Final Chapter Bolivian Flag

Market Day and Celebration

What a pleasure to awaken and have nothing special, and in particular, nothing strenuous to do! Bob and I had a day off - one that we had sorely earned and that we intended to enjoy.

A typical scene from the native market.

Bob suggested that we explore the Indian market on the higher end of La Paz. Essentially without any overall organization, dozens of streets are filled to the brim with Indian shopkeepers selling everything from toothpaste and razorblades to toilet seats. Each street specializes in a related set of items. Thus one street may be given over to flowers; another to food stalls; while a third sells sweaters and wedding outfits. Nearly all business takes place on the sidewalks, rather than within actual stores. In at least two cases we found the street itself had been filled by little stalls, such that only pedestrian traffic was possible.

Typical scene in
native market.

Bob had eaten breakfast at the Cafe Ciudad. Having located a series of connected indoor food stalls selling authentic native food, I decided to eat breakfast among the Indians. As the sole Caucasian among dozens of shopkeepers and customers, I was quite aware that I was the target of many stares. However I managed to concentrate on my plate of macaroni noodles with diced chicken, sauteed onion and hot sauce to be added. It was a bargain at the ridiculously cheap price of just 3B - about 45 cents. In Bolivia spicy dishes of chicken, rice and potato constitute acceptable breakfast food.

Although it was a full meal I was not satisfied with the quantity of chicken. I quickly went to another stall and plopped a perfectly roasted chicken thigh on top. The skin was very fatty and complemented well the otherwise dry noodles.

I ate very slowly because my lower lip had become severely damaged from the ultraviolet radiation while on the mountain. It was painful for any hot food or alcohol to touch it. And so every bite was carefully made as small as possible so that it could enter my mouth without touching my lips whatsoever.

After this most unique food experience we continued our self-guided tour. I purchased Bolivian chocolate and Singani - the national liquor. My top quality bottle of Singani de Oro was later opened upon return stateside. It is clear in color and has a relatively sharp aftertaste reminiscent of ginger. I found that the best ways to enjoy it include mixing with tropical fruit juice and chilled; and enjoying with sweet crystallized ginger either straight up or mixed with two to three parts vanilla ice cream.

The Bolivian chocolate was of the lowest quality. Although it tasted good (after all, how can chocolate not be good), it was really more like a bar of brown candy with much granulated sugar and a hint of chocolate flavor, than the smooth and creamy delight one expects of European varieties. The imported chocolates available in La Paz from Chile and Spain were far superior.

Illimani at twilight from our dinner table atop the Radisson hotel.

Dinner that evening was something special. Although we had not proper attire, I had planned on a meal at the top, fifteenth floor of the Radisson Hotel. The menu included both international fare that Bob would enjoy (he was not feeling adventuresome that evening), as well as gourmet renditions of native Bolivian food. We sat by the window with a view of Nevado Illimani at sunset. I managed a photograph in the waning light and, glass of Bolivian wine raised, toasted our success. It was a "peak" experience if ever there was.

Illimani at twilight
from our table.

I enjoyed smoked trout from Lake Titicaca with capers and creme fraiche as appetizer. There followed a main dish of pollo (chicken), perfectly cooked beefsteak and tongue accompanied by tinta - one of several forms of dehydrated potato that serves as the starchy component in the native diet. The beef seemingly melted in my mouth and was so tasty (as was everything) that no additional cheese or spices was suggested.

Bob enjoyed an entree of steak and shrimp ("surf and turf" to Americans). He expressed delight in my selection of restaurant for our final meal together. I was pleased that he approved.

Dessert was a chocolate crust cheesecake that I had placed in the freezer upon arrival. Bob ordered a dessert for himself. Unable to stand the thought of leaving Bolivia without it, I enjoyed a second dessert of cherimoya mousse on spongecake. The entire meal with wine had costed some $30 US. Again, an absolute bargain given the quality of both food and service.

Final Climb and Ice Cream

Cerro Kuñamani from a nearby saddle.

That mountain to the southwest sighted on our hike in Valle de las Animas was on tap for the morning. Walter, el taxista, was all too happy to provide transport. We parked on a road somewhat below a ridge with several summits. Unaware of WHICH summit was the highest, I climbed to a saddle as a lookout point and ascertained both the location of the intended mountain relative to myself, and planned a route leading there. The route involved descending a few hundred vertical feet but was by far the most direct means to the summit thereafter.

Cerro Kuñamani
from a nearby saddle.

After both a road walk and a cross-country route that skirted small farm patches I approached and gained the summit radio antennae. I took a series of photographs over a 180 degree swath of horizon stretching from La Paz just north of due west, through the fifteener hills we had done, Chacaltaya and Huayna Potosi, our sixteener nearly due north, assorted 17 and 18 thousand foot peaks to the northeast, Nevado Mururata (19,255 ft) with its flat top nearly due east, and finally Nevado Illimani to the southeast.

View towards La Paz.

View northwest.

View towards fifteener hills.

View north to the Cordillera Real.

View towards Nevado Mururata.

View towards Nevado Illimani.

With views of virtually everything accomplished, I had a wonderful final morning in the Cordillera Real. I returned to Walter within 2 1/2 hours of leaving and we drove "home" to the El Dorado. After my short climb of it I learned that Cerro Kuñamani is 14,327 feet tall.

