2006 Apolobamba Expedition
Logistics III - Communications, Health, Language, Mapping
The Apolobamba is a long way from anywhere. There are no payphones and there is no cell phone coverage. For the first time, we arranged to communicate with home via a rented satellite phone, giving both us and our local staff a way to tell the folks at home all was well, the means to finalize our pick-up with Dr. Berrios, and a way to call for help if something broke bad in the way of an injury or illness.
We rented a satellite phone from All Road Communications and were completely satisfied with the arrangement. The total cost for the phone rental for 14 days, including shipping to my office, 75 minutes of call time and a spare battery was about $250.00. There was a $200 deposit which was refunded about 6 weeks after we got back along with an itemized list showing every call made and the duration of each one. We found that we did not always get a quick uplink to the satellite during the first part of our trip but as the trip went on, the connection seemed to be more prompt. I wonder if the phone to figure out where it is in a manner similar to my GPS unit when taken far from home.
The call quality was good and we set up a plan to call our respective wives every other night, afterwhich they then called the other wife to advise of the contact and relate that all was well. We also kept Hugo and Dani advised of our progress and arranged our final pick-up in Charazani. We also passed the phone to Alcides and Mario so they could check in with their families, just the same as we did.
For the number crunchers . . . the phone was a Motorola 9505a satellite phone, the 75 minute package was priced at $0.75 minutes on a use 'em or lose 'em basis and we used 63 of the 75 minute prepaid call time. The satellite system was Iridium, we made 33 calls and the average call time was 1.9 minutes.
Gary is a pharmacist so he brought along a comprehensive supply of medications for just about whatever would likely ail us. We both met with our physicians before the trip to bring the innoculations up to date and arrange for prescriptions for the meds that we would take along. Nothing really out of the ordinary, tetanus, typhoid, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, and hep A. Didn't get the hep B . . . happily married you know, i.e. the rub without the tug.
I ended up using one course of Cipro for me post bruise and G used some miscellaneous stuff here or there. Also, multi vitamins for the whole crew.
With regard to rescue and evacuation, make sure you do not get hurt. Getting a hurt person out of the Apolobamba would be a marathon effort for sure and if you have seen the photo in the disclaimer for this site, you will understand why I said don't get hurt. There is a medical clinic in Pelechuco, an ambulance in Curva, and a hospital in Charazani. Getting from the heart of the Apolobamba to those places would be an ordeal equivalent to Joe Simpson's mule ride.
I did not purchase rescue insurance for this trip however G had his American Alpine Club coverage. I bought evacuation insurance to cover the cost of hauling my broken body back to Denver from a landing strip near whatever hospital being dragged to. The cost was $205 for one year's coverage for any injury requiring hospitalization and evacuation more that 150 miles form my home. The provider was Medjet Assist. Word has it that hauling a badly busted up person from South America to the States is a $75k to $100k proposition, so I hedged my bet with an evacuation policy.
Spanish may not be the staple of the Apolobamba but it will get you through the day. Alcides spoke Spanish and Quechua while Mario brought Spanish and Ayamara to the linguistic table. My Spanish is based on a couple of college level courses, a year with a crew of twenty guys from south of the border and some language tapes. I can get along pretty well and carry on a great conversation with any 8 year old kid. Seriously, my level of spanish is entirely sufficient and Gary who has much less was even able to communicate much better than in previous years.
Remember . . . its the same old story in the Apolobamba as anywhere else, learn a bit before you go and don't be afraid to use what you have as it is appreciated and you will be far enough from town that knowing no spanish is going to make for a difficult trip.
If the Apolobamba is known for one thing, its that there are damn few maps and those that you might find are likely inaccurate. There is no Alpenverein map for the area like you may have become accustomed to in the Blanca of Peru. The Bolivian military maps are hard to find and we couldn't come up with the Paul Hudson map that many groups rely on.
Instead, we had to rely on the maps of the Mesili guidebook and a map from the most recent Lonely Planet guide, neither of which have any topo nor provide more than a route of travel and the identity of some of the most prominent mountains. As to using either of these maps in association with a compass for route finding . . . well . . . don't even think about it.
Our answer to the navigational quandary was to print Google Earth color imagery of the southern half of the Apolobamba, divided that again into a northern south half and a southern south half. The resolution is sufficient to show valleys, ridges and glaciated areas. We pre-plotted approximately 25 known GPS points along the course we thought was most likely to be our route and then we compared these points to GPS readings taken along the course of our travels. Hence, we knew our starting point in Pelechuco, our Charazani end point and had lots guesses at the route in-between. Our method worked really well and we found that we could tell where we were at any point on the trip by interpolating between the pre-calculated waypoints along a very well guessed route.
We used a Garmin "Summit" GPS to take waypoints throughout the course of every day's travel and on each of the three climbing routes. From this information, our photos and further correspondence, we beleive we have confirmed the identity of our summits by name, ploted our travel route and located our camp site locations. A listing of GPS waypoints measured follows as part of this site.