The mountain Huayna Potosi is with 6088 meters sea-level one of the ice castles of the Cordillera Real. This mountain range is the eastern boundary of the Altiplano, the 2nd widest plateau on earth after Tibet, with about 4000 meters altitude. On the east side of the Cordillera Real follows the Amazon basin, with vast amounts of clouds, rain and snow in the Bolivian winter period (December to April). Consequently the glaciation of the Cordillera Real is enormous.
Life on Altiplano is hard and tough with very cold nights, excessive sun burning during the day and heavy precipitation in the rainy season. The indigenous tribe are the proud Aymara people. They achieved that their tongue is the second official language of native people in South America (after Guarani in Paraguay). The Aymara new year, Willkakuti is celebrated on their sacred place Tiwanaku in the longest night of the year at June 21st, when the sun turns.
When we left Arica in Chile we had the intention to do climb some mountains in the Lauca / Sajama National Parks on both sides of the border between Bolivia and Chile. But our car was very reluctant to start at sea-levels above 3000 meters. The highest point is close to 4700 meters - no chance. We had had the same trouble one year ago in Bolivia. Thus we had taken a new starter engine and five heat plugs from Germany to South America last October. We decided to head to the Bosch Diesel Service La Paz in El Alto (altitude 4000 meters!) as soon as possible, where we were welcomed warmly.
Eduardo and his crew started immediately changing the starter engine and the heat plugs, which is a complicated task, which consumes much time and efforts. Kristina and Urs from Switzerland were also in. We spent a long evening together and had a lot of fun - Thanks Kristina and Urs. Again our car was very hesitant to start the main engine on the next morning but the people of Diesel Service La Paz managed it somehow. We drove to a welding shop to fix the big holes on our sliding door and right fender. We found a specialist close to Bosch Diesel Service La Paz and he did just half of the job because he was running out of gas. He did a decent job; so we promised to come back after our trip to the mountains.
No way to start our car! Another technician brought a magic but dangerous and poisonous spray, which he drizzled into the air inlet tube. The main engine started, we bought this spray and returned to Bosch Diesel Service La Paz (GPS coordinates: S16° 31.944' W68° 10.483'). Alfred insisted to measure the electric current during preheating. The result was weird, just 10 Ampere instead of 50. Finally it turned out that four of the five new heat plugs were defective. The people of Bosch Diesel Service could not believe it and they asked if they were really from Germany. To their mind such an issue is impossible in Germany.
Fortunately they still had the old, and a little bit used heater plugs, which they mounted without any additional costs. We spent again the evening and night in the area of Bosch Diesel Service La Paz. But we had exciting guests. Few days later our car started in the morning without any trouble. Thank you very much Eduardo and the Bosch Diesel Service team.
We spent the night at Hotel Oberland and had another nice evening with Kristina and Urs (GPS coordinates: S16° 34.072' W68° 05.351'). After some shopping we drove direction Zongo pass, where we had been one year ago, see article Cordillera Real 2011 and Yungas.
Our idea was to visit the pinnacles like Condoriri near the Estancia Tuni few kilometers East of Paso Zongo. There is a good road shown in our map and Alfred remembered a sign at the registration office on the way to Paso Zongo. Indeed there was a sign and the ranger ensured us that this is a good street. This was the case the first five kilometers, but then the road became a footpath more or less. We returned to the registration office and another ranger told us that we have to use the left street on the next bifurcation. Ok this road looked decent and we drove high and higher. It became a little bit snowy, but our car managed to drive to a pass of about 5100 meter sea-level. A new and for ever record! We thought that we have just to go down to arrive at Estancia Tuni, which is about 4400 meters high. The road became weird and it became dark, too. The road, now more a path went up again after few hundred meters! We could manage the first U-turn. But the second was too steep - Game over.
We changed our plan and decided to try 6088 meters high Huayna Potosi despite our feeling that we were not adapted to the altitude completely, because the weather forecast was excellent in the next two days. We slept on the base of the mountain on the lake Zongo in front of the security building for electricity where we could also park our car safely and without any costs (GPS coordinates: S16° 16.912' W68° 07.313').
Next morning we saw many people descending the glacier on Huayna Potosi. It was Sunday. We walked to the comfortable mountain hut and went to bed early, because wake-up time was at midnight (GPS coordinates: S16° 16.532' W68° 08.266').
It was a long, long hike in the dark night to the summit (GPS coordinates: S16° 15.746' W68° 09.250'). And it was the most alpine challenge since we had started our trip in South America beginning of 2011. Endless traverses over the glacier interrupted by a steep but short gully with an pitch of more than 50°C. The last part was a breezy ridge with small, just 10 to 15 centimeters wide ledges made of snow. Fortunately we had the first sunbeams there, but we were happy about the early start because the ledges were still hard and reliable. Few hours later it may change dramatically and became dangerous, even impossible! Our trail is included in the GPS coordinates file of Bolivia.
On the way down we enjoyed the beauty and magic of the glaciers besides the fact the mass of the ice declined by 45% since 2001. A French research team investigated the glacier on the same day by drilling holes. Close to the equator the impact of Global Warming is much more dramatic.
After some hours sleep in the hut, we hiked down to our car and found the Geocache GC1RRBY, Refugio Huayna Potosi! When we came back to our car an army truck was parking beside it. There was an exercise of soldiers and they have been on Cerro Charkini, the same tour we had did one year ago. Some slept in the near-by house, some in tents but most of them in the truck. They changed the loading area of the truck with many mattresses into a cozy place. We were so tired that we slept immediately and nothing did disturb us.
In El Alto our welding specialist closed the holes in our right fender. He had to disassemble the tank of the wind washer, the air filter and the wheel. It became dark and he tried to assemble the stuff in the gloominess. We gave him one of our head lamp. Alfred assisted. Finally at 8:00PM, he told us LISTO - Finished. The bill was unbelievable reasonable; in Germany you just get some investigation for the same amount. Our technician told us that there is a big festival in Tiwanaku in two days - Willkakuti, the new year of the Aymara people.
Tiwanaku is one of the most important historic area in South America. It prospered between 100 and 1000 AD; it is one of the oldest high culture of South America. But also the new village is marvelous.
We found a nice and quiet campground just in front of the archaeological area. Alfred checked the motor and had to fix the tank of the wind washer. No screws had been mounted.
The festival started in the evening of June 20th at the main square with music. Many people camped there. They drunk a lot. Some drunk too much. We went to bed at 11:00PM because wake-up time was 5:00AM and slept well. In the morning we were surrounded by tents, cars, mini-vans and a lot of people making fire. It was cold, about -7°C. We jumped into our mountain equipment and headed to the ruins. We were some of the firsts at the fence. It was secured by military. But we had to wait. It became more cold, very cold.
Suddenly the sun came and everybody raised his hands. Behind us were thousands of people. It became warm astonishing fast and we explored the area.
Even Evo Morales, the Bolivian and first indigenous President of South America visited this event. After visiting the two nice museums and the quarry we came back to the main square of Tiwanaku. Again dancing, watched by some important people. But there were also some people more or less dead sleeping and snoring an the ground. The night had been tough without any sleep but a lot of alcohol and other drugs like coca.
When we returned to our car most of the people and Bolivian care were gone. Instead a German camper came - Hilde and Wolfgang from Dusseldorf. We had a lot to talk and decided to stay another night there. Together we cooked a delicious dinner and enjoyed the evening - Thank you so much Hilde and Wolfgang.
We met Hilde and Wolfgang several times after we had crossed the border and had always fun.