The Altitude Diaries...

Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
Trip End Jul 19, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chapter 1 - My new career...

I'm brining them back.  Why?  Because they're wicked.  Fucking cool.  They're exactly what every kid needs to wear in the playground; what every adult should wear to work; what every retired person should wear when they travel around in a caravan.  They're sexy and they're for everyone.  Without exception.  One wonders why they ever went out of fashion really.  Or, rather, one wonders whether they were ever in fashion in the first place to go out of fashion.  In any event, they should be perenially in fashion.  This realisation has hit me like a Bolivan head-on-bus collision on my return to Bolivia.  What am I talking about you ask?  I'm talking about the Bowler Hat.  Of course.  Yes - you read correctly - the Bowler Hat.  You know those undersized hats, spherical at its peak, a small circular brim that features a slight upward curve at the end?  Yep, those ones.  Those ones that are too small to sit properly on one's head so they must be worn balanced precipitously on the top?  Yep - them.  Yeah - the one in the Magritte painting with the apple.  Yep.  You see, the Bowler Hat is big in Bolivia.  Damn big.  Fucking big.  Everywhere you look kinda big.  The Bolivian women sit on th steps of Plza Murillo in all their colourful, rounded glory, chewing coca leaves, Bowler Hat sitting atop.  A local senora, sitting aside her cart, filled with brilliant chicken and beef filled saltenas, calling out to potential customers, sporting the brilliant bowler hat.  Random hey?  But brilliant.  Looks damn cool.  Fucking cool.  And I love it.  I don't care what anyone says / I'm bringing them back...

There's a great story behind the bowler hat phenomenon in Bolivia.  Apparently, back in the day, an englishman woke up one morning in Bolivia  with a fuckload of Bowler hats.  The following thought clearly passed through his mind: 'Um... what'?  The man, however, was pure genius, somehow managing to convince the Bolivian upper class that the bowler hat was all the rage in Europe - the height of fashion.  And so the Bolivians, incredible, followed, incorporating the hat of death into Bolivian traditions with its own little quirks, such as the position of the hat indicating a woman's marital status.  Brilliant.  And an awesome sight.  There's a fortune to be made in bowler hats.  I know it.  This is my new career.  I'm bringing them back...

Chapter 2 - Time to recover...

I'm dizzy.  So fucking dizzy my head is spinning.  Like a whirlpool it never ends.  I've also got a massive fucking headache.  Huge.  Like my brain is about to explode.  I put down my bag and untie my shoelaces, the physical exertion of this movement having me huffing, puffing, wheezing.  I'm fucking knackered.  Altitude is killing me.  I hear La Paz whisper 'Welcome to 4000 metres above sea level bitch' in my ear.  I sip at my mate de coca - tea direvied from the coca plant, a natural remedy for the symptoms of altitude sickness.  Its bitterness goes straight to the corners of my mouth, the remaining flavour resembling the leaves of a gum tree.  I begin to hallucinate about llama feoteses, talismans to Pachamama.  They stare at me with vacant eyes, their bodies sufficiently formed to resemble an actual llama.  They freak me out as they did earlier today at the witchmarket.  My head throbs, more intensely now as if the headache does not want to be forgotten.  More warn bitterness of the leaves.  It should help.  It must.  I feel dizzy.  Like a whirlpool it never ends...

Chapter 3 - The Peace

The colour of the earth rises out of the valley.  Red bricks grow from the jammed streets towards the plain of El Alto above.  The houses cling, almost favella style, to the sharp incline, watching as the gentle city of La Paz starts another day.  Churches dot the overwhelmingly red landscape, the taxis and collectivos scamper and hoot.  The sun, out for the first time today, makes up for lost time, delivering blinding, burning beams down to La Paz's starved streets.  There are greetings on the ground - to friends and strangers alke - the general friendliness of the locals always palpable.  The city always feels welcoming.  Wayna Potosi, on this beautifully clear day, imposes itself on the city with its crisp snow caps.  The scene is perfect - La Paz stunning.  It doesn't need sights - somewhat luckily as it doesn't have many to offer.  It needs nothing more than to be and to exhibit its natural beauty.  It is charming.  Breaktaking in many ways...

Chapter 4 - Titicaca

At 4000m above sea level, the water meets the clouds.  They hover downward seemingly descending to touch the scared waters of Lake Titicaca - like a pilgrimageto the most holy lands.  And then, once they near the end of their journey, they reach down to the sacred waters and drink, filling themselves with the godly body.  The sky grows black, the stars illuminating, cueing the clowds to return the water with fury, in the morphed form of hail, snow and icy rain.  Ice pebbles fill the streets of the small town of Copacabana, the scene one of white pointillism.  They melt and filter back to the sacred lake.  The pilgrimage begins again...

Lake Titicaca feels mystical.  Part of it is, no doubt, due to the romantic notions often experienced by a traveler.  But there's something about the banks of the lake, the way it lightly laps and the clouds floating just above, looking out towards the birthplace of the sun and moon in Incan legend, the intense sound of nothing ness compounding the eeire, mystical aura of the Lago Titicaca.  The Island of the Sun, in particular, sits ominously on the southern edge of the lake, everything quiet - the waters and the wind over its peaks, the sun gleaminng down harshly on those who dare to enter its island.  It is the birthplace of Incan legend and, more to the point, it feels like it.  And then at night.  Oh the night.  The spectacle outdoes itself.  The Incan stars brave the chilling winds, glittering magnificently, unspoiled by civilisation, engaging in a silent, reflective conversation with the lake, obstensibly about beauty.  This part of the world has me spellbound...

Chapter 5 - The Top 5

So, to the Top 5.  As I've earlier indicated, altitude is a fucking killer.  Like a constant hangover combined with both vertigo and motion sickness.  And then the hallucinations.  There have een many altitude (and coca) related hallucinations.  Here are the top 5.

5.  In La Paz, the city as per normal, except for one minor difference:  it has a giant land whale which lives underground and surfaces to eat humans whole.  It is after Djana.  I must save her...

4.  Witches have cursed one half of the bed.  I hate it when they do that.  Do not cross to the cursed side or there will be trouble - she will take my coke and my chocolate.  This cannot happen...

3.  I have found a perfect bathroom in Bolivia.  It is clean.  It doesn't smell.  It even has toilet paper.  There are no signs of the previous persons use.  I press a button and it flushes.  But I am in Bolivia.  This is clearly a grand hallucination...

2.  Sitting in a cafe with Optimus Prime, talking about the current economic downturn in the US.  For the record, the autobots and, in particular, Bumblebee, are greatly concerned by the effects of the sub-prime collapse...

1.  I'm sitting watching a football game.  But this is no ordinary football game.  This is a Bolivian women's game.  5-a-side at the Copacabana Coliseum.  All of the women are wearing their Bowler Hats.  And their 3 traditional skirts that they wear everyday.  And all of their other usual attire.  But they are playing football.  One rather rotund woman takes the ball with the outside of her foot, brings it down on her breast and lashes it top corner.  Is this a hallucination or is this really happening?  I ask Djana.  She sees it too.  Can this be real?

To Peru.  And the white city of Arequipa...
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tonbridge on

Hi, i have been to so many places on earth, but your trip to Bolivia makes me to envy you. I had been in Cuzco and it was bad with the sickness altitude. Is it that bad?. Am planing to go to La Paz and then going down to Chile. I have read your diary and is very funny, I just loved all this kind of adventures.
Best wishes

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