There are few scenes more powerful than those that you experience while standing on top of a mountain at 17570ft. You stand there looking out at the world, at the giant form of Wyna Potosí in the distance, at Lake Titicaca and at the other side of that Peru, at the sprawling, barren plane of the Altiplano, and behind you the extending mountains of the Cordillera Real with the head of Condoriri dominating your immediate vision. From that place the world seems so massive and you seem so small. Yet, you also feel so big. You just succeeded in climbing a mountain and now you stand at the summit taking in a view that takes your breath away. A sudden feeling of deep connection with the mountains and with the earth takes hold of you. You begin to understand the deep connection that the Andean people have with the mountains and with the spirit that they believe lies within them. Reverence for the PachaMama begins to make sense to you.
The four days of trekking that we did in the Cordillera Real were some of the brightest moments in this unbelievable Bolivian adventure so far. Not only did the surrounding mountains take your breath away every time you looked at them, but as a group it felt amazing to come together and support each other whether it was climbing Pico Austria, pushing each other and encouraging one another to reach the top or cooking dinner together hoping to not screw up the food too much. This was also the part of the trip that I was most “camera happy” in, as each time I looked at the lake, the mountains, the surrounding scenery, I wanted to snap a picture to capture it because every moment the scene changed. The clouds had shifted, the light and shadows had changed, the wind had blown the grass or the snow into a slightly different form. Each moment was different and each scene was unique, something that only those who were present would ever witness. I knew that pictures did not do the landscape justice and yet I still continued to snap pictures because I wanted not only to have a tangible memory of Tuni Condoriri, but I wanted to share as best I could this spectacular place with the people back home. Even though I knew they couldn’t, I wanted them to connect with the land in the way I had. Wanted them to feel what it was like on top of Pico Austria. Wanted them to have the unbelievable experience I had going out on the lake with the two Aymara fisherman who lived there helping them untangle and put out the nets to catch trout that they would later eat. I wanted them to understand the power of the mountains and how alive they feel as they constantly change, wind blowing storms through and suddenly a sunny day tuning to lighting and snow. I wanted them to understand how desperate the issue of climate change is for tropical glaciers in the Andes as we witnessed first hand melting of the Condoriri glacier that supplies water to El Alto and La Paz.
Whether the people I shared pictures with felt a connection or not, I do not know, but I know for certain that I will be back to Tuni Condoriri in the future, hopefully accompanied by some of those same people, witnessing the first time they gaze upon and feel the power of those incredible mountains. I also know that over the next 8 months, I want to continue to strengthen the connection I feel with the landscape around me. The mountains and rivers and the earth in general, I want to explore my connection to the amazing terrain around me and to hear the stories of how the Bolivian people connect with the natural world and the PachaMama. I’m sure I’ll have more stories to share about those connections in the future, but for now, it’s time to go and explore some more.