Getting Ready

After two long flights I arrived to La Paz International airport "El Alto". El Alto is situated within the suburb of the same name and at an altitude of 4,061m above sea level is one of the highest international airports inthe world.

At that altitude aircraft land at twice their normal landing speed so they need to be equiped with special tyres.

I got a taxi to my hostel. When I got there, I carried my suitcase up a short flight of stairs to the rececption. It took me 15 minutes to recover from that, panting like a dog. I new then this was going to be an interesting trip.

Monday 16/8/2010

My contact in Bolivia was Bernardo, a well-known mountaineer who has climbed many mountains in S America and around the world, including Everest. He is a bit of a celebrity in Bolivia where there are even stamps with his face on them!

Straight after I got the key to my room I went to Bernardo's office for a pre-liminary planning meeting.

Walking through the streets of La Paz is a experience in itself. It's difficult to describe the way these people drive. The weather was nice and, although the temperature was below freezing overnight it was now climbing rapidly.

Bernardo is a small man of Amerindian origin. In the meeting I explained my plans and what I needed to procur prior to the crossing. In short the things I needed to sort out were as follows:

  • The trailer - Bernardo had a couple of trailers that were used in a previous expedition (David Lim 2007). They didn't have any wheels through as these were given to the kids for their bikes after that expedition. So I needed to buy wheels and have them fitted.
  • Food - I had taken some freeze-dried food from the UK but reckoned I needed quite a lot more to make the calorie requirements at that altitude and level of excertion. The reason I hadn't taken more food from the UK was purely the weight of my luggage. AA do not accept any overweight items on flights to La Paz  - is it because of the altitude?
  • Hammer - For hammering in the tents pegs. The salt is rock hard and I would need specially tough pegs which I had taken from the UK and a hammer which I left to buy from La Paz.
  • Water - I reckoned I would need 60L of water.
  • Fuel - Any type of petrol or even diesel would be OK for my MSR stove.
In the afternoon I went to buy some bike wheels. I got three (one spare) plus three spare inner tubes. The quality of stuff was shockingly low. I also got a pump and a hammer.

I then went to the only supermarket in La Paz and got some canned food.

A long day and at the end of it I was exhausted.

Tuesday 17/8/2010

A bad night with my heart racing and waking me up and a bad headache. The downside of sleeping at altitude.

I went to Bernardo's office in the morning for some more detailed planning. He explained all the dangers of such an expedition (twice) and we talked about emergencies etc. He very honestly said that he didn't know of anyone else having spent so much time walking in the Salar and that he felt ten days in the Salar were too long. He based that on the fact that the air in the Salar carries salt which you breathe in. That salt combined with the salt in your food makes you need more and more water. That's OK for a simple crossing but for a round-trip? He wasn't sure.

In the afternoon I went to the garage to have my first look at the trailer. I took my pulling harness with me and spent half an hour working out the best way of attaching it to the trailer.

The trailer had a handle bar and appeared to be designed to be pushed. However, I thought that attaching the handle bar to the back of the harness (thereby pulling rather than pushing it) would allow me to have a more natural arm movement and body posture.

Wednesday 18/8/2010

I did some stretching and core strength exercises and felt much better for it. I then went to the market to get some more supplies:

  • More food
  • Batteries
  • Fruit
  • Toilet paper
  • Matches
  • Crackers
I then spent the entire afternoon running all over La Paz to get 2L of petrol, which seems to be very difficult to get around here.

Thursday 19/8/2010

Woke up at 1 am with vomiting and diarrhoea and feeling terrible. I bet it was the ice cream I had yesterday at lunch time. I hadn't had any dinner as I didn't feel like eating.

Crossing a desert in a dehydrated state like that is not sane so I had to decide whether to call the whole thing off. Today I was supposed to be travelling to the Salar (a 12-hour trip).

I decided to travel and see how I would be feeling the next day.

Getting my things ready was a struggle as I was feeling terrible. We set off at around 8 am. During the trip I kept feeling terrible. When I started running a fever I began a course of doxycycline - a broad spectrum antibiotic. I wanted to avoid that as it can give you sensitivity to ultra violet light - not a good idea when you are planning to spend several days in Salar the Uyuni, an all-white dessert close to the equator and at 4km altitude.

The antibiotic worked and I started feeling better.

Friday 10/08/2010

I was feeling better in the morning and decided to go ahead with the crossing.

In an unbelievable turn of events I met Carla Perrotti, the world's foremost expert in dessert crossings and the first person to ever cross the Salar in 1994. She was there leading a group of Italian tourists.

I set off at midday with with the first person who  has ever crossed the Salar wishing me good luck and giving me advice.