Arica, National Park Lauca and Sarah´s birthday

Trip Start Feb 04, 2008
Trip End Feb 03, 2009

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

After the soul destroying trek we both felt completely drained, and so I persuaded Dan that we should head as far north as possible in search for a warm climate and some serious rest. With this in mind we took a flight to Arica (via Santiago) and in 2 days we had left behind the temperamental weather of Patagonia and were sat on a sunny beach 20 km from the Peruvian border.
After 2 months of constant travelling we were in desperate need for some chill out time, and the beach resort of Arica is exactly where we found it. The beaches and the surf are the town´s main attractions, as well as the scruffy markets and pedestrianised centre. We initially intended on staying for 3 nights but the lazy days by the beach, bodyboarding with the 2 resident dolphins on Chinchorro beach and many Pisco Sours easily persuaded us to stay longer. After 5 nights at the ´Sunny Days´ hostel, we decided to venture into the surrounding province and planned a trip to Lauca National Park. We took the local bus into the mountains to a small village called Putre. We were advised to stay here first to acclimatise to the altitude, and at 3530m above sea level the quaint Aymaran village was the perfect place to start. Putre has a very small population of farmers, who still dress in the traditional clothes. All the younger family members left the village in search for work and money in the larger towns. This means that the place is populated by 70, 80, 90 year olds working in the fields and attending the llamas all day... regardless of their life long hard work and infrequent backpacker intrusion they are the friendliest people we have met.
After a chilly night´s sleep in Putre we set off with 5 others and a guide to the Parque Nacional Lauca. The park ranges from 3000 - 6300m above sea level, and our first stop was approx. 4400m. After dealing with altitude well in Salta I thought we would be fine. However, as soon as I followed the guide up a steep incline to view some caves I was stopped in my tracks by an intense feeling of nausea, lack of vision and a pounding head. The small exertion must have triggered the altitude sickness and not allowed enough oxygen to my brain, and the feeling stayed with me all day. Dan was absolutely fine, but sadly I could not participate in any lengthy walks. The snow-sprinkled volcanoes, sparkling lakes and altiplano scenery made up for it. We even got close to the usual viscachas (high altitude rabbit thingys), vicunas and flamingos.
It was a wonderful day visually, but my sickness made me eager to return to Putre. The brutal sun strength yet cold altitude breezes added to everyone´s discomfort. We were all relieved when we returned to the base... the trip certainly highlighted the dangers of altitude. Anyway, being born in Leeds I wasn´t built for such conditions and was happy to get the bus back to Arica and sea level!
We decided to spend the next couple of days prolonging our relaxation time in Arica, and stayed here to see in my birthday. I had a brilliant day lounging on the beach (never before have I had such luxury!) and bodyboarding with our dolphin friends. Dan treated me to a tasty dinner at the most prestigious seafood restaurant in Arica. Once again, Pisco Sours and red wine had a large part in the evening... great fun!
Sadly, we have to leave Arica (and the home like hostel) tomorrow. On the flipside however, we are ready to get stuck back into the travelling groove after rest and recovery. We have made the decision to visit Peru and Bolivia before coming back into Chile seeing as we are so close to the borders. This wasn´t on the agenda - but we are both looking forward to what awaits us! Until then my friends.....      
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danmag on

Happy Birthday Sezza!
Can't belive the pics, they belong in National Geographic. Re: Aymaran Ladies gossiping, rubbish! Those three are off the Hawksworth, saw them staggering out of The Bull at closing time last saturday looking for a cab!

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