It was the very early hours of Wednesday 14th June that myself and 3 others set off on what was to be a challenging but truly amazing trip. We were part of the organising team of the APEX 5 High-Altitude Research expedition to Bolivia, South America.
We were the ‘advance party’, heading in country 5 days early to prepare for the arrival of our 29 volunteers, 2 doctors and 3 remaining organisers. Why South America? And why Bolivia? Bolivia as a country is at a very high-altitude, which for a medical expedition investigating high-altitude illness is perfect. The 4 previous APEX expeditions, which were all incredibly successful, had been to Chaclataya mountain in Bolivia. So we were going back for round 5.
Our expedition had taken almost 3 years of planning, coordinating and fundraising. So, the worries we experienced beforehand were broad and almost always fully resolved. However, there were still some worries before we set off on our adventure. We were responsible for the safety and wellbeing of 30 other students whilst on Huayna Potosi mountain, and these students were also now our friends.
The biggest worry occurred in country, one day before our volunteer team was due to arrive. The lodge that we were meant to be staying in, at Chaclataya, was now no longer accessible due to a large section of road covered in ice. A very large problem. We were very close to having to cancel the entire expedition, but we came together and the alternative lodge was found. When 3 years of work is about to crumble, anybody would be worried.
What did I learn? Unfortunately, this blog is only 500 words, and I think I could write an entire book on what I learned over the whole planning and undertaking of the expedition. But I could summarise my learning with two main themes: teamwork and patience. The only reason that our expedition was possible was due to the fantastic team that was behind it.
We were all unique, bringing our individual talents, skills and knowledge to the table: but together we formed a fantastic team. Learning to work with brand new individuals, and forming new friendships along the way, was at times challenging, but wholeheartedly rewarding.
Secondly patience. Although it may sound odd, it was something I felt was pivotal to our team. There were times where the going got tough, and we had long waits for ethics forms or long nights in the library finalising documents. However, there was no other option, and you just had to learn to be patient. A skill we all found invaluable when stuck at 4800m in a cramped lodge with 30 other people!
APEX 5 was far more than a trip to the Bolivian Andes. It was a 3-year journey. One where new skills were learned, new friendships formed, and memories made that will last my lifetime.