The “Cholitas Escaladoras” (Climbing ‘Cholitas’) are going for Everest
It was there, in the freezing cold, on the high peak charged with the noise of silence and the brave winds. It was there, where they, tired, arrived. There were five of them and two arrived at five o’clock in the morning, on a summer morning, at the summit of the highest mountain in the Southern Cone. Five women, Bolivian, cholitas, advanced in the heavy and solid snow under the moon.
Lidia Huayllas, Dora Mangueño, Ana Lía (Lita) Gonzales, Cecilia Llusco Alaña and Elena Quispe climbed the Aconcagua and the news, at the beginning of this year, toured the world’s newspapers. For them, it’s a pride, but not enough: they want more.
It’s three in the afternoon and Lita is about to submit her thesis of the Tourism career. She is 34 years old and is the first of her family to attend university, to leave the confines of the town and live in the city. She is from the Zongo Valley, a small community 83 km from La Paz, in the eastern buttresses of the Andes Mountain Range. The area, full of vegetation and mountains, was the place where I observed the hills from the window, every morning.
“My grandmother told me: ‘You have to study because we have not had that opportunity, before only men could go to school or study a career, you have to show that women can.’ My grandmother and my mother are very strong women “, tells Lita to LA NACION magazine . There is a negative connotation in Bolivia about women with pollera. A connotation that contrasts with the times.
“In Bolivia, they discriminate very much against the woman in pollera, some schoolmates told their mothers when they were going to pick them up at school that those were not their moms, they said, ‘What is this chola doing here? They should be cooking.’ That’s why when many of us went to the city, we had to wear trousers, because if they did not, they would discriminate against you.The skirts are used in places farther away from the city, in the altiplano area. from the countryside, you can only be a domestic worker, it was ugly what they said, that’s why my grandmother used to tell me to wear pants and go to the city, I always go to the mountain with a skirt, I feel it gives me strength and I identify with my Grandma, she always wanted me to get what I wanted. ”
Lita met the other cholitas on the mountain: they all work cooking for the tourists who climb the different hills of the area. They also acted as porters, carrying the heavy bags of tourists to the shelter. His mother, Dora, cooked for tourists until the guides learned to cook. Both she and Lidia, her sister, admired the mountain and tried to learn the techniques of training to prepare their physique and be able to reach the summit. In 2015, 11 cholitas were known and their first objective was Huayna Potosí, 6088 meters above sea level. For the Huayna they had trained for weeks. Lidia is 53 years old and went running with the other cholitas for Zongo. Lita combined workouts with hours of study.
The first time Lita climbed a mountain was on her birthday. He had to choose between spending the day with his friends or being able to explore the summit of the mountain that, as a child, he watched from the window.
“I was very excited when I arrived, to see the landscape is very beautiful, you can see the mountain range to the west, you could also see the clouds below and it felt like a strong wind that I wanted to take against my skirt.
They climbed six mountains before undertaking the crossing to Aconcagua. They were all mountains of Bolivia and met their requirement: to have more than 6000 masl. But before the trip to Mendoza, the cholitas were invited to Poland, to a meeting of mountain climbers. There, says Lita, they felt intimidated: they were the best climbers in the world lecturing their experiences on the heights, comparing equipment and techniques. However, the reception was warm. The climbers watched with attention the group of women who wore round hats, tied ponchos and multicolored skirts. They detailed how and why they had begun to climb and also how they prepared to survive the high mountain cold.
