Wednesday, January 14, 2009

they're baaa-ack

Our nine-person "UACing for a Cause" contingent is back in Carmen Pampa! Monika, one of our three UAC-CP Eco-tourism guides on the Ecovia trek, noted our official arrival time as 5:30pm. Which, when I crunch the numbers, means that we hiked a total of 18+ hours in two days!

Gregorio and Tara at the beginning of the hike in Chuspipata.

We started our journey in Carmen Pampa early Monday morning under the fading moon. In a minivan, we rode up to Chuspipata, a small community located near top of the infamous "Road of Death." At Chuspipata, we ate a quick snack and started our walk--a relatively wide road that had been cleared many years ago with the intent of connecting La Paz to the Amazon by railway. Needless to say, the train idea fell through and the result is the, at times wide and at times nonexistent, Ecovia trail.

Monika poses with the South Yungas in the background. The Sud and Nor Yungas are separated by the La Paz River.

Today, overgrown weeds, countless landslides, marshy stretches, and small rivers formed by rushing waterfalls don't allow passage for any type of mobility, let alone a train. In fact, at one point, a giant hole in the middle of the trail that plunges several, if not a hundred, feet downward made the trail nearly impassible on foot.

Kimberly, Juan and I stop for a picture in front of a rock formation covered with soft, lucious green moss.

For the most part, the path was clear, but we did encounter a handful of landslides that made passage a bit more difficult.

We were kind of an improbable cast of characters to be spending an overnight journey together: Monika, Juan, and Ismael (three UAC-CP Eco-tourism students), Tara Nolan and Kimberly Lane (niece and friend of UAC-CP founder, Sr. Damon), Gregorio and Paulina (long-time Carmen Pampa residents, recent newlyweds, and former UAC-CP administrators), Sr. Helen Bubu (a Franciscan sister from Paupa New Guinea), and me. What really brought us together was the one thing that all of us have in common: the UAC-CP.

Despite a very soggy night of very little sleep in our makeshift campground and trudging through almost entirely all wet ground during the first day and a half, I think we unanimously had a terrific time. It was good-natured humor and positive attitudes that won out over our blistered feet and carried us through. We also couldn't help but recognize that despite wet tents and sleeping bags and some mist off and on during the day, we were struck with some sort of inexplicable fortune to have had beautiful weather during one of the rainiest months of the year!

A picture of my shoes and wet, muddy pant legs...BEFORE the trail got really bad. (I initially scoffed at the plastic bag idea, but one too many river crossings and sloppy, mud infested trails later, I gave in to the plastic bolsa.)

The times when I trusted the trail enough to let my feet do the walking without a watchful eye, I saw spectacular mountain views! The number of orchids, particularly during the last half of the second day, was also incredible.

In the end, I think we came to several conclusiones: 1. Never plan an overnight trekking adventure in the Yungas (or any other cloud forest) during the rainy season; 2. There is a big difference between what first-time trekker and on-line fundraiser extraordinaire Kimberly Lane considers "uphill" and what Bolivians call "una subida;" 3. The UAC-CP's Eco-Tourism program needs better (ie waterproof) camping equipment; 4. Never underestimate a cute, little nun's ability to powerfully wield a machete; and 5. We are definitely doing this again next year!!

After setting many a blistered foot on official Carmen Pampa ground, the gang celebrates...sitting down. From left to right: Gregorio, Paulina, Monika, Ismael, Kimberly, Tara and Sr. Helen.

During some of the more challenging parts of the trail there was some "debate" between Kimberly and I about whose idea it was to do the hike in the first place. Although I do admit it seems entirely unlike her, I'm pretty sure it was Kimberly's idea. Either way, now that it's over, we're in agreement that it was definitely worth it. To date (read: it's still NOT too late to give--either through firstgiving or Carmen Pampa Fund), Kimberly and I have raised about $4,600 for Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program!

We couldn't have achieved our goal without the help of generous people who made donations to Carmen Pampa Fund. We also couldn't have achieved this goal without the UAC-CP Eco-tourism students and Gregorio (who carried Kimberly's hefty pack) and Paulina.

About one hour from home! Gregorio, Paulina, Sr. Helen, Kimberly, Tara, Sarah, Juan and Monika pose with Uchumachi in the background.

So, MIL GRACIAS to everyone for their monetary, moral, and (in the case of Gregorio) physical support!

1 comment:

joosts said...

Hello Sarah,
I lived over a year in Coroico, volunteering in several tourism projects. Somehow I never managed to work together with the UAC, but I'd like that to change. Two projects in which we could work together are:
- A tourism portal about Coroico. There is a page about the Eco-via, if you'd see mistakes, please let me know.
- A community tourism project at Yolosa (with a walk on an Inca trail hidden in the valley below the last part of the eco-via), called Kori Huayku.

I'd be more than happy to provide info about the UAC and its international partners, provided that someone gives me the info.
You can contact me through the above websites or e-mail.