The Bolivian Altiplano

Trip Start May 20, 2010
Trip End Sep 05, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Day : 289
Temperature : 15 degrees
Weather : Sunny

The first thing I noticed upon waking was that I was feeling sick again....obviously yesterday had been too much and taken it's toll. Today, we were leaving for Bolivia, ascending nearly 2,500m in the space of a few hours...oh dear! At the travel agent's office we met with Dan and Lee, two British travellers who would be joining us in our jeep tour. Our bags were packed in the back of the van and we headed to the immigration office in San Pedro where we were stamped out of Chile. We then headed up the main highway in the direction of Salta, before turning off onto a dirt track road and we soon arrived at the Bolivian border.....a delapidated building which looked like a shack, virtually in the middle of nowhere. After being stamped into Bolivia we met our new driver, changed vehicles and drove off through the spectacular Bolivian Altiplano.

Altiplano is Spanish for high plateau. The Andean Altiplano lies at an average of 3,700m above sea level, and covers an area in South America where the Andes are at their widest, and is dominated by a chain of massive volcanoes. The landscapes are beautiful.

We drove onwards with the massive Licancabur Volcano towering over us until we reached Laguna Blanca. There are several Altiplano lakes in the area with various hues and colours to them as a result of different minerals which are present in the surrounding earth. Laguna Blanca is a clear, very pale, almost white colour, a complete contrast to the rich earthy colours of the mountains and the darkest, bluest sky that we have ever seen.

We stopped to take pictures and go for a short walk, then slowly one by one we started feeling a little thick in the head. This was shortly followed by pounding headaches. The effects of altitude don't take long to appear! At our altitude there was approximately half the oxygen in the atmosphere when compared to that at sea level. Doctors don't know why some people are more affected by others, but the biggest risk factor appears to be the rate at which one ascends....ahem! Does 2,500m asent in 3 hours qualify for rapid??! Ah yes, when climbers are recommended to ascend no more than 300m per day!

Anyway, I digress. We continued on to Laguna Verde which sits at over 4,300m above sea level and is loomed over by the perfect snow capped cone of Licancabur Volcano. Such a beautiful setting! We then drove on through what must be some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet before stopping at some hot springs to take a bath. Unfortunately, not one of the four of us was up to stripping off and jumping in, even though the water was a lovely temperature. I resorted to taking my boots and socks of and dipping my legs in, whilst Kevin, Lee and Dan were deep in conversation by the side.

After the brief dip in the warm waters we continued on until we reached the Sol de Manana Geothermal Field which consists of dozens of boiling, hissing, multihued mud lakes, and lies at around 5,000m above sea level. We walked around the various mud pools which bubbled and splurted away, sometimes violently and wondered just how dangerous this actually barriers, no roped off areas....nah, just be careful where you tread, and don't fall into one of the pools as you are sure to die!

By now it was lunch time and so we drove off towards Laguna Colorada where we would be spending our first night at just under 4,300m. The laguna is named for it's spectacular deep orange / red colour, which looks beautiful against the constrasting bright white of the many borax islands which lie in it. There are also thousands and thousands of squabbling flamingoes, as well as vicunas, lizards and other small birds. We first had lunch at the refuge where we would be sleeping, before driving to the lake for the afternoon. We wandered slowly around, taking our time to take photos...well, we couldn't really walk any faster anyway, as we were all really suffering with headaches, and I was also feeling lousy with my mystery illness....achy joints and swollen glands which I'd had now for a couple of days.

We headed back to the refuge where we all immediately needed a rest. We'd ascended rapidly that morning and been at altitude for approximately nine hours. Dan had a bad headache, as did Lee. Kev was feeling a bit headachy but doing ok. I on the other hand wasn't. All I could manage was to lie still on the bed without moving, except for eating painkillers like they were sweets even though they weren't making the slightest difference! I'd had 6 paracetamol and 4 ibuprofen already over the whole day! I was feeling horribly nauseous. I had no appetite. My heart was pounding. I was light headed and I was short of breath trying to hold down a conversation! Long and short of it, I was feeling fowl with what was surely acute mountain sickness, probably exaccerbated by an underlying illness which I'd picked up a few days before. I managed to have a short nap, then I forced myself to get up for dinner and try to eat something before heading to bed, praying that I would feel better tomorrow, aware that if I was worse then I desperately needed to go down.........altitude sickness was not something to be ignored!
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