Jaime Murciego is a Spanish director of documentaries. In 2016 he learned, through the media, about this story of the cholitas and contacted them. He traveled to Bolivia, rented a trailer and began to follow them while they climbed the mountains. Then, the Spanish production company Arenas reported that it would support the filming of a documentary about the Cholitas and helped finance the trip to Aconcagua. “The story was incredible,” says the filmmaker, “especially because it meant for them to climb the mountains and all the sacrifice they made, I also had no experience climbing mountains, so it was hard for me to keep up with them. reach the summit, despite the difficulties that there were, be there and see how they lived. ”
Grappa, rope, ice ax, boots, helmet. Coca leaves and mate with coca. That was the team. But they also wore feather vests, thermal leggings, mountain pants and, of course, the skirts. The trip to Mendoza meant the expansion of Lita’s world, reaching unknown territory. They were received and taken to the Plaza de Mulas base camp to begin the preparation, along with two guides who would accompany them on the route. In those days, a delegation from the Bolivian community of Mendoza wanted to meet them. They went to look for the camp and took them to a meal prepared with the typical dishes of their country. “A tiny Bolivia”, described Lidia Huayllas. The stew and the spicy ones as an engine before the extreme cold and the terrible winds of the Aconcagua.
When they wanted to start the ascent, one of the guides refused. “He told us that the time was not yet the best to climb, but we had been waiting for many days and we did not want to wait any longer, so we went up five, little by little, trying to do it with patience,” says Lita.
A rope surrounded the waists of the five, who climbed in a row. They wore yellow helmets and the colorful patterns of the skirts, with flowers, stripes, strong colors. On their backs they loaded with the minimum, materials that they would need and basic foods strong in calories to cope with the cold. In one of the videos of the climb you see them playing soccer before the ascent, with the production team, with the skirts fluttering in the wind.
Aconcagua is recorded at -20 ° C at night and the common temperature at the top is -30 ° C. Also, sometimes, a mushroom-shaped cloud forms where temperatures drop further and at those times it is forbidden to climb. In that cold, Elena and Lita, two of the five cholitas, began to walk in the dark night. Gone were their partners, after one of the guides warned them that if they kept moving forward, the older ones would be severely affected and could have a pulmonary embolism. Lita said goodbye to her mother and her aunt and moved forward with a bitter taste. Fulfilling his goal meant leaving his family behind. I had not thought of that possible loneliness before. He was also scared when one of the men who accompanied them lost consciousness.
“We were with Elena and we wanted to get there, but I could not stop thinking about my mom, I could not believe that she was not there with me, it was very difficult to climb, it cost us a lot and we had to take energy from I do not know where to continue” .
They moved slowly through the snow. They say it is better to go up at night, since the snow does not melt and is more compact. They helped each other with the ice ax, nailing it in the mountain entrails and breathing agitatedly. They reached, finally, the summit. The sun was about to rise and at the top everything was clouds, clouds and, finally, sky. Only the thin sound of the wind was heard and Lita wept with emotion embraced Elena.
“I had finally come in. For this I had fought so hard and I remembered when many people said to us: ‘But how are they going to get on with a skirt? They are not going to be able to!’ I remembered my mother and my grandmother, who had given everything so that I was there at that moment, now I want more, I want to keep going higher and higher. ”
The cholitas finance their trips with what they earn selling food and carrying bags of tourists to the mountains. Each expedition, each trip, is the result of months of work. Also, physical conditioning is necessary. Several are married with mountain guides who know the necessary exercises and equipment to take to the summit.
Lita now has another mountain in mind. He wants to go to the Alps, to the white tips of the European mountains. Who says, later, they will go for Everest. He no longer concentrates on limitations, but tries to find a way to get there, as they did with the eight previous tops that they reached. What matters most to the cholitas is setting an example to Bolivian women. “We did it for all the women who are discriminated against, they told us we were not going to be able to do it, it was very hard for us to get there, a lot, but we want to continue, we need so many mountains!” Says Lita, laughing on the other side of the phone. Every so often he climbs to the first mountain he climbed, along with his companions, and they advance slowly in the darkness of the night.
More Info: Diario La Nación
We’ve already covered the Cholitas with their Aconcagua adventure.
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Featured Image: The “Cholitas Escaladoras” (Climbing ‘Cholitas’) are going for Everest. Facebook page photo.