by Kraig Becker
Located at 3812 meters (12,507 ft) in altitude, Lake Titicaca is often referred to as the highest navigable lake in the world. The massive body of water, which is found in the Andes Mountains and marks the border between Peru and Bolivia, is sprawling in size, covering more than 58,000 sq. km (22,400 sq. miles) and reaching depths of as much as 281 meters (922 ft). For centuries the lake has been a source of fresh water for the small communities that have sprung up along its shores but now those same waters have become increasingly threatened by an influx of chemicals and other pollutants. These increased threats have prompted two explorers to visit Titicaca in an attempt to survey the health of the lake as they circumnavigate its banks by kayak.
Last month, Belgian adventurer Louis-Phillippe Loncke and his companion Gadiel Sanchez Rivera launched their bid to become the first men to paddle completely around Lake Titicaca. They estimated that it would take approximately six weeks to complete the expedition which will cover about 1100 km (683 miles) before they are done. Along they way they have been taking extensive photographs of the shore lines, as well as GPS readings, in order to record the water levels that they encounter. The plan is to compare that data with future readings to determine the level of impact that global climate change is having on the size and depth of the lake.
While on their journey, the two men have also been stopping to visit many of the villages that they have come across. The hope is to learn from the inhabitants of those communities just how serious the threats to their clean water truly are. In recent years, the lake has become contaminated by the runoff of chemicals used in agriculture throughout the region and by raw sewage getting dumped directly into the water. The impact of these contaminates on the health of the local inhabitants cant’ be good, but just exactly how extensive those health issues are remains a mystery.
Loncke, who is a member of the Explorers Club and a veteran of numerous expeditions over the years, has been updating readers of his blog as he and his partner make their way around the lake. The Belgian’s impressive resume includes a solo hike across Australia’s Simpson Desert and a north-south traverse of Iceland on foot, amongst numerous others. For his part, Rivera is no stranger to long distance expeditions either. Better known by his nickname “Cho,” he accompanied explorer Ed Stafford for most of his walk across the Amazon a few years back too.
The two men estimate that they have about two weeks left in their journey and it has been quite the adventure thus far. While paddling around the lake they have faced inclement weather, freezing temperatures and a host of other challenges. They have also gotten lost, experienced the kindness of strangers and met others who had never seen a kayak – or in some cases a white man – before. The brief but interesting updates from the field tell the tale and they are definitely worth reading if you have the time.
If all goes as planned, they should wrap up the expedition before the end of the month.