Courtesy of Diego López Dominguez, Lago Titicaca, La Paz, Bolivia.

Diego López completed the third leg of his Continents Seven in South America by swimming 7.5 km from Isla del Sol (Island of Sun) to Isla de la Luna (Island of Moon) on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake.

I thought that [swimming] less than 8 km is small feat when compared to the 34 km of the English Channel or the 48 km Manhattan loop. Make no mistake: swimming at 12,500 feet (3,811 meters) high is no joke.

I probably had one of the toughest races in my life,” explained the Spanish open water swimmer from the Canary Islands.

With his tough global travel schedule, López just arrived in Copacabana, Bolivia two days before the race – not enough for high-altitude swim adaptation. “My headache disappeared after the first day thanks to numerous mates de coca, but just walking up the stairs in the hotel was a strenuous activity. I had never been in such a high altitude and the warnings of people like Lynne Cox, the first person to swim in the lake back in 1992 were clear, but I kept good spirits and trusted my training.”

He went for a short swim before race day and found the 13°C (55°F) water temperature tolerable.

We started from Island of Sun and found myself competing with a large number of young locals who did not struggle with the high altitude.

But they also were wearing wetsuits to fight the [cold 13°C] water. Cold temps is – or should – not a problem for me anymore, but it was very clear from the beginning that I could not keep my usual cruising speed (60 strokes per minute) for long. In fact, I had to change my feeding plan that I had in mind from 1 hour to 45 minutes after the start and my stroke rate dropped to 52. I had to breathe almost on every stroke. I thought that there would be barely any chop on the lake, but there were actually some small waves that did not help with the breathing intake.”

López’s planned breaks every 45 minutes were further changed to every 30 minutes and then his stops every 30 minutes were further shortened to 15. “I didn’t want food or water, but I needed to stop to allow more oxygen into my lungs. The problem with constant stops is that I wasn’t warming up and that the cold started to get into my bones which was very frustrating. I was actually in a very bad mood, but luckily my best companion was there again on the boat, ready to encourage me and to ‘take me to the Moon’. Finally, the rocks [near the finish] started to look bigger and I could spot the tiny, yellow finish line. As soon as I touched, I was quickly taken to the mother ship, where I was given oxygen and warm clothes and tea. I could not believe the pain was over.”

Normally a very competitive swimmer, López admitted that he didn’t think of anybody else or his position relative to other swimmers during the race. “As a point of reference, only three weeks ago I had covered the 7.5 km that separates Robben Island from Cape Town in 1 hour 44 minutes in similar conditions than those of Saturday: 13°C water with medium surface chop. But this race [Nadando Cerca del Cielo] took me 35 minutes more to complete in Titicaca because of the altitude and constant stops. The 2 hour 19 minute swim still made me the fastest swimmer in the skins division, the fastest in my age group and the fifth overall male. And the first Spaniard to complete the feat.”

Titicaca is part of the Still Water Eight along with Loch Ness, Windemere, Lake Zürich, Lake Tahoe, Lake Baikal, Lake Taupo and Lake Ontario, but there is something really magical about this lake that you feel as soon as you step a foot into Copacabana. What Cancún’s El Cruce in Mexico is for the Aztecs, Titicaca’s Nadando Cerca del Cielo {Swimming Near Heaven] is for the Incas, and I am so glad I have now done both.

More importantly, I have ‘conquered’ South America with the certainty of having faced one of the continents’ toughest swims, which is exactly the spirit of the Continents Seven. And with an eye on eliminating plastic contamination, I am happy to report plastics were non-existent in the lake.

To sum up the swim, Nadando Cerca del Cielo was a beautiful but challenging swim which I recommend to any hard-core marathon swimmer.

Cesar Vargas of Club Tiburones de Cochabamba finished first in the neoprene division in 1 hour 54 minutes 15 seconds. Camila Mercado of La Paz Tennis Club won the women’s neoprene division in 2 hours 0 minutes 37 seconds.

Men’s Results:
1. Cesar Vargas 1:54:15
2. Raul Ulunque 2:06:01
3. Cristoffer Mariscal 2:07:18
4. Yusef Mariscal 2:09:39
5. Diego López 2:19:23
6. Oscar Chavez 2:35:12
7. Marco Martinez 2:36:05
8. Yulio Marza 2:42:37
9. Rodrigo Aguilar 3:40:17
10. Rodrigo Rojas 3:47:07
11. Javier Villarroel 3:48:31
12. Ruben Chalco 3:52:14

Women’s Results:
1. Camila Mercado 2:00:37
2. Cecilia Gonzales 2:13:07
3. Leyla Manjon 2:20:07
4. Giovanna Saavedra 2:51:22
5. Dania Choque 3:07:51

For more information on López’s Continents Seven, visit here.

For more information on the XI versión del Torneo Internacional de Aguas Abiertas: ISLA DEL SOL – ISLA DE LA LUNA, visit here.

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