I adore ice cream. Thus after a nap I decided to finally treat myself to an unconstrained ice cream binge. I had not done so prior to the ascent of Illimani for fear of possibly becoming sick from unpasteurized dairy product. Dumbo's is the best known ice cream hangout in La Paz, with Dumbo the elephant as their logo. I enjoyed three triple dip ice cream treats each in an edible basket similar to a waffle cone. Then too, I enjoyed two desserts from the attached bakery. After more than an hour of this I had tried every exotic flavor that I intended - including cherimoya, crema de oso ("cream of bear" since it had gummy bears inside), guayaba (a tropical fruit), and walnut chocolate.

I returned to my room down the main street and took another nap in the late afternoon. That evening I was not hungry enough for a large meal in either the hotel restaurant or elsewhere. And so I prepared a small meal in the room consisting of leftovers from the climb, all the while watching Spanish language television.

A Bolivian Chola

The chola is a native Bolivian dress that is ubiquitously worn by women who retain the old customs. With several layers of clothing it has the tendency to make the bearer appear overweight. The outfit is not complete without a bowler hat, shawl, and even a baby swaddled in its own layers and borne on the upper back.

In La Paz the younger generation tends to western attire, and in particular teenagers enjoy looking as "American" as their financial means (or that of their parents) will allow. It was a little absurd to see students, obviously full-blooded indians, wearing blue jeans and toting walkman radios. Had it not been for their ruddy complexion and relatively slight build, many could have been mistaken for Americans.

Insofar as I am on the subject of Bolivians I shall comment a little further. I am constantly alarmed at the lack of obese individuals whenever I travel abroad - for it constitutes a pitiful testimony to the sorry state of the average American's health. Sometimes I think I should have been born and raised in some other country; whereas in the United States one would normally view me as underweight, in most other countries, including Bolivia, I would fit right in. Indeed, in Bolivia there are plenty of younger people who are as skinny as me.

Two women in chola dress.

Anyhow, Dana, my sister-in-law, wanted a chola for display to her elementary school children in California where she is a teacher specializing in science. How could I possibly help given that I would have to travel the breadth and width of the Indian market in search of bargains? I hired Walter for the morning to act as chaperone as we went street to street for the relevant apparel.

Two women in
chola dress.

Walter and myself consumed the better part of the morning gathering all of the clothing for a complete chola outfit. I did not know Dana's measurements - but I guessed that her measurements would be roughly equivalent to the corresponding ones for myself. This led to the humorous scenario wherein I found myself trying on multiple pairs of women's high heel shoes for a correct fit. I feel that most of the onlooking indians, casually tending their wares, had never previously seen a cross dresser. Most were middle age women who, upon seeing my strange behavior, generally snickered or hid their expressions by covering their face.

After I dropped off the goods at my room I shaved and joined Walter for lunch at his favorite restaurant. I was treating him as a "thank you" for the cooperation he displayed as driver during a full week of acclimatization. After an aperitif of singani with guayaba juice we both enjoyed a simple salad followed by our entrees. My dried llama jerky with tinta potato was frankly unenjoyable. After Walter gave me some tongue with sweet plantain from his mixed grill I enjoyed it so much that he ordered a small plate of it for me. In exchange I donated to him the remainder of my llama dish.

Dessert was a self-created delight of the singani / guayaba mixture with an equal amount of vanilla ice cream in a tall glass. It was extremely refreshing after the spicy Bolivian food.

The remainder of the day was unremarkable. So I will not remark.


I awoke a 4 AM and met Walter (who else?) at 4:30 AM waiting for me at street level. The twenty minute ride was through nearly empty streets, for once, and nearly led to disaster when the taxi slowed to a crawl owing to some mechanical problem related to the freezing temperature.

After checking in my baggage I was called on the airport PA system and asked to see security. Talk about being alarmed! The airline's scanning device, which possibly uses nuclear magnetic resonance - based technology to locate explosives, had caught the scent of my empty fuel bottle within the duffle bag. I explained that it had been washed thrice with soap and water - the fuel having been placed in an old wine bottle by the hotel bellboy the previous day. Some bigshot said it was OK and I repacked.

At the hotel I had intentionally made quite explicit to management my efforts in scrubbing out the fuel bottle in the bathroom. By that means I would have an excuse for the residual odor of fuel that remained fully three days after Bob had dumped his fuel down the drain: the odor would be from my cleaning of an empty bottle - a perfectly legitimate activity in my view.

A second search-related event saw myself identifying to authorities the various spices that I kept with me in a tupperware container for use on the flight. The dried milk in particular, being a white flaky powder, may have been mistaken for cocaine. So too the jar of salt. The odor of curry powder served to identify it as well as the jar's label ... as if the yellow color was an insufficient clue by itself.

Turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

The flight north was highlighted by some beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. In some places algae, or some form of plant life, had colored the water green. I was pleased at the sheer number of shades visible - with all of them ranging over my favorite portion of the color wheel as pure green; through cyan; and finally to blue.

Turquoise waters of
the Caribbean Sea.

Upon arrival in Miami a log of pepperoni purchased in La Paz was confiscated by the authorities. They were concerned about foot and mouth disease from any foreign country even though the disease was located in Europe. I missed my flight to Los Angeles as a result of the time spent and had to be re-routed through Dallas-Fort Worth instead. The change in schedule was OK seeing as the flight to San Diego was direct out of Dallas. Thus, in either case (Los Angeles or Dallas), I had one-stop prior to arrival at my final destination.

I entered the front door around midnight and was asleep some one or two hours later after checking my various forms of mail - regular, voice messages, and electronic. Although I had been awake for 25 hours, I still fell asleep happy with my experiences. For, indeed, as one county highpointer phrased it upon hearing of our success on Nevado Illimani:

"Which is the greater -
that a man should climb a 21 thousand foot mountain in a remote corner of the Earth
... or realize a poetic dream?"

Introduction Preparation Ascent