Monday, September 5, 2011

La Montaña Interior (The Mountain Inside)*

The cemetery with the Huayna Potosi in back.
It's been a while since I've worked in a film that was directed by someone other than a member of our team, so I was pleased when my friend Diego Torres mentioned that he had a small role for me in his film La Montaña Interior.

The role I play is a tourist who's hiking with her boyfriend, played by Jac Avila, and comes across another hiker, played by Jorge Ortiz. A jealous situation erupts, I assert my right to do what I wish, my boyfriend becomes angry and then I end up chasing after him back down the mountain.

Rocky landscape, getting colder.
In order to film the scenes, which were located at the foot of the glacier on the Huayna Potosi mountain, about 5,300 (~17,400 feet) above sea level, we had to take a car to the foot of the Huayna Potosi and then hike up to the glacier. Our group consisted of myself, Diego Torres, Coca Guerrero, Jac Avila, Jorge Ortiz, and an architect who graciously drove us in his vehicle.

At the refugio, cold.
The car ride was impressive for a few reasons, leaving the city of El Alto, we were witness to a huge opaque cloud of smog hovering over the city. Disgusting. The color of coffee with milk. Anyone who tells you that it's less polluted in Bolivia is a liar. The other impressive view was very simple the beauty of Bolivia, lagunas of vary-colored waters due to algae and mineral deposits, an amazing cemetery at a bend in the road with the backdrop of the mountain, the stark harshness of the Altiplano, peppered with scrub brush, evoking a scene from a Western.

As we arrived at the foot of the Huayna Potosi, a turquoise colored laguna came into view, tapped by a dam on one end. As I was to learn later, the turquoise color comes from the glacier itself, which I'm sorry to say is melting away rather fast due to climate change and will most likely not be with us much longer. So go see it, it's really cool.

Going to shoot down near the turquoise laguna.
We parked near the dam next to the refuge, the Refugio Huayna Potosi, and went in for some hot coffee and a sandwich before we began the ascent to the glacier. We found a group of tourists in the cute little lodge, along with evidence of many other groups that came before, advertising their visit on various scraps of paper, banners, badges and other sundries tacked to the walls of the main room. I could already feel the change in altitude as the refuge is already 4,720 meters (~15,500feet) above sea level.

Crossing the dam.
After the coffee and sandwich, we headed out to shoot a couple of things near the turquoise lake. The wind had picked up. It was cold. But beautiful as we looked over the lake to this huge mountain, blue sky hovering over the snowy peak. After shooting near the lake, we headed over the dam and to the trail up the mountain to the glacier.

The dam was small, but impressive for the view off of the side, which dropped off several hundred meters and poured out into a rocky valley. The height of the mountains here never cease to amaze me. I was in Maine recently and the mountains I thought so high when I was a little girl seem flat now after living in La Paz for almost 6 years. Upon looking out over that view, however, we saw clouds beginning to roll in.

(See glasses).
The trail was relatively easy for an experienced hiker, but the lack of oxygen can be a bit disorienting at times and there's a need to go slowly and steadily up the mountain. If you hurry, you can become light-headed and fall. So, channel your inner tortoise, the hare already fell off the mountain. There were some nice views in various places on the trail, one of which is of a neighboring mountain, Chacaltaya, also snowy-peaked.

After about an hour of climbing we reached the glacier. At last, my burning question as to why the laguna below is turquoise was answered, the glacier is turquoise! It's blue, baby. Amazing. Particularly since I had never seen a glacier. It's icy blue goodness stretched high above us and into a bend in the mountain, where it disappeared from view. I was so taken with this big chunk of ice that I walked up to it and licked it. Thousand year old bacteria? Blueberry flavored? In truth, a bit dirty and it tasted like pretty much any other ice cube. But now I can say I licked the glacier on the Huayna Potosi. And I have a photo to prove it.

Um, yeah, it's awesome.
We set down our burdens and started to shoot. Diego is using black and white Super 8 film for the movie, no sound, in order to get back to his roots, so to speak, when he began making experimental black and white silent films in the '70s. Coolness. It's not easy to find black and white Super 8 film nowadays, I'm pretty sure the sole reason it hasn't died out altogether is courtesy of a bunch of film students and a few die-hard French.

Super 8 film is pretty sensitive, but clouds were coming in as we were shooting and in moments, we couldn't see more than a few meters in front of us. I started getting a bit worried about hiking back down the mountain. A group of hikers stopped on a ledge above us to watch the shooting. One of the scenes I shot was pretty demanding and I was freezing, we had to hurry to get everything done before we couldn't see at all. And before I contracted hypothermia.

At the foot of the glacier.
We shot everything, got momentarily lost on the way down, eventually made it back to the refuge and had some hot quinoa soup. The drive back was in approaching darkness, the cemetery was silhouetted against the sky, and we closed in on El Alto and La Paz with the lights on. I love seeing the lights of a city from above.

Yes, I really did that.
Shooting a movie is always exciting, it never loses its charm, no matter how often you do it. And our team shoots often. Even when you're just making a little piece of a whole, it's fun. And shooting outdoors is especially challenging, climate, weather, and in this case altitude, all play a factor in what you can do out there. But it's a great feeling to defy the elements simply as a human being, and even greater as filmmakers.

My overall impression was one of wonder. Living in a city you tend to forget how much beauty there is in the world. And how much we're affecting it by polluting. I'm not going to get all preachy on you, but it's frightening what you see when you go to a place far out of the city, that logically pollution should not touch, and 'lo, the destruction is right there in front of you. Go visit a glacier before they disappear. Thousands of years old ice. It's amazing. And give it a good lick while you're there.

*If this reads like a travel blog entry, deal with it.

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