had their own song on to come out to, the general soundtrack for the rest of the event was 80s hits – most notably standing out in my head right now is Toto’s “Hold the Line”
One cholita coming out after being introduced by the MC. Cholitas in La Paz typically wear long skirts like that, have long braided hair and wear those tiny bowler hats atop their heads. Now, I don’t know if it’s bullshit or not, but I read something somewhere about the British building a railroad across the country and some guys sending over a huge shipment of these hats for all the railroad workers to wear. Turns out all the hats were too small for the British guys’ heads. Not wanting the product to go to waste, they tried to market them to the Bolivian men, but they weren’t interested. So then they turned to the local women. They told them that it was the hottest fashion trend coming from Europe and that all the women there were wearing these hats. And the cholitas bought the story and ever since then, these hats have become a traditional part of their outfits
Take that, you bitch! These women didn’t go easy on one another, that’s for sure
View from the second floor
In pretty much all the matches we watched, the ref would get involved in the fight. And the refs were always male. And the refs wouldn’t really hold back when hitting the women which made all the “woke” Americans/Europeans in the audience feel very uncomfortable, not knowing whether to cheer as was expected by the performers or to write a tweet about how offended they are just to guarantee no one will accuse them of supporting violence against women. Also pictured here on the bottom right of the people in the ring is an audience member who somehow became involved in the plot line
The ladies thanking the audience at the end of the show. The cholitas wrestle every Thursday and Sunday night, so if you ever find yourself in La Paz, don’t miss out!!!
After the Cholitas wrestling, I went out and had some llama meat for dinner. True story
And followed it up with a slice of tres leches cake. I wonder if any restaurant-goer has ever ordered a tres leches cake and unknowingly been served a cuatro leches cake by some perverted chef who’s taken it upon himself to add some of his own special ingredients
The lunch I had the next day was not as impressive. The chicken was alright as the main course but this “pulpito” (little octopus) that they served as a starter was just fuckin weird
My very zen airbnb in the affluent Calacoto neighborhood of La Paz
In the Ketal supermarket in Calacoto, in addition to the normal supermarket staple of canned tuna, they sold canned trout which’d been caught fresh from Lake Titicaca. It was actually really good
Really talented dude who’d extend a tightrope across the street here in the Calacoto neighborhood every time there was a red light then proceed to do his juggling act. I gave him a handful of change. I mean, why not? It’s an impressive show. Much more impressive than aggressively pressing a piece of cardboard that says “Please help me, I’m hungry” up against your driver side window here at red lights in Chicago
Above me here is the Blue Line of the “Mi Teleférico” (My Cable Car) transportation system that serves the La Paz/El Alto metropolitan area
Since La Paz is situated up in the mountains, it’s just not practical to have a subway train system and I’d say that the shared minibus system is chaotic at best. As such, in 2014, to fill this public transportation void, they opened up the teleférico. I think it’s a great system. I rode from Irpavi station on the green then transferred to the yellow, then the silver, then red, orange, white, sky blue and back to green. You have to pay each time you transfer lines. I think with the conversion rate it works out to be something like 40 cents a fare. It took me around 2.5 hours to ride that whole loop around the city
View from either the green or the yellow line at the beginning of my trip
Look down on a police academy
Looking down on a market street from the silver line
Part of a long series of murals as seen from the silver line
Aerial view of a building with a peepee spraypainted on the side of it
Going back down on the red line
Mural near one of the stops on the red line
Cementerio General – bodies on bodies on bodies all packed into these crypts on both sides of me
Not sure if this is true, but I read that since overcrowding is a problem, the bodies can only remain in each crypt for ten years before they need to be cremated to make space for someone else
Cholitas almost always wear an “aguayo” which is the colorful piece of cloth around this woman’s shoulders. They’re used to carry pretty much anything – even babies!
Here is a whatsapp conversation I was having regarding payment with the guide that I’d hired to take me up to Huayna Potosí a couple days before going. As conversations with me normally do, things seem to have taken a turn for the perverted (1 of 5)
Just so there’s no confusion here, that is not the dick of my guide. What that is is a GIF of a massive penis spontaneously busting out of an otherwise healthy and previously undamaged pair of pants inspired by my usage of the phrase “sin vaselina” (2 of 5)
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Huaynita Day 1
Here I am dropping off whatever stuff I won’t need for the hike at the house of my guide. He is a professional photographer and that on the wall is one of his photos. He can be found on Instagram at gavphotography
Driving out of Calacoto
A vehicle with two 69 stickers that I saw up in El Alto
Huayna Potosí is located about 25km north of La Paz. Here it is as seen while on the outskirts of the city
While we were approaching “Huaynita” as I’d heard several of the guides affectionately refer to it as, we drove past this little cemetery on the hill here. I asked if that was where they buried all the people who were unsuccessful in their attempt to summit Huaynita. And I was told that, yes, but specifically everyone that tried to climb it without a guide! Of course, this was only a joke. In actuality, those graves belong to some miners that used to work in the area way back when who were ordered to be killed by whoever’d been the president at the time.
