Three French swimmers, one without upper and lower limbs, started this Wednesday an adventure swimming in the waters of Lake Titicaca at an altitude of more than 3,800 meters, starting on the Bolivian side and aiming to reach Peru in about ten days.
Théo Curin, an experienced swimmer and Paralympic medalist from France, had the «crazy» idea of fulfilling a challenge he had set himself: to swim in the cold waters of the highest navigable lake in the world.
To do so, he summoned two other experienced swimmers and adventurers to make the so-called «Titicaca Challenge» a reality, and Efe accompanied them in the start of this adventure.
They are France’s Malia Metella, five-time European champion in short and long pools, and Matthieu Witvoet, who cycled through almost twenty countries in 2017 discovering local solutions to plastic waste.
The three swimmers prepared for around fifteen months at a distance from Titicaca to adapt to the particularities of the lake which lies at an altitude of 3,812 meters and is considered sacred by most of the border populations of Bolivia and Peru.
In addition to testing their limits, the three swimmers will spread a message to preserve the environment and encourage the population to contribute to the care of the lake, which is polluted.
The three swimmers began their journey with a ceremony held by the authorities of Copacabana, Bolivia, who bid them farewell by presenting them with awards and declaring them «illustrious guests».
The Municipal Council gave them the certificate accompanied by a small statue that recognizes the value of their journey.
Then the indigenous women put a kind of necklace on the three swimmers made of pasankallas, a traditional sweet puffed corn, showing their respect for the journey they were about to begin.
After the ceremony, the three Frenchmen went to their boat to change and put on black neoprene suits specially made for each of them that will help them withstand the low temperatures of the lake.
They are also wearing orange caps, glasses and «fins» on their feet that will be essential for the next ten days or so of their adventure.
In the case of Curin, 20, who lost his lower and upper limbs as a child due to meningitis, he also wears gloves to help him swim.
The three of them were focused on their preparation before entering the boat, which is made especially for this crossing with recycled material from other boats and even from a theater in France, which will be pulled by the swimmers throughout the adventure.
This boat, which weighs some 400 kilos, is the «symbol» of the voyage and will become the swimmers’ home until they reach the Uros Islands in Peru, some 122 kilometers away.
They are also carrying freeze-dried provisions in reusable bags, will also filter the lake water for drinking and will do everything possible to generate the least impact to Titicaca.
The swimmers said they were nervous and anxious to start the journey that began on the beach of Copacabana in Bolivia in the middle of a day that started cloudy and cold.
The first to enter the water was Malia Metella, followed by Théo Curin and the last to enter was Matthieu Witvoet, who swam for a few minutes to adapt to the 12 degrees of the lake.
Other Bolivian swimmers, some from the Bolivian Navy, accompanied the first meters of the course while two of the Frenchmen pulled the boat with their bodies as they swam.
They were also accompanied by the native music group, local authorities and a team from the Bolivian Navy who followed the course closely while some applauded to encourage them to keep going.
A DREAM COME TRUE
The beginning of this great challenge means for the three swimmers a dream come true for which they were constant and disciplined with the training that consisted of several hours in cold pools, with ice and carrying kilos of sand that simulated the boat that will be their home.
Witvoet told Efe that this adventure will be a «difficult challenge» especially because of the altitude, which is what has worried him the most since he began his training.
«It won’t be an easy challenge, that’s why we want to do it too,» Witvoet said.
At the end of his adventure, the boat will serve as a tool for the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) to carry out scientific studies and research on Lake Titicaca.