By Yolanda Salazar
Copacabana, Bolivia, Nov 10 (EFE).- Three French adventurers, one of whom is a quadruple amputee, on Wednesday began their 10-day quest to swim from the Bolivian side of high-altitude Lake Titicaca to the Peruvian side.
Theo Curin, an experienced swimmer and Paralympic medalist, told Efe he had the “crazy” idea to swim the length of that frigid body of water that has a surface elevation of 3,800 meters (12,460 feet) above sea level and is frequently called the world’s highest navigable lake.
He then brought on board two other experienced swimmers to make the so-called “Titicaca Challenge” a reality, and Efe was there to see them off.
The other two participants are Malia Metella, a five-time European champion in short- and long-course swimming events and silver medalist in the women’s 50 free at the 2004 Athens Olympics; and Matthieu Witvoet, an “eco-adventurer” who cycled across nearly a score of countries in 2017 to raise awareness of the global plastic waste problem.
The three swimmers trained in open water for around 15 months as part of their preparations for taking on a lake that straddles the border of Bolivia and Peru and is regarded as sacred by the indigenous people of that region.
Besides testing their limits, the three swimmers also will spread a message about environmental conservation and encourage the local populations to help protect a now-polluted lake.
Authorities in this main Bolivian town on the lake’s shore organized a send-off ceremony in which Curin, Metella and Witvoet were honored with a certificate and a small statue and proclaimed “distinguished guests.”
Indigenous women then gifted the swimmers necklaces made of “pasankallas” (giant puffed corn kernels) as a gesture of respect for the crossing they were about to begin.
After the lakeside ceremony, the three swimmers headed to their boat to put on the custom-made, black neoprene wetsuits that will allow them to endure the lake’s water temperature of roughly 12 C (54 F).
They also are using orange swim caps, goggles and swim fins on their feet – essential gear for a journey that will last around 10 days.
The 20-year-old Curin, who as a child had the ends of his four limbs amputated after contracting meningococcal meningitis, a rare bacterial disease, also will use special gloves to help him swim.
The three were clearly focused on the task at hand before entering the boat, which was specially made for the crossing with recycled material from other vessels and even a theater in France and will be towed by the swimmers throughout their adventure.
Weighing around 400 kilograms (880 pounds), that boat will serve as the swimmers’ home until they reach the Uros Islands, floating islands made of totora reeds that are located about 122 kilometers (75 miles) away on the Peruvian side of the lake.
They will carry freeze-dried provisions in reusable bags, filter lake water for drinking and do everything in their power to generate the least amount of environmental impact.
On hand for the send-off was a local folk music group and some Bolivian naval personnel, some of whom cheered on the swimmers while following their progress.
Witvoet told Efe that the crossing will be a difficult challenge, adding that the high altitude is the aspect that has worried him the most since their rigorous training began.
“It won’t be an easy challenge. That’s also why we want to do it,” he said.
At the conclusion of their adventure, the boat will serve as a tool for scientific studies at Lake Titicaca by the Marseille, France-based Institut de recherche pour le developpement (Research Institute for Development). EFE