After months of preparation the plans for the Kota Mama II Expedition moved from the deeply scratched foreheads and minds found amongst the papers and files of expedition base in Motcombe to the light-headed heights of the Bolivian altiplano. Months of planning bore fruit with the industrious work of Chief Liaison Officer Yolima Cipagauta. Calling on every contact, including the prestigious support of Bolivia's leader President Hugo Banzer S˙arez, the months of work moved towards an actual reality. Behind the scenes planning is essential for a successful expedition but everyone is really waiting for the action to begin. The sheer size of the project guaranteed an exciting start to Kota Mama II.
The father and son team of Erik and Maximo Catari, who had worked so successfully with members of Phase One of the Kota Mama expedition in April of 1998, once again put in months of work to create the expedition's flagship Kota Mama II. Using tortora reeds growing naturally on the shores of Lake Titicaca the Catari's weaved and manipulated eight tonnes of reed to create Kota Mama II - the Mother of the Lake.
Expedition personnel assembled gradually arriving in groups of three on the early morning American Airlines flight to La Paz's international airport at 13,200ft (4000mts) above sea level. The challenges of the altitude forced energetic and enthusiastic bodies to lay low for a couple of days. Other members took flights directly to the lowland city of Santa Cruz.
The first and major task of the expedition was to move Kota Mama, and her sister ship Viracocha from the Lake's shores to Puerto Quijarro on the border with Brazil. Travelling over 525 miles (871 kms) to the east across some of the most challenging landscapes the world has to offer, the boats first had to be lifted onto transporters.
The small dirt lanes around the Catari`s house set the first challenge. Using a crane generously provided by Darius Morgan of Crillon Tours, the boats were lifted onto the low loader and a smaller lorry provided by the Bolivian government's Civil Defence. The skill and precision of our drivers Mark and RenÚ ensured a problem free exit from the lakeshore.
The boats now set off for the great ceremony planned for the 16th July in Plaza Murillo in the heart of La Paz. On this day in 1809 the city declared independence from the Spanish and the day is now a holiday for the people of the city - to have the ceremony on such an important day was an honour for the expedition.
As the two boats inched their way to La Paz, the best endeavours of men and women proved insufficient to beat the challenges of El Alto.
This sprawling city of 400,000 is the backbone of La Paz's informal economy. The street sellers and hawkers of El Alto commute daily to the streets of La Paz selling shoelaces, sweets, watches, anything and everything.
The hustle and bustle of the streets is reflected in the sky where thousands of cables span the roads in a chaotic tangle. Atop the low loader Kota Mama II was over 5.2 metres in height. Travelling at a walking pace the cables had to be lifted above the figurehead of Kota Mama II. A spark and a flash as a couple of high-tension cables touched, the working team dived for cover and two sectors of the city were thrown into darkness. The decision to take the flagship into the centre of town was aborted.