A South American Escapade

Last summer (2022), I took part in APEX 6, a voluntary, high-altitude medical research expedition to Bolivia.


After a friend told me about the expedition, I decided to sign up despite not being a medical student and for some reason they let me come. We flew out on the 23rd of June and after some hefty 60 hours travelling (Edinburgh -> La Paz) with less than 3 hours sleep, we landed at a cool 4100m in El Alto, the upper city of La Paz. We spent a week exploring the city and trying to comprehend why it was so difficult to walk up stairs before heading further up the mountains.

Week 2 was spent in a refuge up the nearby mountain of Huyana Potosi. The majority of the research was conducted here, which involved some blood tests, oxygen saturations, reaction tests, eye tests and lots of questionnaires. And of course some walking and climbing of the surrounding Andes was compulsory for those of us with any measure of sanity.

Those 2 weeks concluded the research, and we were let loose into the wilds of South America to do as we please. About half of our troupe (~18) decided we hadn't gone high enough and we ascended Huyana Potosi once more, but this time reached the summit at a breezy 6,080m altitude. This only took 2 days of climbing, but the final day involved a 1am start with 11 hours of walking with crampons and ice axes, and if you tried to eat or drink your fingers would freeze.

The remainder of the travel was done in smaller groups. Some 7 of us stuck together to go the Salt Flats of Uyuni and then cycled down Death road. 5 of us carried on to Peru, using some uncomfortably long overnight buses, and arrived in Cusco where we spent a few days looking round the city, and managed a trip to Machu Picchu followed by the Rainbow Mountains.

And then there were 4. Having loved the buses so much, we continued to Ica with a 17 hours journey to the deserts. We indulged ourselves with some wine tasting and dune buggying, before we once again departed, this time to Lima. We cycled and surfed our way round town, enjoyed some fun company, and were at each other's throats until it was time to go.

The return leg saw us stop off in Houston for 10 hours where we experienced the stark cost of living difference between Texas and Bolivia in the form of 2 ubers, a cold drink and a look round Rice University. Jet-lagged and barely functioning, we made our way back to the airports to return to Edinburgh.

That brought my little trip away to a close. What a time it was. I just wonder - where to next?