Here the guide had to get out of the car and go register with the police or something. For this entire ride, since we’d left La Paz about two hours beforehand, I couldn’t stop staring at this peak. I wasn’t pissing-my-pants scared or anything like that, but at the same time could not comprehend that I was about to climb that thing. It just wasn’t registering with me
The first refugio right where the trail begins. After parking the car, the plan was to have lunch and then start walking. On the wall by the door there it says that we’re already at 4800m above sea level
Just outside of the refugio, guides and porters stand around chatting and waiting to work. I think my guide hired one of the cholita porters to carry our food from this refugio to the one at high camp. She did so by loading all the stuff into her aguayo and humping it a couple hundred meters uphill
On the left is my guide Gabriel and on the right is Carla Rodriguez who was in charge of preparing our food for these two days. She is the chef and owner of the vegan restaurant Aguacate in La Paz. On the table in front of us there are vegan tacos which – from the perspective of someone who enjoys eating meat – were surprisingly very good
Starting the hike up
Following Garbiel. That big white mass on the left there is the first sighting of the glacier. At first glance, I didn’t think it was that big until…
…I saw these tiny little dots moving around near the bottom of it and realized that the dots were people climbing on the glacier. Gabriel informed me that that’s what people do when they have 3-day itineraries to climb Huayna Potosí. They hang out for a day and practice climbing on ice using crampons and piolets. We, on the other hand, were just gonna go for it in two days – get up to high camp on Day 1 and then wake up and start walking around 3am on Day 2 to reach the summit by sunrise.
Here is the registration point (4965m) where everyone going any higher has to pay 50 bolivianos (about $7USD) and write their name and passport number into a booklet there. In addition to Gabriel and Carla, in this photo here are two other guides. The guy in the red is Agustín and…and I’m not sure of the name of the guy in blue. The plan was for Carla to stay behind in high camp while the four of us guys went to go summit. I would be attached with a rope to Agustín while Gabriel would be attached to the blue guy. I didn’t know it was going to be like this. When I hired him, I thought it was just going to be me and Gabriel. But he said he hired those guys to come along so he could focus on taking photos and know that he’s being looked after while Agustín (one of the best guides around, I was told) was taking good care of me up on the summit
A different group of hikers and a cholita porter making their way up to high camp
A different refugio we passed right before arriving to our own
We got here around 3:30 or 4pm. Very easy day of hiking. Think we only walked for like two hours at a very relaxed pace. This place was right on the edge of the glacier, so in order to go any higher it’d be necessary to put on crampons
All the other hikers left around 1am but Gabriel said he was confident that I’d be a pretty fast hiker, so he decided we’d leave at 3. Turns out that Gabriel himself was suffering from altitude sickness, felt completely exhausted and was throwing up near the time of our departure. So, we had kind of a slow start. As such, here’s Agustín tying on my crampons at around 3:30am. In spite of his sickness, Gabriel decided that he’d come along as planned
Here’s me following behind Agustín, one step at a time. My first time ever walking in crampons on a glacier…in the middle of the night…attached by rope to a total stranger
Those tiny dots of light are other groups of hikers ahead of us up on the hill. While we’d been walking in the dark, a light snow had been falling on top of us while lightning flashed all around. After about an hour of hiking, Gabriel felt too sick to continue and decided he and his guide were going to turn back. He said that, “I’ve been up to the top of Huayna like 50 times already. But you go and enjoy. You’re in good hands. Agustín is one of the best.” And with that, just before he left, he gave me his extra coat to help protect me from the cold I’d be facing higher up.
Stopping with Agustín for a 5-minute break to eat some cookies and drink some water. Although the water I’d packed was boiling hot when I took it back at high camp, in spite of being kept inside my bag, whatever was left of it at this point in the hike had frozen. In fact, spending these 5 minutes with my gloves off was enough time for my fingers to start to freeze. I lost feeling in them and had trouble getting my gloves back on and then spent the next fifteen minutes of walking clenching and unclenching my fist trying to get some blood flow back into my fingers. Eventually they started to warm up again and the first sensation I felt as they began to thaw was a painful stinging. I kept walking and eventually this passed as well and everything was okay.
Here the sun has begun to rise as we approach the final stretch before the summit. At this point, Agustín said he’d been suffering from stomach pains but stayed strong as we continued moving along. Above Agustín’s left shoulder is another group of hikers on this steep slope
Group of hikers congregated on the peak. From high camp, we reached the summit in just over three hours, arriving at about the same time as all the other hikers who’d left 2 to 2.5 hours before us
This one particular guy from Ireland…his face was so purple and frozen-looking at the summit that I thought he looked like he was dead
More hikers approaching the peak.
Agustín giving me a thumbs up just before…
…pulling a Bolivian flag out of his backpack and saying I should pose for a picture with it. It was so windy up there that the flag kept blowing upside down while I was trying to pose with it. If I would’ve let go of it, no doubt it would’ve gone flying and disappeared into thin air
What the glacier on which we were walking looked like in the light of the early morning
Heading down now…
Frozen-face selfie. I thankfully did not suffer any effects from the high altitude. This is probably because I’d spent the week before this summit hiking in the mountains around Sorata where I’d gone over several 5000m passes, helping me with my acclimatization
Bit further down
More glacial textures
One of several huge cracks in the glacier that you gotta step over. I thought this one kinda looked like a massive icy vagina.
End of the glacier now in sight
Kind of tricky point right here. In the dark, we’d climbed up this very steep, 30-meter ice wall and now it was time to go back down.
Since he was concerned about me slipping and busting my shit, Agustín decided it would be a good idea for me to belay down
A look back up the mountain while I wait for Agustín to get situated with the belay setup
Me just before belaying down
The rest of the hikers beginning to belay down while Agustín (on the right) quickly but carefully climbs down to meet me
It was a pretty casual walk down the rest of the glacier
It was starting to get “hot” out at this point so we shed a few layers for the rest of the walk
If you look closely, in the center of the photo you can see the shelter where I’d slept the night before
Officially off the glacier and looking back at the area we’d just traversed
The disgusting bathroom back at the refugio which was not a pit latrine but instead had some sort of bucket below the toilet that they collect the shit in and then go dump it somewhere else on the mountain.
After finishing the hike, we went back to La Paz where I packed my bags and got ready to fly home that night. My route was from La Paz to Bogotá to Miami to Chicago. I saw this guy in the airport at Miami and had to take a photo of his shirt
Landing in Chicago some twenty-something hours after leaving La Paz